“Yo, I’m pretty heavy on the Twitter.”
It’s not a line you’ll hear from any other federal leader this campaign. But Jagmeet Singh said that to a student at McGill University who was asking about Singh’s strength on the social media platform. And in his time connecting one on one with dozens of students on campus, he shone.
Many knew who he was, for starters. A few wanted to discuss policy such as the environment, and, as expected, students were thrilled to hear about Singh’s plan to immediately get rid of interest on student loans and eventually make tuition free. Quite a few students were just plain excited to meet him. They wanted selfies.
“A brown guy running for prime minister? Don’t you want to say hi?” one young woman said to her friend before taking a moment to chat with Singh.
Singh told Global News later that night on the campaign bus that he knows students are his “key demographic.”
The problem is, the event with about 150 students was the largest Singh had in his day and a half in Quebec and the longest he spent talking to voters one on one during that time.
Hanging onto seats in Quebec is critical to his party’s future. The NDP currently holds 14, down from the nearly 60 captured in the 2011 Orange wave with Jack Layton as leader.
“Certainly, the nightmare scenario for them is losing all the 14 seats in Quebec,” said McGill University political scientist Daniel Beland.
“In some of these ridings, the incumbent is in fourth or even in fifth place right now,” added Beland, who noted none of the seats is safe.
WATCH: The NDP’s fight for Quebec
Singh arrived in Sherbrooke, Que., midday Sunday to launch his platform, “Together for Quebec.”
Speaking to a room of about 120 people, including a couple of dozen candidates, Singh talked about the importance of recognizing Quebec’s cultural autonomy, with a platform that promises more money for immigrant integration, and the final say over infrastructure projects that have an environmental impact, such as pipelines.
Singh also says it’s a historical mistake that Quebec didn’t sign on to the 1982 Constitution Act — something he vows to change if elected.
READ MORE: NDP launch Quebec-specific platform
With such bold promises, you’d expect multiple opportunities to sell them to voters during his time in Quebec. But Singh had no big rallies. No secondary announcement to highlight or launch a particular part of the Quebec platform. And his schedule, overall, was light compared to the other party leaders.
Sunday, the platform announcement was followed by a stop in St. Hyacinthe, with only about two dozen people waiting at incumbent Brigitte Sansoucy’s office.
Singh then made an impromptu decision to walk over to a nearby poutine festival, but there weren’t too many people to talk to there — although his dancing to American Pie with poutine in hand did become popular on Twitter.
Monday, Singh’s day began with the launch of candidate Eric Ferland — who the party billed as a “star,” while most Canadians probably won’t have heard his name — and then ended with the McGill student walk around and group event.
Singh’s opponents Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer regularly have more events in a day. They have each held rallies with hundreds of people. (Of course, the Liberals and Conservatives also have much bigger war chests and campaign teams.)
WATCH: Jagmeet Singh says he knows all Quebec candidates’ names
Global News asked Singh why he didn’t have more events during his stay in a province that’s critical to the party’s future.
“We’ll have more events, we’re excited about the events we’ve got lined up. We’ve got a full campaign in front of us, 35 days,” Singh said.
Singh ended those comments with an awkward statement:
“Really proud that we’ve got candidates like Sophie, like other candidates that are here today I don’t want to name because I don’t want to make mistakes, but we’ve got a great team that works really hard.”
The man fighting to be prime minister left the impression he doesn’t know the names of all his candidates when he’s in a critical fight to sell them to the people of Quebec.
Global News gave Singh an opportunity to clarify what he meant. Both he and the party suggested he meant he didn’t want to leave anyone out — he wasn’t sure exactly who was behind him in the crowd.
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Not knowing which candidates are at a specific event is also a mark of a lack of details and level of organization from the team preparing and briefing their candidate.
Behind the scenes, a party official told Global News that Singh is busy when he’s not at public events — having private meetings, doing regional media interviews and working on debate prep. (Of course, his opponents do that, too.)
And on an almost-six-week campaign, words matter. So, too, does the impression they leave behind.
On day six of the election campaign, Singh leaves Quebec with eight ridings empty. On the bus ride back to Ottawa after the McGill event, the party told reporters it now has candidates nominated in 70 of 78 ridings. He’s likely to be sure he knows who they are the next time he visits the province that’s critical to his party’s future.
Abigail Bimman is an Ottawa-based correspondent for Global National.