After winning the NDP federal leadership yesterday, Jagmeet Singh repeated something he said during the campaign.
He wouldn't be seeking a seat in Parliament before the 2019 federal election.
Instead, he wants to spend time travelling across Canada to help people get to know him better.
Singh has demonstrated shrewd political instincts in winning his party's leadership. But in this instance, I think he's making a mistake.
Canadians are going to want to see him in the House of Commons—at least a few times—before putting him in charge of the entire federal government and letting him move into the prime minister's residence at 24 Sussex Drive.
When Brian Mulroney became leader of the federal Progressive Conservatives in 1983, he ran in a by-election to get into Parliament.
His friend Elmer MacKay—father of former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay—cleared the way by resigning his seat in Central Nova in Nova Scotia.
Mulroney cruised to victory and then went back to run in his home riding of Manicougan in the 1984 general election.
Prior to the 1984 election, Canadians observed Mulroney in the House of Commons, where he often showed flashes of humour. It helped his party win a landslide victory.
Singh is being cautious about running for a seat because he probably doesn't want to face voters in Outremont, should his predecessor, Tom Mulcair, suddenly resign his seat. Outremont would be an uphill battle, given the riding's large Jewish population and Singh's criticism of the State of Israel's actions in its occupied territories.
But there are other ways that Singh could get into Parliament.
He would have no trouble winning in New Westminster–Burnaby. Singh would also likely cruise to victory in Vancouver East, Vancouver Kingsway, and possibly Windsor West, should the sitting MPs there decide to step aside.
The MP in New Westminster–Burnaby, Peter Julian, has given his life to the NDP. He spent nearly 15 years building the party in Quebec, learning French as an act of solidarity with people living in that province.
Julian is fluently bilingual, which helped bring about party unity when a large number of Quebec MPs joined the caucus in 2011. He has also learned a great deal of Mandarin, which has made people from China and Taiwan feel welcome within the NDP. And he's long been an advocate for his riding's residents of African, Philippine, and South Asian ancestry.
In fact, Julian's riding is home to one of Canada's oldest Sikh communities in Queensborough. It's right across the river from Surrey Centre and Delta, which are held by the federal Liberals but which the New Democrats could capture in the 2019 election.
It would be a tremendous act of generosity for Julian to step aside to allow his new leader, Jagmeet Singh, to win a seat in Parliament. Singh's opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and his progressive views in addressing drug addiction would probably make him a shoo-in in a by-election.
Unlike Jenny Kwan in Vancouver East, Julian has been in Parliament since 2004, which means he won't be sacrificing an MP's pension should he give up his seat for a couple of years.
In the 2019 election, Singh could then go back to Ontario and run in his home riding, just as Mulroney did after winning the Central Nova by-election in Nova Scotia.
At that point, Singh could legitimately claim to be running for prime minister with truly national credentials. He would have represented voters in B.C., lived in Newfoundland and Labrador as a child, learned to speak French as an act of solidarity with French Canadians (as Julian did), and been elected to the Ontario legislature.
Julian has been an important NDP MP, serving as the house leader and helping build bridges between the party and diverse communities. He's liked by the media and he's been an excellent representative for his constituents.
Should he decide to clear the way for Singh to run for Parliament, Julian would earn tremendous respect not only within his party, but from people of different political dispositions across the country.
It's not going to be an easy decision—and Singh might even believe it's the wrong decision to enter Parliament at this time. But it makes a great deal of sense if the NDP really wants to win the 2019 election and Singh wants to market himself as a truly national leader.More