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Jagmeet Singh romps to federal NDP leadership

Canadian Press logoCanadian Press 2017-10-01 Kristy Kirkup
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TORONTO - The Jagmeet Singh juggernaut began barrelling towards Parliament Hill on Sunday as the 38-year-old turbaned Sikh bounded past his three more experienced rivals and claimed a historic first-ballot triumph in the race to become leader of the federal New Democrats.

Singh, a charismatic, fashion-forward member of the Ontario legislature, became the first visible minority to claim the leadership of a federal party, romping to victory with a convincing 35,266 votes — 53.8 of the eligible ballots, well past the margin required to end the race early.

Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus, who was widely seen as Singh's closest challenger, came in second with 12,705 votes, followed by Manitoba MP Niki Ashton with 11,374 and Quebec MP Guy Caron with 6,164.

As Singh's victory and its margin became apparent inside the Toronto hotel meeting room, supporters leaped to their feet and hoisted their champion in the air before gathering behind him on the stage, many of them with tears in their eyes.

"Canadians must stand united to champion the politics of courage over the politics of fear, the politics of love to fight the growing politics of division," Singh said, with supporters, friends, family members and fellow candidates crowded in around him.

"Canadians deserve the kind of government that only New Democrats can deliver ... that gets the job done, that keeps its promises. That's why today I'm officially launching my campaign to be the next prime minister of Canada."

Singh told the story — a staple of his campaign — about his family's struggle to get by during a period when his father was unable to work.

He described it as a "glimpse" of the sort of challenges countless Canadians endure every single day, people whose priorities have been abandoned by government.

"It's unacceptable that our government tells people to just get used to unstable work," said Singh, referring to Finance Minister Bill Morneau's infamous comments about what he considers the realities of the modern economy.

"Maybe if you look at employment as a hobby, you can get used to unstable work. But if your work means the difference between putting food on the table or a roof over the heads of your family, then job insecurity is unacceptable."

Earlier Sunday, Singh praised his predecessor Tom Mulcair as well as his fellow candidates for helping to generate a renewed sense of excitement and vitality around the party.

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With its long-haul leadership race now over, the party — which has just 44 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons — is now free to focus on presenting a unified front to battle Justin Trudeau's Liberals in the 2019 federal election.

B.C. MP Peter Julian, a candidate who dropped out of the race early and later backed Singh's leadership bid, said Singh's victory should serve as a wake-up call to the Liberal Party.

"If I was a Liberal ... and saw the energy in the room and saw the energy that Jagmeet inspired through the course of the leadership campaign, I would be worried," Julian said.

"The most important job that he can be doing right now is getting out right across this country and helping to expand the party, to recruit the kind of candidates that we'll need, that will show Canadians we are ready to govern in 2019."

Insiders and political observers alike say it's high time the NDP regrouped, put the disappointment of the 2015 election result in the past and start laying the foundation for a strong showing in two years.

More than 124,000 card-carrying members were eligible to take part in the vote, which was conducted online and by mail by way of a ranked ballot — voters were able to rank the candidates in order of preference.

Mulcair, who took over the party in 2012, carried on his shoulders the party's long-standing dream of forming a federal government for the first time.

Those hopes were dashed during the 2015 election campaign when the party's support collapsed in the face of the Liberals — an electoral disaster many blamed on Mulcair himself.

The party hopes it can seriously rebuild itself now with an eye on fundraising with a permanent leader in place, especially because it is carrying $5.5. million worth of debt.

"We have a lot of work to do but we have a leader who is very energetic about doing it," said NDP national director Robert Fox.

"Between now and the national convention that we will have in February, he'll be in every province and every territory, he'll be travelling across the country ... to communicate his message and the party's values."

Another immediate challenge for the new leader is the need to "knit together the teams that may have supported different candidates," said Peggy Nash, a well-regarded former NDP MP and leadership candidate who ran unsuccessfully against Mulcair.

Singh said in an interview late Sunday he's confident he can do that.

"On stage, I made sure I acknowledged all the incredible candidates, their work and not just their campaigning but the ideas they brought to the idea," Singh said.

"I want to make sure it is not just a signal to the candidates, but their teams, that their values, the issues they care about, are issues I care about. I will bring those issues forward as leader."

Singh said he plans to meet individually with MPs beginning Monday in Ottawa, noting he plans to resign his provincial seat immediately.

He is also in discussions with the party about his salary — an amount to be paid directly to him by the NDP because he does not have a federal seat in the House of Commons.

"There have been other leaders who haven't had a seat in the House and what makes sense to me is something that would be comparable to what ... an MP leader would make," Singh said.

"We'll work those details out and I'm sure we'll find a way to make sure it is transparent and done in an appropriate manner."

—Follow @kkirkup on Twitter

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