NDP leadership candidate Jagmeet Singh is in an upbeat mood as he takes a seat on the patio of the Crackle Crème dessert shop on Union Street in Vancouver.
The 38-year-old Ontario MPP has just secured another significant B.C. endorsement, this time from Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan.
There are now four B.C. MPs in the former Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter's corner, along with eight B.C. NDP MLAs—including five cabinet ministers (Lana Popham, Rob Fleming, Bruce Ralston, Harry Bains, and Judy Darcy).
"I am doing phenomenally well in B.C.," Singh says. "B.C. is a province where I've built connections, built relationships."
Since being elected to the Ontario legislature in 2011, the son of Punjabi Sikh immigrants has also knocked on a lot of doors for candidates not only in B.C. but in several other provinces.
Singh, a former criminal lawyer, first started coming to the Lower Mainland when Adrian Dix was the party leader and continued helping candidates after John Horgan succeeded him in 2014.
Perhaps more importantly for greenish B.C. New Democrats such as Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart, Singh has crafted a green economy and climate plan. The Ontario MPP says it will achieve a 90 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
It includes a national public transit strategy, a plan to reduce methane emissions in the oil and gas sector, and a zero-emission vehicle agenda.
He opposes the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which would lead to a seven-fold increase in oil tankers through Georgia and Juan de Fuca straits. He's also no fan of the proposed Energy East pipeline.
Singh says that when he entered the leadership race, he recognized that he needed a comprehensive climate-change plan rather than announcing positions on individual projects.
He has worked in the past to help NDP candidates in Alberta. And he expressed enormous respect for the province's premier, Rachel Notley, even though they don't see eye-to-eye on pipelines.
"I didn't want to convey that I enjoyed this disagreement or that I want to take advantage of this disagreement," Singh says. "I really wanted to be sensitive...so I gave her administration kind of a heads-up where I was going."
He also claims that Notley may have "the most aggressive climate change plan of any province, maybe the best in North America", even though it will allow oilsands emissions to rise from 70 to 100 megatonnes per year.
Singh says all the right things for a NDP audience about the delivery of public services. He's for a single-tier health-care system and echoes party cofounder Tommy Douglas in saying he wants to see medicare expanded to include prescription drugs and dental care.
Singh is opposed to public-private partnerships for road, bridge, and transit projects, maintaining that necessary transportation infrastructure should remain in public hands.
Childcare should be universal, in his view, but income transfers, like pensions and the child tax benefit, should only go one way: from rich to poor.
"I believe the wealthy should actually invest more in our society to give to those who don't have it," Singh adds. "I believe in redistribution of wealth. It has to be redistributed from wealthy to those who are not."
Singh tackles discrimination
Singh has electrified many young supporters, particularly those of African, Arab, and South Asian ancestry, because of his willingness to confront institutionalized racism.
He's already called for an appeal system so that people can apply to have their names removed from Canada's no-fly list.
"I was talking to a family with a two-year-old who was stopped four times but they couldn't fly," Singh reveals. "It was because of the name. The child was two years old. We don't have a recourse system for that."
He's also promising a ban on racial profiling at the federal level.
In addition, Singh favours requiring the Mounties to provide "rights notifications" any time they want to ask the public questions.
It could have a big impact in the Lower Mainland because the RCMP is contracted by Surrey, Burnaby, the City and District of North Vancouver, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Maple Ridge, and Langley to provide municipal police services.
"At every interaction, the RCMP immediately say 'you have the right to walk away from this interaction; if you don't want to be here, you can walk away,' " Singh explains. "That is technically your right but people are nervous."
He also wants police to issue receipts when they talk to the people in the community. This way, a person could hold officers to account if they're repeatedly hassled for no legitimate reason.
It's something he experienced as a young motorist when he was regularly stopped by the cops while behind the wheel of his father's car.
Singh also hasn't hesitated to raise concerns about human rights in other countries. He brought forward a motion condemning genocidal attacks on Sikhs in India following the assassination of the prime minister, Indira Gandhi, in 1984.
Moreover, he opposed a motion in the Ontario legislature condemning the boycott-divestment-sanctions movement against Israel.
"To conflate the criticism of a government's policies with hate speech is a distraction from the real problem of anti-Semitism," Singh tweeted at the time. "Dissent, protest and freedom of speech are a fundamental part of a democracy."
When it comes to social-justice issues, he's been inspired by his great-grandfather, Seva Singh Thikriwala. In 1935, he died on a hunger strike while protesting the treatment of political prisoners in India under Britain's colonial rule.
His mom lit a spiritual spark
Singh becomes especially animated when asked where his keen interest in human rights originated.
He starts off by mentioning the unfairness that he experienced growing up in a small town where people weren't used to seeing people who looked like him. For that, he was bullied.
"I had a funny sounding name, brown skin, and long hair as a boy—a bunch of reasons why you can pick on a kid," Singh recalls.
His peers in school would tell him that his skin was dirty, and asked why he didn't wash himself. He says they would pull his hair and punch him because he looked different.
"I had to learn how to defend myself, learn to stand up for myself," Singh states, "but I also started realizing that I became sensitive to unfairness and [began] noticing it around me. I realized I wasn't alone."
Another key insight came from his mother, who repeatedly taught him that "we're all one." At first, this confused Singh because people didn't look the same.
But his mother persisted, saying that all of humanity shares a connection.
"We all live on the same planet, live in the same community," Singh elaborates. "There's also this energetic idea she really wanted to impart: this idea that if someone else is not doing well, it should feel like we're not doing well. If people around us are suffering, then we're suffering."
Campaign reflects Gurus' teachings
During the interview on the patio in Chinatown, Singh opens up about his spiritual beliefs.
He points out that a major aspect of Sikh philosophy is that it's not enough to pursue self-improvement.
"We have a moral obligation to improve the lot of people around us," he explains. "And specifically, there was this notion that there are people who are in positions of power and they use that power to oppress people.
"There's a very strong tradition," Singh continues. "Almost everything we do has some sort of significance of taking power from the elite and giving it to the people."
He points out that wearing a turban in India in the late 17th and 18th centuries was an act of rebellion against elites who maintained that this headwear should only be donned by royalty or nobility.
The founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak, was nearly 500 years ahead of his time by creating a faith that did away with the caste system and promoted equality between human beings.
The 10th spiritual leader, Guru Gobind Singh, created a military order called the Khalsa to not only protect Sikhs from being forcibly converted to Islam by Mogul rulers. The Khalsa also defended Hindus and followers of other faiths.
So are the teachings of these two gurus really the root of Singh's campaign slogan "Love and Courage"?
To this, Singh replies that it's true that Guru Gobind Singh recognized that all of humanity is one, which he's taken to heart. And he greatly admires Guru Nanak's emphasis on equality.
But he says the "love and courage" message actually arose after a discussion in a circle with people he knows.
"I come from a space of a lot of love for the people around me," Singh says. "You'll see that I love people. I love humans. I love the planet. So there's a lot of love. I got a lot of love.
"Then I think to care about people and...to care about people beyond just yourself or maybe your family, it takes an act of love to understand there's this connection," he continues. "Love really inspires what I do. Love requires an action."
In other words, he says it requires a warm and open heart to feel the connection, but it also takes courage to fight for something he believes in.
And he's engaged in many such fights over the course of his life: in the martial-arts ring, in the courtroom, and in the political arena, taking on the insurance industry, the Indian government, temporary job agencies, and discriminatory policing.
"It's not the most popular issue to take on—policing issues," he says with a smile. "It's not necessarily an electoral win."
But Singh then adds that he's made a commitment to himself to follow through on his principles even if it hasn't necessarily benefited him electorally.
"So it takes courage to do that," Singh concludes. "You need to have love and you have to have courage."
He likes to think of himself as warrior with a heart. And with that, Singh gets up from the table and carries on down Union Street on his way to the next campaign appearance.More