Over the years, the Straight has repeatedly spotted New Westminster-Burnaby MP Peter Julian at events involving diverse communities in the Lower Mainland. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that he was at today's Vaisakhi celebration in South Vancouver.
What might have caught some off-guard, however, was his decision to test out his Punjabi.
Julian's facility with languages will come in handy as he attempts to become the next leader of the federal New Democrats. He's a fluent French speaker and he sometimes delivers speeches in Mandarin.
In an interview with the Straight at the Vaisakhi celebration, Julian said that his wife, clinical audiologist Limei Tian, helps him with his Mandarin. He quipped that she's been very patient.
"I like when a crowd reacts when I'm speaking in Mandarin because that makes me feel like I'm striking a chord," he said.
Julian conceded that his American sign language is a little rusty, but he still posted a conversation that he recently had with a deaf person. Prior to winning his first election as a federal candidate in 2004, he worked at the Western Institute for the Deaf.
"Politics is all about communication," Julian said. "If we're representing a community, we need to make sure we that we're able to communicate most effectively as possible.
"So I learned a smattering of a bunch of different languages because in New Westminster and Burnaby, we're 100 languages," he continued. "I think it helps to break down barriers and say we have a multicultural society... Let's honour and cherish that diversity."
He's not the only federal NDP leadership candidate who's adept in different languages. Manitoba MP Niki Ashton speaks Greek, French, and Spanish and, like Julian, continues picking up words and phrases in other languages.
It's still early going and while Julian hasn't been endorsed by any of his fellow NDP MPs in B.C., he has received the backing of five Quebec MPs. They include the party's Quebec lieutenant, Alexandre Boulerice.
"That now means that a third of the Quebec caucus has endorsed me," Julian said.
The others are Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Robert Aubin, Brigitte Sansoucy, and François Choquette, as well as Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir.
Julian says there are two reasons why he's generating support in Quebec.
First is his adamant opposition to the Kinder Morgan and Energy East pipelines, as well as his campaign's "very robust plan for a just transition to clean energy".
He said that a "just transition" means coming up with a federally funded plan to retrain workers in the fossil-fuel sector in Alberta and Saskatchewan.
He argued that this is imperative as the country makes a transition to an economy powered by renewable energy.
"There's actually limitless potential for solar, for wind, and also for moving to a smart grid," Julian said. "We're seeing, increasingly, American states requiring clean energy."
Quebec MPs are also backing his leadership bid because they appreciate his years of work building the NDP organization in that province.
Julian was born and raised in New Westminster. At the age of 24, he moved to Quebec and attended the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi because he wanted to study international relations.
"It was tough in the beginning because I didn't speak French," he conceded.
But he soldiered on, studying and mastering the language. He also volunteered tirelessly for the party and helped elect the NDP's first Quebec MP, Phil Edmonston, in a by-election in 1990.
"Quebec members know me and know how committed I am to building a national party," Julian said. "That's why I think there have been so many Quebec members willing to step forward."
In a statement issued earlier this week, Boulerice praised Julian for moving to Chicoutimi to learn French and build the party.
"For almost 15 years, he called Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Montreal, and the Outaouais home," Boulerice added. "He loves Quebec, and I know Quebecers will be excited to work with him to strengthen our movement."
In addition, Boulerice credited Julian for his opposition to the Energy East pipeline and his willingness to defend workers' rights in the transition to a clean-energy economy.
Julian is aware that strong B.C. candidates for the federal NDP leadership have fallen short before. Rosemary Brown, Nathan Cullen, Dave Barrett, and Svend Robinson are four who tried and didn't succeed in the last 42 years.
So has the time come for his party to finally be led by someone from the 604 area code?
"I think so but it will be up to the membership across the country to make that decision," Julian said. "Part of the reason why I've been working hard to get support in other parts of the country is to show that a B.C. candidate isn't only a B.C. candidate. It's also a national candidacy. I was born and raised in B.C. I believe strongly in B.C. values. But that can resonate across the country, too."