As It Happens

NDP defector says he warned party some N.B. voters are 'uncomfortable' with Jagmeet Singh  

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh should have come to New Brunswick to meet with people who "may not have had any exposure to people from different cultures," says a former party exec. 

Singh should have visited to reassure voters in majority-white communities, says Jonathan Richardson

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with the media following caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Wednesday November 28, 2018. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Listen7:49

Note: Since this story first appeared, some of the former NDP candidates have denied leaving the party to support the Greens. Read more here.

Transcript

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh should have come to New Brunswick to meet with people who "may not have had any exposure to people from different cultures," says a former party exec. 

The NDP has failed to nominate a single federal election candidate in New Brunswick, and on Tuesday, 14 of the party's former provincial candidates announced that they were leaving to join the federal Greens. 

They were joined by Jonathan Richardson, the federal party's executive member for Atlantic Canada, who said the NDP leadership failed to respond to provincial concerns — including anecdotal evidence that racism toward Singh will be factor in the campaign. 

Singh is a Sikh and wears a turban.

Here is part of Richardson's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Why did you decide to leave the NDP and join the Greens?

For me specifically, I work with vulnerable people. ... With all of these children, with all of these vulnerable sectors, the one thing that I kept seeing was that the government wasn't providing the funding that was required for them to actually get off on the good foot.

So because of that, I eventually had to make a decision. You know, am I in politics for the branding, for the orange? Or am I here for the people that I want to help? And I've always been here for the people that I wanted to help.

So for that reason, what I've done is say, you know, there are three Green MLAs in New Brunswick, and they all have the same kind of social justice kind of beliefs that I do. And it was my hope ... that we'd be able to at least bring in some legislation to help with some of the things that I was seeing.

Jonathan Richardson, a member of the federal NDP's election planning committee in New Brunswick, announces the defection of himself, and fourteen former NDP candidates, to the Greens. 0:47

Is the problem, though, as you pointed out in your press conference, that there is not much faith in the federal NDP leadership right now?

I have zero issues in terms of the leadership of the party because I know they're doing exactly what their job tells them to do — and that's to go around the country and to figure out which seats they can pick up, which seats they need to maintain, and where they're going to put their resources.

And, unfortunately, just for this election at least ... it's not going to be New Brunswick.

You also said in your press conference that you have raised with [the party] ... that race and the racism card is coming up in the discussions that you're having with those in the party and those around the province. What did you tell them about that?

Being a member of the federal executive, I believe that it is my job to listen to the membership at the ground floor and to give that view up to the executive.

And what did you tell them specifically?

I said that there was a misunderstanding of Mr. Singh's religion, where his religion was coming from. Because I was hearing a lot of people referring to him, for example, as being a Muslim. 

And there's a lot of issues in terms of, especially in the northern part of the province, where there have been a lot of issues with the EI protests that are going there, the black hole specifically around the issue of temporary foreign workers coming in, and they felt that they were taking jobs away from them.

I'm only speculating here, but I would feel like that resentment would have generalized into a broader kind of view of people who are from different cultures.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh makes an announcement in Toronto on Monday, September 2, 2019. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

And you are hearing a lot of racist remarks when you were visiting the northern part of the province?

What I was hearing is that they were uncomfortable. 

In New Brunswick, some of the rural communities are not up to date in terms of the social media life that we would be in some of the bigger areas or the younger people. So having someone physically present to be able to talk with them and to be there would have actually, in my opinion, rectified the situation.

What did you hear, though, on the ground as far as people's regard to Jagmeet Singh and his identity?

Like I said, you know, some people thought that he was Muslim.

Some people didn't even know that he was born in Canada. So they thought that he ... immigrated from a different country.

Some of these misperceptions that they were having about Mr. Singh, you know, in my opinion needed to be rectified quickly.

Was it your feeling, and was it what you were communicating, that Mr. Singh was going to have a hard time in New Brunswick because he's a Sikh?

I don't know the answer to that. I know that there was an issue, and I brought it up because I really did not want that to happen. Because, obviously, I was a very staunch New Democrat.

That's why I felt it was urgent to bring it up to that point that he should maybe come to the Acadian festivals, come to these celebrations and be exposed inside the community.

But what could the leadership do? When you tell them that there is a problem that Mr. Singh is a visible minority, that he wears a turban, that he's a Sikh and that's going to be become an issue in this election, what can they possibly do about that?

That's a very good question. I don't know what the answer is to that. And I think that if I had the answer, I may have dealt it with myself.

And did you at any point warn them that it's possible that because Mr. Singh is a Sikh that he is going to have a very hard time winning an election in New Brunswick?

No, I don't think I used those words. Specifically, I said that those concerns were brought up and that's going to have to be dealt with.

Is it your view — and not that you share it — but is it your view that Mr. Singh is going to have a very hard time in this election in New Brunswick because he's a Sikh?

I don't know the answer to that. I can only say what I heard and what people were telling me on the ground.

I can tell you that the community is very Caucasian. So there are temporary foreign workers who come in, but a lot of the people in that region may not have had any exposure to people from different cultures.

 

Of the 14 people, NDPers, who have left to go to the Greens who joined you [Tuesday], do they share the view that Mr. Singh will have a very hard time fighting an election in New Brunswick because he's a Sikh?

I don't have an answer for that either because I never talked to them about this.

Whenever we talked about joining the Greens, it was more provincially so that we could bring a legislator to help the people in our communities with the EI problem and the black hole. And for me specifically, social justice. We never talked about race.

[NDP MP] Charlie Angus, who sent out a tweet yesterday, he said: "The failure of NDP leadership to meet with the New Brunswick team is serious." So he joins you, he shares your concern there. But then he says, "The fact that some New Brunswick NDP jumped ship because they wouldn't run under a progressive leader who comes from another religion is sickening. Good riddance. Go to Elizabeth May." What do you say to Charlie Angus?"

Keep listening to your political staff because that would be the exact advice that I would be giving if my party is in trouble — to have the personal attacks on people.

And that's what you regard this as being?

Oh, of course.

Do you think it would have helped had [Singh] come to the province?

If he would have taken the time to come in and meet in these different communities, after meeting him myself, I know that that would have made a difference.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.