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Jagmeet Singh wins leadership of the federal NDP

With a decisive victory, Singh becomes the first person of colour to lead a federal political party in Canada
Jagmeet Singh celebrates with supporters after winning the first ballot in the NDP leadership race to be elected the leader of the federal New Democrats in Toronto on Sunday, October 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

Jagmeet Singh is the next leader of the New Democratic Party.

The Ontario MPP took 53.6 per cent of the vote on the first ballot of the federal contest. His campaign claimed to have signed up 47,000 of the 83,000 new members the party added during the leadership campaign, and those new members proved decisive. Veteran MP Charlie Angus came a distant second with 19.3 per cent, followed by Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, and Guy Caron, elected to the Commons from Quebec in the Orange Crush in the 2011 federal election.

Turnout was 52.8 per cent, in line with recent leadership contests for both the NDP and other parties.

Singh does not have a seat in the Commons, and has said he plans to spend the run-up to the 2019 federal election touring the country to build support for the party. Although two by-elections for ridings in Alberta and Quebec are scheduled for later this month, the first that he could realistically stand in is the as-yet-uncalled vote in Scarborough-Agincourt to replace Arnold Chan, who passed away in September. Singh has indicated he is considering Brampton East, currently held by rookie Liberal MP Raj Grewal and overlapping his provincial riding.

Singh becomes the first person of colour to lead a federal political party in Canada.

READ: How Jagmeet Singh hopes to win over the next generation of NDP voters

Taking the stage before the results, Singh’s current caucus colleague and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath cited the victories of Rachel Notley in Alberta and John Horgan in British Columbia as precedent for a federal victory. She also made a pitch for her own electoral prospects in next year’s provincial contest, with applause lines centred around instituting a pharmacare program—something Ashton also promised— and reversing the privatization of Hydro One.

Former MP Olivia Chow, widow of former leader Jack Layton, targeted prime minister Justin Trudeau in her speech. “In the last election, he spoke like a New Democrat,” she said, contrasting that with a list of Liberal campaign promises that have yet to be achieved. She also highlighted the work of outgoing party leader Tom Mulcair, who was not on hand to watch his successor take the stage.

With few substantive policy differences between the candidates, Singh himself became something of a focus during the leadership race. His public display of his Sikh faith led to questions about the party’s prospects in Quebec, given the place secularism ostensibly occupies in the province’s culture and politics. And video of his tactful approach to a heckler accusing him of supporting the implementation Sharia law in Canada went viral.

READ: Get real. Jagmeet Singh has been dealing with racist hecklers for months.

A crowd of his supporters, who had occupied the back third of the room, surged forward as the results were announced, while backers of the other candidates filed out along the sides of the room. Singh’s speech was filled with thank yous, to his team, supporters, and predecessors, along with tributes to his opponents. “As your new leader,” he said, before being cut off by supporters cheering his name. He called the party caucus up onto stage, leaving Angus, Caron and Ashton to stand beside him as he worked the crowd.

Singh’s speech hit many of the same notes as his words at the final leadership showcase in Hamilton late last month, and indeed elsewhere on the campaign trail. He cited instances of having been racially profiled and promised a federal ban on carding, and recounted a period in his 20s when he acted as his family’s only earner to demonstrate his understanding of families living in precarious economic circumstances.

Like his opponents, Singh’s policy proposals included raising corporate tax rates, a $15 minimum wage, stronger climate change policy including an end to “fossil fuel subsidies,” and mixed member proportional representation in federal elections. The former criminal defence lawyer was also the first to call for complete decriminalization of personal drug possession.

Caron’s campaign included the promise of a basic income, a top-up for those who fall below the low-income cut-off line. He received 9.4 per cent of the vote, but said that doesn’t mean the end of the policy idea. “We won’t be able to shy away from that debate,” said Caron, pointing to numerous resolutions in favour at the last such gathering. He noted that Singh seemed open to discussing the concept when asked about it at the final leadership debate.

During the race, Caron emphasized the importance of his native Quebec to the NDP’s future electoral success. “Jack [Layton] with the Sherbrooke Declaration was able to tell Quebecers, ‘We understand you,’ which was the difficulty we had as a party,” he said, citing that as a key reason for the party’s 2011 breakthrough. He emphasized the need for a Quebec-specific platform and organizers, but noted that Singh has “an ability to connect very easily with people, in Quebec and elsewhere.”