Martyn Brown: Is Jagmeet Singh the best hope for salvation? Or the most dangerous man in Canada?

    1 of 4 2 of 4

      Fair warning: this essay is a very long read.

      Let me answer my own headline, right up front.

      Jagmeet Singh just might be both: the best hope for salvation and the most dangerous man in Canada.

      Cool your jets, cut me some slack, and I’ll tell you why.

      For the Orange Bolt that is Jagmeet Singh—the proudly different man of colour who is electrifying this election for so many young, new, and otherwise progressive Canadians—is getting set to zap Canada to the core.

      With new hope for the future in his leap of faith, as the new face of a more inclusive and socially just Canada that is all about defying its previous limitations, expectations, and unspoken social compact.

      With new political power that he is determined to leverage as he might.

      Initially, to bend Trudeau to his will, and to then convert into a national movement of lasting energy and consequence that will forever change the course of Canadian history: a true social movement that posits him as its most passionate, adroit, and politically popular champion and quarterback.

      In his own way, Jagmeet Singh just might be the Canadian political equivalent of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

      The guy they call Danger Mouse for his deadly effectiveness in escaping impossibly bleak scenarios, avoiding furious on-rushers, defying those intent on sacking him, and converting “sure losses” into startling gains and mind-blowing wins.

      As most sports fans know, Wilson is the “little guy” who was supposedly too short to fare well in his position. The guy who came out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl in 2013, and nearly did again the following year, driven by the underdog motto “why not me?”

      He is the evolving legend whom everyone underestimated and who is currently on track to be the NFL’s MVP—dangerously efficient, razor-sharp, and never to be counted out as a comeback hero of mythic proportions.

      In his own way, Jagmeet Singh just might be the Canadian political equivalent of Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

      Democratic socialism on the march

      Jagmeet Singh is no less that dangerous type for his opponents and fans alike. A genuine sensation in his own right.

      And though he has zero chance of becoming Canada’s prime minister in his rookie outing, Singh’s performance in 2019 makes him more than a long-shot bet for winning that top job in the next election. 

      Which is not to say he is without serious faults and impediments that also represent potential real threats to his own success and to our nation’s collective project of national unity.

      However overblown those concerns mostly are, they are rooted in kernels of truth that Albertans understandably fear most of all.

      Yet, it should be clear enough to all voters at this point that Singh is the real-deal New Dealer: a true believer and an infectiously optimistic presence who is not to be trifled with, or discounted, in his quest for transformative governance.

      He is the great nonwhite hope for the socially progressive Canada that Prime Minister Blackface can never hope to impersonate, embody, embrace, or deliver.

      Not only this year’s model, as it were. But also next year’s seminal force for a type of substantive change that Trudeau only pretends to reify, in tinkering at the margins of the innately subversive form of governance that Singh aspires to one day lead.

      Which, by another name, is honest to goodness democratic socialism.

      Damn the torpedoes and to hell with the naysayers who maintain that it threatens the very fabric of Canada as we know it.

      Blue Liberal elitists most of all. The ones who fundamentally own Justin Trudeau’s never truly sorry behind.

      And they should be as terrified as Tories for the threat to their social order that Singh’s leadership, party and ideology represent.

      Dangerous? Damn right.  

      Insofar as Jagmeet is a bona fide pop-up phenomenon who stands to permanently alter the political landscape in ways that will help Canada to finally confront and heal its painfully ugly failings of white privilege, denial, injustice, neglect, inequity, and ignorance.

      Because he is indeed a certified radical in the best and worst sense of that word.

      Not unlike Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination contest. Or for that matter, Green party leader Elizabeth May, whose prescription for tackling the climate crisis makes Singh’s plan look positively passive by comparison.

      Which is to say that Singh is hardly “extreme” as an ideological ally of those increasingly mainstream American alternatives to the far-right lunacy of Donald Trump, or some would say, Andrew Scheer and his so-con ilk.

      As NDP Quebec lieutenant Alexandre Boulerice looks on, Jagmeet Singh gives a warm embrace to Jack Layton's widow, Olivia Chow.
      Jagmeet Singh

      Singh's vision comes at a stiff price

      Yet, no one should misconstrue Singh’s profoundly challenging intent, or sell short his capacity for inviting a new form of Canadian identity crisis.

      One that at its most basic level pits the Canada-that-was firmly in conflict with the Canada of the future that he and most progressives envision and seek to realize. A nation at odds with its past and at war with its will to change as need be to honour its largely false global claim as a beacon of tolerance, social justice, and new-world liberalism. 

      If Singh indeed proves to be the most dangerous man to Canada and/or its best hope for salvation, it will be because he represents a paradox of promise and potential that carries with it amplified risk of uncertainty and unintended consequences to Confederation.

      For his far-reaching “New Deal for People Like You” progressivism aspires to truly radical redistributions of wealth and to a massive expansion of government and publicly funded entitlements.

      Chief among them, a national pharmacare program, a national universal dental care program, a national universal childcare program, and much more.

      All to be financed on public credit and via massive tax hikes on “the rich and powerful” individuals and corporations who would be obliged to “pay their fair share” of Canada’s already sagging and increasingly holey social safety net.

      That vision is not just inspiring in its bold and sweeping prescription for fostering greater social equity and individual equality of opportunity and outcome; it is also inherently divisive, in tone as well as substance, particularly, in its tiresome and politically motivated resort to class warfare.

      When the dust settles on election night, Singh will no longer be simply the lovable peace seeker and seemingly harmless agent of change who dares to offer Canada something different that speaks to its higher angels.

      He will immediately morph from his current status as a dubious demagogue of laudable intent, to become an active player in deciding the power game at hand and more importantly, a credible prime minister-in-the-making.

      He will instantly become the thing that conservatives of every partisan stripe fear the most: an empowered prophet who has their privilege in his cross-hairs, with charisma to burn, God (or something like it) on his side, and the sweep of history in his corner. 

      A newly relevant leader who can no longer be dismissed as insignificant and whose cachet is mighty beyond his party’s numbers.

      Who shines for the systemically disenfranchised and politically disaffected, as something of an antidote to a world gone mad: too complacent for its own good, too indifferent to its own ills, too myopic to “leap” forward, and too stupid to even save its common home from its own threatening hand—and cooking itself to death.

      One who is bent on a sociocultural crusade that is politically rooted in permanently rocking the millennial vote, to affect a seismic shift in power aimed at advantaging the disadvantaged. Proudly and vocally, at the expense of the wealthy and variously privileged.

      One who is equally bent on a socioeconomic revolution that threatens to irrevocably alienate much of the West, resource-dependent communities, and small-c conservatives across the land. Trudeau’s cross to bear, in the near term, nailed to it by dint of Singh’s helpful hand as a needed ally in any minority Liberal government.

      One whose self-certain zeal for social healing paradoxically stands to deeply scar our nation anew, and heighten its ideological, class, and economic tensions.

      Which is why, for better and worse, love him or not—Singh is the most dangerous force for those who fear either a Conservative government or a minority Liberal government, insofar as both outcomes largely ride on the strength of his appeal and electoral success.

      In the zero-sum power game that neatly correlates NDP seat gains with Liberal seat losses, Singh seems destined to deliver on one or both of those “threats”, starting with the latter one.

      First, by increasing the odds of a hung parliament and a minority government, wherein his surging NDP holds the balance of power, or he at least becomes a kingmaker.

      Second, by putting Canada’s most dangerously deluded, regionally divisive, fiscally irresponsible, and ethically unhinged prime minister back in office. If only for a little while, until Trudeau finally fatally falls on his own sword and his minority government collapses.

      Third, by wielding his own personal appeal and newfound political power to push Trudeau ever further to the left.

      And in the process, sacrifice the Liberals’ right flank to Jason Kenney’s full-frontal assaults and to the Harperesque appeals of whomever replaces Scheer as the federal Conservative leader, if he fails to win a majority.

      And fourth, by positioning his party as the most legitimate progressive voice for the New World Order that is anathema to both the Old Guard parties. The wished-for world that Trudeau weakly surrendered to Big Oil (ironically) and Big Money through his dishonest failed policies of appeasement.

      All of the polls show Singh’s popularity soaring, with Angus Reid reporting the NDP now tied with the Liberals at 26 percent support in British Columbia, some six points behind the front-running Conservatives.

      That sets the stage for the launch of Jagmeet 2.0, as a viable contender for the crown that he and his party covet.

      Singh dances with abandon

      It took Jack Layton eight years and four elections to leapfrog the Liberals as Canada’s most politically potent force for displacing Harper’s unprincipled conservatism with a new style of progressivism that "le bon Jack" embodied. 

      It might only take Singh three years and two elections to trump that feat and make history as Canada’s first federal NDP government and as Canada’s first prime minister of colour.

      No thanks to Quebec, in Singh’s case.

      And in spite of the regional and racialized opposition to his leadership, ideology, and affirmative vision that so many Tiny Tories and small Canadians now pray will make it “impossible” for him to ever lead this land in government as its prime minister.

      To paraphrase Russell Wilson, why not he?

      That is the serious question that millions of Canadians will shortly be asking themselves, in the wake of Singh’s Hall of Fame performance in this election and in contemplating his “long bomb” now in beautiful flight.

      No matter how many seats the NDP wins on October 21, all that remains is for Canada’s progressives to grab that ball and run with it. Undaunted by the very real threats on the horizon that are attendant with that undertaking.

      Don’t kid yourself, Singh’s force of personality, promise, and charisma is a double-edged sword.

      It might be as dangerous as Justin Trudeau’s, to the extent that it is empowered through a Liberal coalition minority government and misapplied for partisan self-interest masquerading as public good.

      Singh is certainly not above that, as evidenced by his hypocritical message on vote-splitting, which I addressed at length in my last article in the Straight. And equally, by his weak-kneed stance on Quebec’s racist Bill 21 and by his fiscally irresponsible and disingenuous attempts at vote-buying.

      On issues where his partisan interests collide with firmly principled “bottom lines” that are otherwise consistent with his espoused progressive ideal, he is hardly a paragon of virtue.

      Hence his equivocation on politically unpopular and hard climate action. Including in respect of his party’s support for the Canada LNG project and on using his hoped-for balance of power to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

      Not deal-breakers for Singh at all in handing Trudeau back the reins of power, evidently, which might be some consolation for Albertans apoplectic at the increasingly likely prospect of a Liberal minority government, largely courtesy of the NDP.

      To say nothing of Singh’s apparent readiness to let Trudeau wholly off the hook for his unlawful political interference on Lavscam. To instead reward Trudeau with a new lease on life in office, despite his wanton frustration of the ethics commissioner and the RCMP in examining his conduct on SNC-Lavalin as a potentially criminal obstruction of justice.

      Which is to say, Singh is no saint and the badge he wears on his ideological sleeve is bound to disappoint.

      Yet his strengths of charismatic leadership also hold out the best hope for making Canada the progressive nation it purports to be and aspires to become, to the extent that he is put in the strategic position to wield his gifts of power and persuasion with the conviction that Trudeau lacks.

      To right the wrongs that Trudeau failed to address and too often made worse in his self-righteous effrontery, hypocrisy, deceit, and even illegal abuse of power and privilege.

      In short, to actually lead Canada forward in ways that the Liberals chose not to seriously attempt. Be it in tackling the climate emergency, poverty, homelessness, the need for affordable housing, the fentanyl crisis, or meaningful reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

      And certainly not by redistributing some of Canada’s considerable wealth from each according to his or her ability, to each according to his or her need, as Marx’s credo lives on.

      Video: Watch Grand Chief Stewart Phillip's endorsement of Jagmeet Singh.

      Authenticity is Singh's brand

      With only days to go until the ballots are cast and counted, the new world is Singh’s oyster.

      Because if Singh holds the balance of power in a hung parliament that sees Andrew Scheer’s party winning a plurality of seats, he will use his strength of numbers to deny a Conservative government, “whatever it takes.”

      Because in that scenario, Trudeau will be prepared to sell out his party—as Christy Clark was prepared to do in B.C. in 2017—to keep his job.

      And should that come to pass, Singh will have serious leverage to extract concessions, be it through a coalition government, or not (hint—not), in service of his  six “urgent” priorities for action. 

      Because if Scheer somehow miraculously emerges with a majority government, an unlikely scenario dependent on the NDP winning dozens of seats at the Liberals’ expense, Singh will be the left’s most compelling voice in Ottawa for advancing its agenda, broadly defined.

      In part, because Scheer would move Heaven and Earth to ensure that Singh’s NDP remains a relevant progressive vote-splitting force in outperforming Trudeau or his successor as Liberal leader. Which would bode well for the Conservatives’ longer-term goals.

      Because even if Trudeau wins a minority or a majority that will essentially allow him to take Singh’s support for granted, he won’t be able to stop the tide of change that Singh will marshal to the NDP’s long-term advantage.

      Because Trudeau is now exposed as a liar and a phony, who long ago lost his moral compass and whose own defining motto is “no direction, home.”

      By which, the Conservatives’ attack ads have got him all wrong: he is, in sad fact, exactly what he appears.

      As I previously noted in the Straight, Singh’s “millennial appeal is all about who he is: his redeeming brand is authenticity and his unique selling proposition is his own difference.”

      And those attributes, in support of his motivation and message, are what make Jagmeet so dangerous as a refreshingly constructive flag-bearer for positive and necessary rainbow-coloured change whose time has come.

      I’ll bet his NDP will win at least 35 seats, maybe more.

      But regardless of what happens on election night, Singh’s proven himself a winner.

      If you think Jack Layton was the epitome of NDP success, think again.

      I predict Singh will take his party to new heights of success next election, and for the first time ever in Canada, will be a real contender for government.

      Especially if Doug Ford continues to wreak havoc in Ontario, and Trudeau crashes and burns as he seems hell-bent on doing, out of his depth as he is, and classically inclined to stupidly engineer his own fall.

      The NDP is back with a vengeance and ready to party.

      The party that almost everyone had down and permanently out for the count is now up on its feet and dancing like there’s no tomorrow.

      Because it can see as clear as a crisp fall day that, for Canada, “tomorrow” has arrived at last, or is at least glowing confidently orange on the horizon.

      And come what may, whatever his faults and attendant risks, Jagmeet Singh is today’s best hope for a new day worthy of Canada’s promise. Dangerous in the best way.

      On Monday (October 21), get out and vote!

      Martyn Brown was former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell’s long-serving chief of staff, the top strategic adviser to three provincial party leaders, and a former deputy minister of tourism, trade, and investment. He also served as the B.C. Liberals' public campaign director in 2001, 2005, and 2009, and in addition to his other extensive campaign experience, he was the principal author of four election platforms. Contact him via email at