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Jagmeet Singh: The essence of a very good politician but attached to a party that can’t win

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People like Jagmeet Singh. That’s it. That’s the tweet. He thrives on social media for younger people, notably TikTok, where relatability is king. But Canadians of all ages tend to warm to him — not in the once-in-a-generation way they warmed to Jack Layton when he roused the Orange Wave a decade ago — but in a persistent shared intuition that this guy makes a good politician.

A recent Angus Reid Institute poll showed Singh was the federal party leader with the highest favourable rating overall. Nearly half the voting population, 46 per cent, said they held a favourable view of the New Democrat leader, and 34 per cent said he would make a good or excellent prime minister. Translating that kind of support directly to votes would make him an actual prime minister. On both of those scores, he significantly leads his rivals, Erin O’Toole and Justin Trudeau.

And yet, he is not likely to win. Rather, he stands to lose quite a bit. Singh himself does not even want this election. He currently props up the government, and wields broad parliamentary influence over its agenda. He has repeatedly called this pandemic summer the wrong time to vote, and has even vainly asked the new Governor General Mary Simon to block it.

The main reason he gives is not only that there is a pandemic on, but also that this election will interrupt progressive legislation his party supports, such as on gay conversion therapy, online hate and mandatory minimum sentences.

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Singh was a criminal defence lawyer in Toronto before politics. As a child, he lived  in Toronto’s suburb of Scarborough, and in Grand Falls-Windsor and St. John’s in Newfoundland, and in Windsor, Ont.

He ran federally for the NDP in Ontario and narrowly lost in the 2011 election, then won the provincial riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton barely five months later.

As leader of the federal NDP since 2017, and MP for Burnaby South in B.C. since 2019, he has led the party through a period in which it lost seats but gained influence in the current minority parliament, as the key support for votes including the budget and the Throne Speech.

He has cultivated younger audiences through TikTok, such that the name of the platform is sometimes used as an insult against him, signalling callow political silliness. But he has exploited the platform to reach younger voters facing down a socio-economic future that can seem stacked against them, the kind of young people who start voting.

He has called for a tax against pandemic profiteering, and has dismissed the idea of a one-time wealth tax because “the ultra wealthy should always be paying their fair share. And we know that there are a lot of loopholes that mean that the ultra rich don’t pay their fair share at all.”

He has pushed to delay reductions to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, and has opposed the government’s proposed end date next month for the Canada Recovery Benefit.

There has to be a commitment that (any new) infrastructure is made with Canadian products, Canadian steel, Canadian aluminum

Jagmeet Singh

He has promised Buy Canadian measures, without actually saying those two words, which evoke Buy American rules in the U.S. that have led to cross-border trade conflict.

In July, campaigning in Windsor, he said: “Any time we talk about big infrastructure, there has to be a commitment that the infrastructure is made with Canadian products, Canadian steel, Canadian aluminum…. The Liberals have talked about a high-speed train (in Ontario). They’ve never mentioned once that they’re going to use Canadian products in a high-speed train.”

When unmarked graves were found at a Kamloops, B.C., residential school earlier this year, Singh brought forward a non-binding motion calling on the Liberal government to back out of a federal court appeal over a decision by the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal to compensate First Nations children separated from their families in a discriminatory child welfare system.

“What Indigenous people and people across Canada find hypocritical is that on the one hand we have a prime minister who could stand in this House and at a press conference and say that he is sorry or express condolences about this horrific discovery, but in the very same breath be ordering lawyers to fight Indigenous kids in court,” Singh said. “Stop fighting Indigenous kids in court. Truly walk the path of reconciliation.”

This was risking the appearance of playing politics at a grossly insensitive time. National Post political columnist John Ivison described it as manipulative and simplistic. But the 271-0 vote left little room for ambiguity about the view of Parliament, even though Trudeau’s cabinet minsters abstained.

Singh did not appear in public with Trudeau. He took a phone call instead. He kept his profile high by keeping it low

Singh has a knack for adroit response to racist outrage. He and Trudeau have been in situations like this before.

One of Singh’s finest moments in the last election was his hasty video response to Trudeau’s blackface scandal, when Singh spoke of standing up for himself in the schoolyard, answering racist taunts with punches, but also of rejecting violence now as grown man, and instead standing up for others with words.

Poorly lit, hurried, unscripted, brutally honest, tough and sensitive, it was the sort of natural political performance that wins people’s trust.

It was risky, too. He had to hold fast against Trudeau’s instincts toward self-aggrandizing performative apology. Everyone could see that was coming. There was a danger that Singh, the only brown candidate, would play the foil to Trudeau’s white protagonist, finding his way through perilous moral territory, learning as he goes.

So Singh did not appear in public with Trudeau. He took a phone call instead. He kept his profile high by keeping it low.

This time he has an inverse problem. As the third party, Singh’s NDP benefits from a divided electorate. The Liberals may be vulnerable from the left, and the Green Party looks like a shambles to all but the most devoted potential voter. But if left-leaning voters start seeing Conservative fortunes rise and the Liberals weaken, that works against the NDP.

The video was the sort of natural political performance that wins people’s trust

So there was a hint of strategic calculation in Singh’s public statement that he thinks Governor General Mary Simon should refuse the prime minister’s formal request to dissolve Parliament in advance of an election.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic still upon us, and with these important measures still before Parliament, New Democrats have urged the prime minister not to call a snap election,” he wrote in an open letter to Simon. “Should he attempt to request dissolution of Parliament, we think it is important to reiterate that, as you are aware, one does not need to be granted in the absence of a loss of confidence in the House.”

This landed with a thud. Constitutional law discourse is supposed to come at the end of an election campaign, when people start spitballing about coalitions. Before a pandemic election is even called, no one wants to ponder the proper vice-regal function of the GG, and the perils of what might happen if that mostly ceremonial office were ever held by someone impulsive and hot-headed. It brings up bad memories.

“When Conservatives in the House used every procedural tactic to try and delay, to block, to slow things down, the NDP stood aside and watched,” Trudeau said in response. “They could have stood with us to move forward faster on these important progressive pieces of legislation. They didn’t.”

In that moment, it was Trudeau versus Singh, not Trudeau versus O’Toole. The NDP’s challenge is to maintain that dynamic. For voters who think this is a bad time for an election, this might end up as a point to Singh. Is it playing politics with the GG? Perhaps. Is that anything new? Not really. Does it work? Sometimes.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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