Jagmeet Singh's struggle to define the NDP while dousing fires in his caucus

The leader of the federal NDP is articulate and stylish. But who is he really? We can’t see him in action in parliament, because he doesn’t have a seat. And he has been preoccupied with disciplining several caucus members accused of sexual assault.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during the federal NDP Convention in Ottawa on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)
Listen28:37

Jagmeet Singh did not expect to be putting out fires within his own caucus when he became leader of the New Democratic Party.

Earlier this month, he expelled one member of his caucus and suspended another, over charges of sexual harassment.

This week, the federal party leader faced a blast from the NDP premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley.  She responded to Singh's social media post about the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, saying he was "absolutely, fundamentally, incontrovertibly incorrect in every element of that tweet."

In the meantime, the countdown to the polls has begun.  The next federal election is less than a year-and-a-half away, and voters are still trying to figure out who Jagmeet Singh is and what he stands for.

The fact that he does not have a seat in the House of Commons presents a challenge. Former national NDP leader Thomas Mulcair advised that it is important to lead the party from within the House of Commons, however Singh says, "I don't think that's the only tool you have.  I think a lot can be said about meeting Canadians where they are, in their communities, in their neighbourhoods."

In this wide-ranging conversation with Michael Enright, he talks about his motivation to get into politics, about the discrimination he has faced as a Sikh, and about the direction in which he wants to lead the NDP.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters in the foyer of the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 9, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

When asked what distinguishes his party from the Liberals, he cited their stance on pharmacare as an example. The Liberals have appointed Eric Hoskins to chair an advisory council on the issue, and Singh says the NDP simply would act.

We already know what needs to be done. That's the stark difference.- Jagmeet Singh

"We've got all the details, we've got all the evidence. We've got a committee report out of parliament saying we need to do it. We've got other data from other jurisdictions saying that they do it and it saves them money. We've got the auditor general of the country that says it will save us resources. We've got the parliamentary budget officer saying that we should do it. We've got all the reports and all the evidence necessary," says Singh. "We should be talking about how we implement it. We already know what needs to be done. That's the stark difference."

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters with NDP environment critic Alexandre Boulerice, right, about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. (Patrick Doyle/Canadian press)

Singh talks about his support for other programs he believes Canada needs, including a national, federally-funded child care program, guaranteed annual income, electoral reform, and a criminal justice system that is grounded in rehabilitation, not punishment.

"Addiction, mental health and poverty are not criminal justice issues, they are social justice issues, and they should be dealt with through a social justice lens," he says.

Singh saved his harshest criticism for the government's handling of the Trans Mountain pipeline, a project that has exposed a serious rift between the NDP governments of Alberta and B.C. 

'What I'm offering is a way forward, a way to unite people,' says leader Jagmeet Singh. 8:43

"In this situation, there's only one person that's broken not one, but two promises. It's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau," Singh says, the first promise being that there would be an "evidence-based science and environmental assessment that's independent and proper, and that Kinder Morgan was subject to it. He made that promise. He broke it.  Secondly, he made a promise that he would not be subsidizing fossil fuels. He broke two promises. He's made an open, blank cheque to subsidize fossil fuels."

Click 'listen' at the top of the page to hear Michael's conversation with Jagmeet Singh.