Jagmeet Singh looks the way you hope a progressive politician would. Recently, BuzzFeed anointed him the “most stylish politician in Canada by like a million kilometers.” He’s the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit in Queen’s Park; he commutes to work by bike, often featured on his Instagram . When I meet him in his office, […]
Jagmeet Singh looks the way you hope a progressive politician would. Recently, BuzzFeed anointed him the “most stylish politician in Canada by like a million kilometers.” He’s the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit in Queen’s Park; he commutes to work by bike, often featured on his Instagram . When I meet him in his office, PartyNextDoor is blaring from his Bluetooth speakers.
At 38-years-old, the criminal defense lawyer turned politician is a rising star in Canada, currently serving as Deputy Leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party. But why should you care about a guy that represents a suburban district outside of Toronto? Because rumor has it that Singh will soon make the jump into federal politics and run for leadership of the left-wing New Democratic Party of Canada, ready to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party government.
Both identify as progressives, but unlike the Prime Minister, Singh supports policies such as electoral reform and the repeal of Canada’s Anti Terrorism Act, Bill C-51. And while he’s just as happy to grab a selfie with you as Trudeau, Singh understands that the real power of social media isn’t showing off his custom-designed suits (though those look sharp as hell), but as a vital tool for communicating with his constituents—the youth, in particular.
After the scandals that surrounded the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, Toronto became the political laughing stock not just of Canada, but the world. But if Singh’s ascent continues, he may turn Toronto’s reputation around as the hotbed of a new progressive movement.
GQ: You may just have the most interesting Instagram and Snapchat accounts of any politician. Do you think social media might be ruining democratic politics?
Jagmeet Singh: It can be a double-edged sword. The ability to become more accessible, to spread a message further, and to share stories at a faster rate are great things to come from social media. As politicians, we have another platform with which we can reach people but also listen to them. Social media enables us to talk about issues, shine a light on problems, and raise awareness of struggles that might have gone unnoticed. On the flipside, it also allows for a lot of noise and distractions. Sometimes it doesn’t create the best environment for a healthy discussion and can lead to trolling.
It also has a hand in organizing these global protests that we’re now seeing against Donald Trump.
I came from a tradition of demonstrations and protests, and I really believe in them. I think they are powerful ways of bring people together, to organize, to raise awareness, and most importantly to empower people. Protests have a value in society that I don’t think you can quantify. The protests we’re seeing that oppose some of the heinous things we see going on in this world are perhaps a silver lining to a lot the negativity we see and the pessimism that we feel. We feel that things are going in a bad direction, and when people are upset, it encourages them to come together and express that dissatisfaction. That’s a beautiful thing.
How did you get into Canadian politics in the first place?
I faced some significant racism as a kid growing up with a unique identity—you know, brown skin, long hair for a boy, with a funny sounding first name like Jagmeet, while going through childhood in a small Canadian city with little diversity. But because of having to deal with racism myself, I became very sensitive to unfairness. It created this appreciation and understanding of the struggles people go through from all walks of life. I was more sensitive and aware of the struggles people faced when it came to poverty, gender, and other systemic barriers.
As a student, I would help with issues by spreading awareness and going to demonstrations. In law school, I began to use my legal training to help marginalized groups. Then as a lawyer I continued to do human rights work with local organizations and cultural communities that felt their political representation was inadequate; that the elected officials we had were not tackling the issues that mattered to them. A group of friends, colleagues, and family—my brother Gurratan Singh and friend Amneet Singh were a big part of this—kept encouraging and pushing me to run for political office. I finally caved and got into politics.