Commentary by: Paul Adams in Ottawa
Jagmeet Singh does not yet have a seat in the House of Commons. So when the new NDP leader comes to visit, he’ll have to sit up in the Leader of the Opposition’s Gallery and gaze down on the body he wishes someday to join.
If all the MPs are there that day, Singh may notice that there are already five turbaned Sikh men with seats. In 2015, 47 so-called “visible minority” MPs were elected along with 10 Indigenous people, very nearly mirroring their relative shares of the Canadian population.
If Singh then swings his eyes to the north end of the Commons chamber to the gallery above the Speaker’s Chair — to the Press Gallery, that is — he may notice something different. So far as I am aware, there has never been a turbaned man working as a reporter for a major news organization, so he won’t see any of those.
No one keeps racial statistics on the Press Gallery the way they do for the House of Commons, but when I looked through the membership list the other day, I was able to identify only one visible minority reporter working for one of the big legacy media outlets – a reporter at CTV. None at the Globe, none at the Star, none at CBC-TV. And no Indigenous people either.
This may overstate the case a little bit. Since I was a reporter on the Hill in the 1990s, there has been an influx of young reporters of colour. They tend to be concentrated in online and specialist publications such as HuffPost Canada, the Hill Times, the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) and some ethnic and foreign news outlets. The so-called Mainstream Media — not so much.
The House of Commons is today much more representative of the face of modern Canada than is the Press Gallery. Most of us can name a few visible minority and Indigenous politicians. Try coming up with more than one or two political journalists of colour.
When Singh was chosen as NDP leader, there were two streams of news coverage, both echoing (in a small way) the reaction to Barack Obama’s breakthrough in 2008. The first was a self-congratulatory celebration of the nation’s inclusivity. The second involved an obsessive concern with the man’s race and ethnicity.
One interview that got a lot of attention was Terry Milewski’s welcome-to-Ottawa interview with Singh on CBC’s Power and Politics. Milewski has never suffered fools gladly and operates on the premise that all politicians are fools until proven otherwise. (Stephen Harper was never able to establish this to Milewski’s satisfaction, so far as I could see.)
Apparently Singh, or his office, had — with stunning naiveté — asked to see the questions in advance. Milewski delightedly tweeted out that fact before Singh backed down. Advantage: Milewski.
A lot of the reaction to Milewski’s interview turned around a “gotcha” section at the end of the interview in which Milewski doggedly asked Singh to denounce posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, which appear in some Sikh-Canadian institutions. Parmar was a Sikh nationalist who was — it has been well-established — the mastermind behind the Air India bombing in which 329 people were killed, most of them Canadian, many of them of Indian extraction.
For many viewers not steeped in the issue, it must have been a baffling exchange. But few reporters in Canada have covered the Air India bombing and its aftermath more thoroughly than Milewski — and Jagmeet Singh has been deeply engaged in Sikh politics. It may have been a ‘gotcha’ question, but it got Singh, who dodged and weaved but would not be caught denouncing Canada’s worst-ever mass murderer.
Singh is really going to have to do better than this if he wants to lead a national party with any success.
What concerned me about the Milewski interview was not this exchange, but what came before it. Except for the first question — which was about how Singh would manage without a Commons seat — every single query directly or indirectly invoked race, religion or ethnicity.
There were questions about refugees, religious symbols, Singh’s “acceptability” in Quebec — all coming before the Parmar exchange. Nothing on Singh’s interesting views on addressing precarious work among the young. Nothing on his controversial views on decriminalizing possession of drugs like cocaine and heroin. No “open-ended” questions that would allow Singh to lay out his own agenda.
Earlier that same day, another CBC journalist had posted a tweet that appeared to confuse Singh with another turbaned Sikh — federal economic development minister Navdeep Bains. If I were among the one-in-five people living in Canada who are visible minority, I might be tempted to wonder whether journalists who see a politician of colour see anything but the colour.
When we look south of the border — or across the Atlantic — it’s easy for Canadians to think of racism as a foreign problem. And I agree that we seem (for the moment) unusually blessed.
But take a look at some of the just-released data from Canadian Press’s important “Populism Project” – a survey from EKOS research. According to EKOS’ massive survey, 37 per cent of Canadians think too many immigrants are visible minority. Among respondents who are themselves visible minority, 43 per cent said they had “personally seen or experienced a clear incident of racism” over the past month. Remarkably, 26 per cent of other Canadians said the same.
While a plurality of Canadians don’t think there been much change in the level of racism in Canada, 33 per cent think racism is becoming more common, compared with 20 per cent who think it is becoming less common.
I am not suggesting for a moment that Sikh politicians should only be interviewed by Sikh journalists, or that Indigenous politicians (like the Manitoba NDP’s new leader Wab Kinew) should only be interviewed by Indigenous journalists. It’s a fundamental tenet of journalism that good reporters strive to understand the world around them, and strive particularly hard to understand those most different from them.
But a more diverse press corps would have two effects: one for journalists, the other for consumers of journalism.
For journalists, having people of various backgrounds in the newsrooms means being exposed to different sensibilities and story ideas in editorial meetings, over coffee, and in the thousands of chats that occur among colleagues in newsrooms every day as they try to figure out their angles. They also get to know individuals different from themselves in their full complexity — without reducing them to their most visible characteristics.
In the late 1980s, I did a story related to HIV/AIDS for the CBC. I had lived in New York at the height of the crisis a few years earlier and thought I was reasonably well informed. But after my story aired, a young producer — who was gay — came and spoke to me about some of the language I had used. He made me a better journalist by helping me see some things I had overlooked.
We are all limited to some degree by our backgrounds. Journalism is a lifelong process of educating ourselves away from those limitations.
For news consumers, diverse newsrooms are both a substantive and a symbolic indication that the news business is serious about exploring our world, which includes people like ourselves and people who are quite different. It’s not just about comforting visible minorities through representation. It’s also about the rest of us not just seeing them, but trying to understand them.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by all iPolitics columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. This piece was republished under arrangement with iPolitics.
By: Davina Bhandar in Vancouver
Within the space of a few moments, Jagmeet Singh became one of Canada’s most admired politicians. His cool-under-pressure reaction to being confronted by an angry heckler is just one of the reasons Singh is considered to be the favourite contender for leadership of the federal New Democratic Party.
A video of the Sept. 6 incident at Singh’s campaign event in Brampton, Ont., went viral and has been viewed millions of times in Canada and around the world. Moments into the event, an angry white woman interrupted Singh and shouted Islamophobic and vitriolic statements at him, and physically gesticulated, demonstrating her feeling of entitlement — to space, voice and position - in relation to others at the event.
Singh seemed undeterred by the outburst. His response to her rant was to rally his audience to help him relay his campaign message. He asked his guests to chant: “Love and courage.”
What is the nature of Singh’s call for love? His political slogan is based on a message of universal love and courage. Singh’s message — and chant that evening — is uniquely situated among the slogans of the three other candidates: Charlie Angus “Got your back,” Niki Ashton “Building a movement, together,” and Guy Caron, “Let’s Build a Progressive and Sustainable Economy.”
The dramatic events at the Sept. 6 meeting demonstrates something about Singh, as a person and as a candidate. It also points to new undercurrents of religion and spirituality and its role — not only in Canadian politics, but also in the leadership race for the NDP.
Singh’s campaign and potential leadership arrives in a climate of increasing hatred, fear and division. His call for universal love is coherent with Sikhism, which challenges the division between daily life and a devotional love that guides all thought and action. How does the language of love and courage relate to a New Democratic Party trying to find its way in a shifting political landscape?
Singh’s outward appearance solicits questions from some Canadians — as in the case of the heckler — regarding his secular position: To what degree does Singh’s religion relate to his policy ideas or conduct?
Canadian political institutions and traditions are imbued with Judeo-Christian values and symbols. Yet the separation of church and state maintains religion does not dictate the making of policy and law. However, in the game of politics, courting ethno-racial, national and religious identified voters has become a central art of party campaign strategists.
Political parties of all persuasions have had to navigate this division in a variety of ways. In Canada, the left social democratic tradition, represented now by the NDP, has had less experience with faith-based movements and the religious identity of its leaders than their right-wing counterparts and left-leaning parties elsewhere in the world. Singh’s leadership challenge will likely change that.
While Singh is positioned as a secular politician, his ethos, sense of justice and formation of his identity is connected to a Sikh practice. The very essence of the message of universal love and courage is embedded in a Sikh devotion, rather than a secular idea of loving all humankind. Practising Sikhism defines a way of life — one that is contemplative, meditative and committed to spiritualism and positive actions.
To understand the contemporary role of religion in politics, we need to look at one of our turning points: 9/11. The attacks on New York City and the Pentagon served as a marker of the time foreign and domestic policy in North America was called upon to name Islamic terrorism as a universal enemy.
Once North America and other western governments embraced the rhetoric of a civilization divide, the psyche of liberal democratic nations split apart. The already tenuous divide between the religious and secular began to rupture further.
This reinforced a binary division and emboldened a powerful discourse of racism and Islamophobia. The basic premise is that Islam represents something universally distinct from Christian belief systems.
This discourse of racism and difference has gained strength and societal control through the election of conservative governments with moral platforms that build on fears and anxieties of susceptible citizens.
Sixteen years of corrosive discourses since 9/11 has led to: Us vs. Them, the Clash of Civilizations and racism. We are now at the point of the normalization of white supremacy. It is no longer an oddity or a left-wing conspiracy theory to discuss the presence of fascism and neo-Nazis — these are events widely circulated in our social media feeds and featured during the evening news.
Islamophobia and racism are often understood to be twinned structures of oppression. In many ways they are, but there are complex differences between them. They disseminate and exist in different political, cultural and social taxonomies.
Islamophobia operates through systems of stereotypes, often misunderstanding or misrepresenting the traditions, religious practices and customs of highly diverse ethno-national and racial communities. Islamophobia has been manufactured in multiple ways in society through popular culture, media, policy and criminalizing targeting Islam and Muslims.
Racism is a larger systemic operation of power denigrating one race while validating or elevating another.
When the Harper Conservatives were in government, they attempted to map onto Canadian national values a form of social conservatism. This was articulated through a distinction between Canada and the “barbaric cultural practices” of others.
The clear lines that were being drawn between what Harper referred to as “old stock Canadians” during a 2015 federal leaders’ debate brought into discourse front and center the relationship between white supremacy and Islamophobia. It connected the dots between a normative white Christian Canadian identity that could stand against the racialized others.
Now the Conservative Party has a leader who proudly accepts the label: “Harper with a Smile.”“ Andrew Scheer has the support of social conservatives in the Conservative Party. He has steadfastly supported free speech over the condemnation of Islamophobia and was absent during the House of Commons vote for the Anti-Islamophobia Motion M-103, overwhelmingly passed in the House of Commons.
Singh said his ability to remain cool under pressure was largely owed to his experience of being a brown, Sikh and turbaned man, growing up in the 1980s in Brampton, Ont., just northwest of Toronto.
His past experiences of religious and racist intolerance helped to fortify him against racist language and assault.
In the moment in which the racist woman yelled at him, she assumed he was a Muslim. Many wondered why Singh did not attempt to correct her misconceived perception; he is not a Muslim, but rather, a Sikh.
Suggesting such a distinction in the moment, he said, would only further the misunderstanding that somehow being Muslim means such treatment is considered justifiable. His reaction, he said, should not be to proclaim his religion. By not correcting this misconception, Singh was acting in solidarity against Islamophobia.
Sikhs have been affected throughout the post-9/11 discourses of Islamophobia, mainly because of this misunderstood identity. In the U.S., and elsewhere, there has been a rise in hate bias attacks against Sikhs, with the 2012 Oak Creek, Wis., shooting as a visible example.
While there are those who, in the similar vein as Singh, have sought to challenge Islamophobia by standing in solidarity, there have also been many instances where Sikhs in America, the U.K. and Canada painstakingly distinguish themselves from Muslims.
However, in countless examples, when Islamophobia is experienced in the public sphere against properly identified Muslims, there has been a lack of outcry.
In Canada, the shooting deaths in Quebec’s Sainte-Foy’s Mosque, in which Azzedine Soufiane, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubakar Thabthi, Abdelkrim Hassane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, and Ibrahim Barry were killed, was unmistakably an act of terrorism. Canadians across the country mourned this tragedy. And yet was it recognized as an act of terrorism against the citizens of this state?
The day-to-day effects of Islamophobia have led to many Muslims living with heightened experiences of fear and not knowing what they might encounter on a walk to school, a day at work or even waiting for a bus.
The left social-democrats of the NDP hold steadfastly to their conception of justice, fairness and equality in a secular world. The ways in which people are encountering the public today, however, is seemingly much murkier than these stark divisions.
The issues of racism, religious intolerance and social justice are not central issues for any federal political party. These issues, however, should no longer be viewed as separate from major policy platforms including health, welfare reform, employment, national defense, national security, aboriginal relations and education. Perhaps a political leader such as Jagmeet Singh will be able to navigate these debates with an alacrity and style we have yet to witness in the Canadian political world.
Jagmeet Singh raised more money than the rest of the NDP leadership field combined in the second quarter of 2017.
According to fundraising data published by Elections Canada late Monday afternoon, the deputy leader of the Ontario NDP raked in $356,784 from 1,681 contributors for the period that ended June 30.
That was well above Charlie Angus, who finished second with $123,577 from 1,285.
Niki Ashton raised $70,156 from 1,006 contributors, while Guy Caron brought in $46,970 from 568.
Peter Julian, who dropped out of the race in June citing fundraising troubles, still raised $28,673 from 296 donors.
In a press release, Singh cited the fact that he only officially joined the race on May 15, 2017 and that he therefore raised the impressive amount in only 47 days.
“Jagmeet Singh, candidate in the federal NDP leadership race, has raised more in the first 47 days than Justin Trudeau or Andrew Scheer at the same point in their leadership campaigns,” the press release said.
It added that the median donation was $40 and that two-thirds of the donations received were under $100.
The Liberals took issue with the $40 median donation being portrayed as evidence of a grassroots groundswell, pointing out that 87 per cent of all their donations in the second quarter were under $100 and that the median donation was just $11.
They also disputed the comparison to Trudeau’s leadership fundraising. A party spokesperson told iPolitics that — though Trudeau announced his intention to run on October 2, 2012, the race wasn’t officially underway until November 14, when the party began providing administrative support to the candidates.
In the first 47 days from November 14, the spokesperson said, Trudeau raised over $700,000.
All the same, with the NDP’s fundraising hitting a seven-year low in the quarter, Singh’s success is indisputably good news for the party, which takes a 25 per cent cut of all donations to leadership campaigns.
“Singh’s fundraising numbers also revealed how his message is resonating with new supporters for the NDP. A cross reference of address, name, and postal code with Elections Canada donor records, demonstrate that roughly 75% of the donors to Singh’s campaign have never before given to Canada’s NDP,” the Singh release said.
Singh himself argued his fundraising numbers show the party can take on the Liberals and Conservatives in 2019.
“I am very proud of what our team was able to accomplish in our first six weeks of the campaign,” he said.
By arrangement with ipolitics.ca.
Commentary by John Delacourt in Toronto
With just a few notable exceptions, the historical roots and complexities of South Asian politics here in Canada are barely covered in our mainstream media. What we miss are factors that can weigh heavily on current leadership races, and eventually on the federal election campaign in 2019.
Jagmeet Singh’s decision to enter the NDP’s federal leadership race, for example, has the potential to trigger a strong demographic shift among millennials. Here are two scenes from previous campaigns that speak to this possible breakthrough:
In the first, it’s 2014, and Olivia Chow has entered the mayoral race in Toronto. I’m sitting in a downtown restaurant with two South Asian NDP organizers who have offered to help her. Hailing from Brampton, they have both worked very closely with Jagmeet Singh.
One organizer has a theory about Trudeau and what he predicts will be the ultimate demise of the Liberal party in the 2015 campaign. It’s his view that no one really took a close look at who Trudeau was attracting to his events in the 905 area and in B.C.’s Lower Mainland. It’s only members of an older generation of South Asians, he affirms — those who had come to Canada in the 1980s and felt loyal to Pierre Trudeau and his progressive immigration policies — embracing the younger Trudeau’s candidacy with such enthusiasm. To the children of this generation, he says — the ones coming of age and becoming active in gurdwara politics — Trudeau’s Liberal bona fides are questionable.
Trudeau was tainted, he claims, by his party’s rejection of a groundswell movement of activism that was seeking redress for the pogroms the Indian government carried out against Sikhs in the eighties. It was NDP Leader Jack Layton’s charisma and support for these efforts, given validation by Jagmeet Singh’s work on the ground, that fired up this younger generation, he tells me.
Trudeau and his growing number of South Asian candidates only appeal to the less engaged “uncles and aunties,” the organizer assures me — and are doomed to lose in the face of the NDP’s new organizational strength out in Brampton and Surrey.
The second scene takes place a little more than a year later. NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is having his first official campaign rally at the Variety Village community centre in Scarborough, Ontario. There I am fully expecting to see a strong contingent of young South Asian campaign workers in the front row, cheering in a full house. But the room is, by and large, made up of faces I recognize — people from the same core Toronto labour union and activist base that Chow initially rallied together in the early days of her mayoral campaign. These supporters are older — mostly “old stock,” as was the phrase-du-jour in those days. It seems a sign of things to come.
Indeed, four weeks out from election day, I’m on the phone with a pollster who offers me a salient read on what might have happened to that once-engaged South Asian NDP vote. He tells me that his numbers suggest an overwhelming percentage of those who voted provincially for the NDP in Ontario, back in 2014, were not going to vote for the federal NDP in 2015.
The emerging demographic split of South Asian Canadian voters my organizer friend had predicted just one year before failed to materialize. It was my contention that the South Asian candidates running — people like Navdeep Bains, Kamal Khera and Sukh Dhaliwal — could easily transcend generational biases and connect with all their constituents by addressing middle class issues.
One thing was clear: Mulcair was not appealing to a younger, engaged, activist demographic with all the fire and charisma that Singh is capable of inspiring.
For all the ways in which Singh’s rise to prominence has been profiled in the mainstream media, it’s his ability to connect with the complex, compartmentalized idealism and aspirationalism of a younger generation — those who see no contradiction in their candidate praising the revolutionary consciousness of Castro and posing for GQ — that might be most decisive in the NDP leadership race.
And if Singh does win, that charismatic appeal to a younger generation might catch on well beyond South Asian communities — if the Liberal party’s mandate for the middle class loses credibility. And that might turn out to be the sleeper theme of the next federal election.
By arrangement with iPolitics.ca
by Priya Ramanujam (@SincerelyPriya) in Scarborough, Ontario
“Jack Layton, before there was any hope of winning any sort of racialized riding, would come out to events and speak on issues that matter,” deputy leader of the Ontario NDP, Jagmeet Singh, told New Canadian Media during a dinner the party held in Scarborough Monday night to mix and mingle with ethnic media outlets representing more than 20 diaspora communities. “[He’d] speak on human rights and take positions on human rights that were actually in line with the community wanted.”
Sincerity Is Key
Singh, who was elected in the riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton in the 2011 provincial election, is known for being vocal about human rights and issues affecting racialized communities – most recently police carding. He says it’s important for ethnic communities to not buy into the “false sense of support” that comes from politicians attending particular cultural events when they’re on the campaign trail.
“[T]here’s no doubt that political parties will come just at the eve of an election and show up just at the right time and shake hands with the right people and get the right pictures just to show that they are in support of that community,” he says. “You have to actually look into what they say, what policies they bring forward, what is their message that actually connects with the community.”
Andrea Horwath, NDP leader in Ontario, says her party has a great opportunity in the upcoming election to do the type of engagement work Singh speaks of across the country – starting with the diversity of the candidates themselves.
“I know the slate of candidates that we have has got a number of people that reflect diverse communities and that’s very exciting, but it’s a matter of making sure that it’s not a matter of those candidates in isolation,” she told New Canadian Media.
Making Real Inroads
Engaging diverse communities in meaningful and respectful ways continues to be an area that Canada’s various levels of government need to become better at. Horwath spoke of meeting with a community group earlier that afternoon that serves Spanish-speaking people in North Toronto and their concerns with the government around a lack of engagement in the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games coming to Toronto in July.
“That’s a failure of the government to recognize not only an opportunity, but an obligation, quite frankly,” Horwath says. “If you’re going to host the Pan American Games and the Parapan American Games, then you have to actually be respectful of those people whose cultures and languages who [are reflected].”
Viresh Fernando, a self-claimed “political junkie” and resident of Toronto’s Thorncliffe community – where, according to Statistics Canada, 71 per cent of the population’s first language is neither English nor French – says the best tool politicians could use to engage ethnic communities is intimate, meaningful dialogue.
“Stop listening to self-appointed leaders and really sit down for a couple of hours with a small group of people and let them talk to you and keep asking them questions without having your handlers around you,” he says. In fact, he points out that during the NDP’s dinner event he would have liked to see Horwath circulate more from table to table during dinner and speak informally to the various ethnic media and community members in the room.
Staff, Media Engagement Needs to Become More Diverse
Further to that, Fernando points out it’s important for any political party to not only encourage diversity amongst their candidates but also amongst those candidates’ staff members. “The political staff tend not to represent the ethnic communities at all,” he says.
Fernando added that he believes why Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne encountered such a backlash from various ethnic communities around her recent sex-ed curriculum – something many members of the media asked Horwath for her take on during the event’s press scrum – was due to a lack of understanding. If Wynne had more diverse voices on her staff, she may not be spending $1.8 million on communication messages around the curriculum, Fernando says.
More involvement in the system is something many representatives of the ethnic media collectively agreed they’d like to see.
“We want to be part of the system, someone who can represent us,” said Mohamed Busuri of the Somali Canadian Times.
“We encourage participation of members of the Filipino community in politics to show the strength in our community,” agreed Rose Tijam, president of the Philippine Press Club, adding, “Filipinos don’t want anything different from mainstream Canadians – work, jobs, housing.”
As the NDP continues to ramp up its engagement with diverse communities at both the political and federal levels with events like this one, there is one thing Fernando warns it and other parties should never do on the campaign trail: “Please don’t insult people by dressing in their costumes . . . do not engage in tokenism.”
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ONTARIO NDP Leader Andrea Horwath appointed MPP Jagmeet Singh as Deputy Leader of the party on Monday, thus making him the first turbaned Sikh to hold such a position in Canadian politics. Horwath said: “I’m proud to name Jagmeet Singh as Deputy Leader. I know that having him serve in this important role will help […]
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit