The thing about being a New Democratic Party leader is that there’s an oh-so-fine class line to walk, a line that is easier for the leaders of less socially concerned parties. No one really expects that the leader of the NDP will actually be a working-class person, and since Ed Broadbent’s time, even the expectation that the leader will have been raised working-class has diminished. Jack Layton and Thomas Mulcair have so many politicians brachiating in their family trees that if they lived in the U.K. they would probably have had peerages to renounce.
But until Jagmeet Singh came along, there was a still norm of personal austerity to be observed — a natural limit to how expensively one could dress, and how much conspicuous consumption one could indulge, while still serving up an NDP leader’s generous portion of lectures against selfishness and greed. Singh is the son of a psychiatrist: the tuition for the private American high school from which he graduated is, for the 2018-19 school year, US$31,260. He has been in GQ for his bespoke suits, and owns (according to Toronto Life) two Rolexes.
(I confess that the watches set me off. Rolexes aren’t arty like a Patek Philippe; they don’t do anything cool. They’re mostly kind of ugly. They are a pure, cold signifier of brute pride in wealth.)
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks with the media during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday August 30, 2018.
Making Singh leader of the federal NDP was audacious. If ordinary New Democrats had a problem with his image and tastes, they probably felt that, with Justin Trudeau leading the Liberals, they had plenty of wiggle room on the left for a handsome leader with some celebrity dazzle. Trudeau had appetizing potential to make ghastly errors of Richie Rich cluelessness, and has delivered.
But it seems Singh will not entirely be able to avoid the day of reckoning, the day of exposure to a stricter New Democratic standard. The leader, as you probably know, has a problem in Saskatchewan, the party’s traditional heart. In May he threw MP Erin Weir out of the national NDP caucus after an independent investigation “upheld” complaints of harassment, sexual and otherwise, against Weir. Weir’s many friends in Saskatchewan are unhappy with how the case was handled.
The investigation began when Singh’s office heard warnings about Weir from a third party, someone he hadn’t harmed or bothered, and Singh’s team set out to solicit evidence of offences by Weir. A personal coach chosen by the party to talk to Weir about being loud, huge and physically intrusive says that he has learned to “tone down” these personal characteristics, which seem to be the essence of the complaints. The report received by Singh has not even been summarized for public perusal, but the coach saw it and quoted from it, observing that Weir’s unpleasant behaviour had been found to be “on the ‘less serious’ end of the spectrum.” If he has done anything other than be a literal …read more