Andrew Scheer said the problem is Justin Trudeau. Elizabeth May said the problem is policy. Jagmeet Singh said the problem is power.
“New Democrats, we’re not in it for the rich, we don’t work for the powerful and wealthy,” NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said in his debate wrap-up. “We work for you – so we can tackle the problems we’re faced with.”
Singh’s debate performance was strong, showing an interesting mix of moral strength and gentleness — or perhaps kindness or calmness.
He achieved an important strategic goal. While occasionally sharing and building on concerns from Green leader Elizabeth May, Singh established himself as the reliable progressive choice.
About half-way through the debate, Singh ran down the list of topics May has appeared wobbly on in recent days – reproductive choice, Quebec’s Bill 21, separatism and support for Andrew Scheer.
But Singh did something more interesting, far deeper, which separated him from both May and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer. He told Canadians why and where we have problems.
When Scheer moved off his attack on Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and defended his own positions, it made any progressive Canadian shudder.
His support for Brexit. Agreement with Trump that Embassies should be moved to Jerusalem. A seeming hostility to the treaties with Indigenous people to which Canada is responsible. Misrepresenting how the refugee and asylum system works. Committing to worsen conditions in Palestinian refugee camps.
Andrew Scheer did not share with us his analysis of where our problems flow from and how we overcome them. But, in connecting the dots between the pinhole insights we could glimpse, an upsetting picture was drawn of a politician for whom the humanity of people is secondary to strategic imperatives.
May also didn’t give us an insight on the thing we need to know the most about her – what she believes is driving climate destruction and how we come to terms with it. May offered policies and moved between them, often strongly, by providing key facts. But facts and policies are not explanations.
Singh gave us an explicit understanding of his thinking. When there is a conflict between working for the interests of the Canadian people or working for the “rich and powerful,” Liberals and Conservatives choose the powerful, he argued.
And who can deny it’s true? If Justin Trudeau was as committed to building housing as he was to getting SNC-Lavalin out of a corruption trial, rents would be a lot lower today. If Trudeau put Canadians’ health – and pocketbooks – ahead of the Big Pharma and insurance lobby, he would rolling-out universal pharmacare, rather than explaining four years of stalling.
And under both Liberals and Conservatives, there’s been a river of corporate tax cuts while health care transfers get cut.
Singh let us into his thinking. And for many, his words are what our experience tell us is true: Ottawa, under Liberals and Conservatives, has not worked for us. He offered to work for the Canadian people to make that change.
But Singh also added a deep criticism of the character of both Scheer and Trudeau. “If we want to be strong,” said Singh about Trudeau’s non-commentary on US President Trump’s treatment of refugee children, “to not call that out for the shameful act that it is shows weakness.” And, turning to point at Andrew Scheer, Singh added “he is no stronger than Mr. Trudeau.”
Suddenly, Jagmeet Singh has presented himself as the strong moral leader against a bi-partisan political consensus more interested in floating in the flow of power than challenging it when required to advance the Canadian people.
It’s a powerful thought, and something far beyond what either Andrew Scheeror Elizabeth May offered us last night. Powerful thoughts tend to grow.