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.
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
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.
For 50 contentious years, the defining split in Quebec politics was between sovereigntists and federalists. “Should Quebec remain in Canada?” was the ideological question par excellence.
But last week, when Premier François Legault exchanged barbed words with the rising opposition star Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois in the Salon bleu of the National Assembly, a new political axis was born. Call it “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes.”
This divide isn’t about economics or independence so much as issues of race and religion, whose primal importance in Quebec was once again borne out by this year’s federal election. And although the divide stems from a pair of insults hurled across the floor of the provincial legislature, it reveals a deeper realignment in Quebec’s political class that is being mirrored around the democratic world, away from traditional standards of left and right and toward a preoccupation with identity.
The fracas began on Sept. 15, when Mr. Nadeau-Dubois, a leader of the “Maple Spring” student protests in 2012 and now parliamentary leader of the left-wing Québec Solidaire, rose in the Assembly to accuse Mr. Legault of imitating Maurice Duplessis. It was meant as a bitter reproach: “The Boss” ruled Quebec for most of the period between 1936 and his death in 1959 with a mixture of Catholic piety, anti-Communism and Quebec nationalism, while openly persecuting religious minorities such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and suppressing dissent. His time in power is still often called The Great Darkness.
The current Premier, Mr. Nadeau-Dubois argued, was channeling his notorious predecessor in part by conflating support for Bill 21, a contentious piece of provincial legislation that bans the wearing of visible religious symbols by certain public servants, with membership in “the Quebec nation.”
Visibly angry, Mr. Legault shot back that a majority of Quebeckers support the religious-symbols law. Duplessis, he said, had “many faults, but he defended his nation. He wasn’t un woke like the leader of Québec Solidaire.”
A surprised wave of laughter went up in the Blue Room; the Quebec media has been tittering about Mr. Legault’s choice of epithet ever since. Why was the Premier of North America’s only majority francophone jurisdiction wielding a term popularized by Black activists to describe vigilance about social injustice? Why was he using it as a put-down, not to mention a noun?
Asked to define “un woke” the following day, Mr. Legault offered an original contribution to the Quebec vernacular, saying that to him it meant someone “who wants to make us feel guilty about defending the Quebec nation [and] defending its values.” Google searches for the word exploded in Quebec.
But if the Premier’s particular gloss on the term was novel, its use by conservatives in the province was not. In the past couple of years, columnists for the influential Quebecor media conglomerate have become particularly enamoured of using “woke,” in English, as a slur for liberals and leftists who are highly sensitive about race and gender, a trend on the American right as well. Benoît Melançon, a literature professor at the University of Montreal, searched a media database to find that, since the beginning of last year, the word has appeared in francophone outlets more than 2,000 times.
The word entered Quebec’s political bloodstream purely as a pejorative; virtually no one in the province owns up to the label. While a French politician running to be the Green Party’s presidential candidate recently embraced being “woke,” Prof. Melançon noted, “that’s never done in Quebec.” Likewise, although some historians and journalists have recently begun rehabilitating Maurice Duplessis’s reputation – and Mr. Legault himself jokingly compared his party to Duplessis’s as recently as 2019 – his name remains a popular shorthand for reactionary authoritarianism.
Both political camps have begun life, then, with no self-professed members – but that does not mean they lack weight. In an unsuccessful attempt to steal back some thunder from two rival parties and reassert the importance of his political project, Parti Québécois leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon tweeted a photo of himself this week wearing a shirt that said, “Neither woke, nor duplessiste. Indépendantiste.” The provincial Liberals, meanwhile, traditional standard-bearers of the federalist cause, have stayed out of the fray altogether. Their only slight involvement in the squabble came when Mr. Legault sneeringly referred to them as one of two “multiculturalist” parties in the National Assembly.
The lower profile of Quebec’s once-dominant parties, and the issue that animated them for decades, is the result of a sea change that has sidelined the traditional debate about sovereignty in favour of lower-stakes skirmishes about immigration and ethnic diversity. The shift dates to around 2007, according to Frédéric Bérard, a political commentator, doctor at law and course instructor at the University of Montreal’s law school. It was then, he said, that the question of “reasonable accommodation” of religious minorities came to the forefront of political life in the province.
Quebec has since been roiled by successive controversies around that theme, from the question of whether Muslim women should be allowed to wear the niqab at citizenship ceremonies to the outrage that greeted a debate moderator’s question during the recent federal election campaign about Quebec’s “discriminatory” religious-symbols law.
These issues have emerged, not coincidentally, amidst the long-term decline of the Parti Québécois. Sensing the withering of its traditional goal of an independent Quebec state, the PQ embraced a program of aggressive secularism and the integration of immigrants into the francophone mainstream as an alternative form of national self-assertion, Mr. Bérard said. “It’s less trouble to ban a veil than to have a referendum on independence.”
Although Quebec’s identitarian shift had local causes, it also happened in parallel with a move away from traditional definitions of left and right worldwide. Culture and identity have replaced economics as the main vectors of politics in much of the West, said Mark Fortier, a sociologist and publisher (as well as the author of a book about reading the work of Mathieu Bock-Côté, one of the main exponents of anti-wokeism in the mass-market Journal de Montréal newspaper).
If “les wokes” vs. “les Duplessistes” seems like a tempest in a Québécois teapot, then, it may be part of something bigger. Consider Brexit in the U.K. and the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., Mr. Fortier said.
“It’s not just in Quebec … It’s the Quebec version of a phenomenon that traverses all liberal democracies.”
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Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies, is to appear virtually in federal court in New York Friday afternoon to resolve U.S. bank fraud charges against her.
But Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife and senior parliamentary reporter Steven Chase report here that it is unclear if there is a side agreement with China that would free Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig, who have been imprisoned on charges of espionage since December, 2018.
The two men were arrested after Ms. Meng was detained at Vancouver International Airport on a U.S. extradition request.
Canadian government officials in Ottawa refused to discuss the legal development that is being handled by the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York.
Reporter’s Comment, Steven Chase:“The Globe and Mail broke the story of Ms. Meng’s Vancouver arrest in 2018, a development that was followed within days by the jailing of two Canadians in China: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor in what Canada has since called hostage diplomacy. The result was a deep freeze in Canada-China relations. The Globe also broke the news last week that talks had resumed with an eye to a settlement.
“A plea deal for Ms. Meng would allow her to return home but it’s far from certain China would swiftly reciprocate on the Michaels. Beijing has spent more than 2½ years arguing that there is no connection between the Meng case and the Michaels and defending the Chinese legal system as legitimate and above-board. For them to release the Michaels immediately would serve to confirm their critics’ accusations.”
There’s a Globe and Mail explainer here on China’s conviction and detention of Canadians Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig.
O’TOOLE DEBATE CONTINUES – Some Conservatives, including former Ontario premier Mike Harris, are expressing support for federal Tory Leader Erin O’Toole, as others criticize the party’s election results. Story here.
VANCOUVER-GRANVILLE WINNER DECLARED – The race is over in the high-profile riding of Vancouver-Granville, formerly held by Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould. Her successor is Taleeb Noormohamed, for the Liberals. Story here, from CBC.
NEW DEFICIT INFO – The federal government ran a $12-billion deficit in the month of July, according to new Finance Department figures that provide a sense of the fiscal landscape as the re-elected minority Liberal government faces calls from premiers and opposition parties for billions in new spending.
PROSPECTIVE NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CANADA SPEAKS OUT – Joe Biden’s choice for the next ambassador to Ottawa says the U.S. is waiting for Justin Trudeau’s long-promised update to Canada’s China policy. David Cohen’s remarks Wednesday to a Senate hearing came amid fresh questions about the depth of the Trudeau government’s engagement with the U.S. President on China-related issues. From Politico. Story here. A copy of Mr. Cohen’s opening statement to the committee is here. Video of the hearing at which Mr. Cohen testified is here.
EX-LPC MP PLEADS GUILTY – Former Liberal MP Marwan Tabbara has pleaded guilty to two counts of assault and one of being unlawfully in a dwelling house in virtual courtroom on Thursday. From Global News. Story here.
U.K MILITARY OFFERS CANADA ARCTIC MILITARY HELP – Britain is signalling its interest in working with the Canadian military in the Arctic by offering to take part in cold-weather exercises and bring in some of its more advanced capabilities – such as nuclear-powered submarines – to help with surveillance and defence in the Far North. From CBC. Story here.
A HEAD-SCRATCHING MOMENT – CTV National News journalist Glen McGregor catches a political moment, involving Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on video that defies easy explanation. See here.
PRIME MINISTER’S DAY
“Private meetings,” according to an advisory from the Prime Minister’s Office.
No schedules released for party leaders.
John Ibbitson (The Globe and Mail)on how the federal election revealed that Canada has never been more united in purpose: “The United States has become so polarized it threatens to tear itself apart. Parties of the far right have become increasingly powerful in Europe. Canada is nothing like that, as the election proved. Our politicians howl over picayune differences. Elections are fought over the best way to deliver a new government program, rather than on whether such programs should exist. The consensus on everything that matters is deep and profound. It’s been a very long time since we were this united, if ever.”
Gary Mason (The Globe and Mail)on why Alberta Premier Jason Kenney should resign: “A change in leader is the only hope the [United Conservative Party] has of holding on to power: a new leader, a new voice and mea culpas galore for the disastrous job the party has done since winning election in 2019. That pretty much has to be the only strategy. But we can never lose sight of the real story here. The real story is all the needless death from COVID-19 in Alberta caused by a government’s selfish desire to put politics ahead of the health and safety of the public. That is a scandal that should cost the person responsible for it his job. Mr. Kenney should do the honourable thing and resign.”
Tanya Talaga (The Globe and Mail)on why all Canadians should take Sept. 30 to observe National Truth and Reconciliation Day: “This year, Sept. 30 will mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and every Canadian should observe the federal statutory holiday. Put on an orange T-shirt to honour the survivors of those 139 so-called schools. Think about how Canada can bring about change. Reflect on how to bring loving homes free of mould and with clean water and full fridges to all First Nations communities that need them. Or high schools, for that matter. But we are only sort of recognizing the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, because it’s up to each provincial and territorial government, as well as individual businesses, to decide whether it will be an actual paid day off.”
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