The founder of Skyrocket, a Vancouver digital agency, knows a great deal about branding.
After all, this is what Mo Dhaliwal does for a living.
But he’s reluctant to use the word “brand” in connection with his close friend, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh.
“Sometimes when we use terms like brand, we’re talking about a veneer or a representative personality rather than the person themselves,” Dhaliwal told the Straight by phone. “And Jagmeet is a rare case where I feel like the word brand is almost the least appropriate.”
It’s because he sees Singh as a truly authentic person.
“He’s a dynamo,” Dhaliwal said. “The beautiful thing about Jagmeet Singh is that the person that you see on TV, the person that you meet on the street, and the person that you hang out with at home are all quite congruent. It’s the same person.”
Dhaliwal declared that Singh has a “superpower” for making connections with other people. That was apparent to Dhaliwal back in 2012 when they first became friends, a year after Singh had been elected to the Ontario legislature.
“Part of the reason I fell in love with the guy back then was because he was optimistic, enthusiastic, and incredibly engaged and present with me,” Dhaliwal recalled. “We were meeting in Toronto for the first time. There was no strategic advantage for him to spend the time with me that he did or for being as present with me as he was, but he was interested in forming a relationship with another human.”
Several years later, Singh was thrust into the national spotlight after being elected NDP leader. “But the part that has remained consistent throughout that is his incredible ability to connect with people and his interest in them,” Dhaliwal continued. “He’s truly concerned about people and wants to know their story and wants to connect with them.”
Dhaliwal believes that NDP organizers have wisely understood that they have a candidate who speaks authentically. So they’ve let him be free to express concerns that resonate with a large segment of the Canadian population, and especially with those who are marginalized.
That was on display earlier this year when Singh teared up as he spoke about the lack of drinking water on First Nations reserves. The NDP leader pointedly refused to speculate on how that might resonate with him personally as an expectant father. Singh emphasized on this occasion that it wasn’t about him; it was about Indigenous people.
“We have a guy who is continually in touch with his following via Instagram, TikTok, and what have you on a continual basis,” Dhaliwal said. “And that amount of outreach can’t be scripted. There’s no way of trying to manipulate and mold and shape every moment of every day for everything that he posts and what he does in life.”
Had the Trudeau Liberals kept their promise to introduce electoral reform after the 2015 election, Dhaliwal believes that the NDP would probably be attracting more support.
“The Liberals are kind of given this wide berth and wide latitude to do whatever they want because that’s our only buffer against a Conservative government,” he said.
Plus, Dhaliwal argued that there’s an inherent bias against the NDP at the national level, even though the economy has not ground to a halt in B.C. under NDP rule. But even without electoral reform, he noted that Singh is still tracking far ahead of his party in terms of his personal popularity.
In the meantime, Dhaliwal worries that Canada has been “treading water” politically as the climate crisis is intensifying and white supremacy and divisive politics are on the rise.
“In Trudeau and the Liberals, you see a performance and a veneer without a lot of execution and follow-through on integrity,” Dhaliwal said. “With the Conservatives, you see a lot of really cynical masks—like they’re trying to kind of keep their white Canadian base engaged while doing this weird diversity and inclusion dance without ever being sincere about that.”
He feels that Singh, on the other hand, has a willingness to fight for the underdog and stand up against injustice while embracing the Sikh concept of “oneness”.
“His advocacy for First Nations communities through to environmentalism is all wrapped up in that notion of oneness,” Dhaliwal explained. “It doesn’t begin and end with humanity. It’s a continuum of humanity through to the entire animal kingdom and nature and the environment as one big cohesive piece that all must thrive together.”
He described this as a “beautiful philosophy” but added that it’s made all the more relevant by Singh’s willingness to enter the political arena and be bloodied by the battle.
According to Dhaliwal, this combination of values underscores Singh’s message on the campaign trail.
“There’s a very different approach to his politics as opposed to, I think, the nature of politics,” he said, “which is about trading favours to attain power.”