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COMMENTARY: Jagmeet Singh’s surging popularity is a win for diverse communities

WATCH: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said on Oct. 16 that while he respects former U.S. President Barack Obama, in his opinion, his endorsement of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau is wrong.

The hashtags speak for themselves: #SinghUpSwing, #Jaggernaut and #UpRiSingh.

With the bar initially set so low, perhaps it isn’t surprising that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is now exceeding expectations. Not only are NDP supporters buoyed by the gains, but his popularity is a win for racialized communities across Canada, regardless of political affiliation.

Singh’s rise in popularity provides a silver lining in an election that has featured offensive tweets by various party candidates, racist make-up, white supremacist hate and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

READ MORE: NDP sees support jump at expense of Liberals, Tories one week before election, poll says

His growing approval rating continues to outpace all the other leaders. His party has gained five percentage points nationally, with the potential of receiving 20 per cent of the decided national vote.

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“He likes campaigning and it shows. He’s being himself and he’s connecting with people in a way that observers were not expecting him to,” said Karl Bélanger, an NDP insider.

Whether all of this positive coverage and impact translates into electoral success remains to be seen. What is clear though is that Singh’s gains will likely open the door for more racialized people to consider a career in politics — and hopefully toward deeper efforts to address systemic discrimination.

“In a time when inescapable racism, xenophobia and hate is bubbling up everywhere, Singh remains part of the reason why I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, regardless of how the upcoming October election pans out,” wrote NDP organizer Laura Nguyen last summer.

Singh builds momentum, focuses on gaining NDP’s popularity
Singh builds momentum, focuses on gaining NDP’s popularity

Singh hasn’t disappointed those who hoped he would represent minority communities with grace and dignity. He has had to carry the burden brought on by the “model minority myth” which places expectations on people of colour to prove their worth to society by having to be a positive role model.

That being said, the positive impact of a brown man with a turban running a solid campaign to become Canada’s next leader is already being felt.

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Racialized people are underrepresented in our politics, according to a recent analysis by the Canadian Press. Over one-fifth of Canada’s population, or 22 per cent, identified as belonging to a visible minority, yet only 15 per cent of the candidates in the six main parties represent that reality.

“Anyone that works in party recruitment will tell you it’s not that hard to get white, male candidates to step forward. There’s lots that are willing. It’s harder to get people who have traditionally been left out of politics or thought politics hasn’t been a venue for them,” reflected Erin Tolley, a professor at the University of Toronto who studies diversity in Canadian politics.

READ MORE: Diversity of federal candidates up from 2015 but advocates say more work to be done

Not only is the NDP led by a racialized Canadian but the party also has the highest number of racialized candidates compared to the other parties, with 24 per cent representation. The Liberals are at 17 per cent, while the Conservatives are at 15 per cent.

Canadians have had insight into what it’s like to be a person of colour running for public office through Singh’s eyes, in the way he gently pushed back against comments by a Quebec resident advising him to cut his turban to look “more Canadian” and how he responded to the brownface and blackface scandal.

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Quebec premier denounces Montrealer who told Jagmeet Singh to ‘cut your turban off’
Quebec premier denounces Montrealer who told Jagmeet Singh to ‘cut your turban off’

What remains disappointing, however, is how little overall analysis there has been on systemic discrimination in Canada. Advocacy group Colour of Poverty, Colour of Change released a report card earlier this month assessing the party’s platforms. It concluded that the parties aren’t doing enough, though both the Liberals and NDP fared better than the Greens and the Conservatives (neither of which even mention racism in their platforms).

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“We have done the research and compared platforms, and the verdict is clear — racial inequities are growing and deepening in Canada, but the leading federal political parties are not addressing this critical concern,” said Debbie Douglas, executive director of OCASI – Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants.

Whatever happens in the next few days, let’s hope Singh’s success on the campaign trail leads to urgent conversations about how elected representatives plan to better serve all communities. It’s up to us to hold them to it.

Amira Elghawaby is a journalist and human rights advocate. Follow her on Twitter @AmiraElghawaby