After federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s horrible interview with CTV’s Evan Solomon last week, some political observers believed his chances of winning the Burnaby South byelection in B.C. had seriously diminished.
Then he received a stroke of luck that even a Las Vegas bookmaker would have admired.
His Liberal opponent, Karen Wang, resigned on Jan. 16 after she made controversial comments on the Chinese social media app WeChat. “If we can increase the voting rate,” the daycare operator wrote to potential voters, “as the only Chinese candidate in this riding, if I can garner 16,000 votes, I will easily win the byelection, control the election race and make history! My opponent in this by election is the NDP candidate Singh of indian descent.”
The last line raised an armada of eyebrows across Canada.
Wang’s decision to use race and ethnicity to gain political advantage over her opponent was widely condemned.
Not that her strategy was unique, by any means. As National Post columnist Andrew Coyne correctly assessed on Jan. 19, “her real crime was to have said out loud what everybody in politics knows to be the practice, not just of the Liberals but of every party, but prefers not to mention.”
For someone who ran for the B.C. Liberals in 2017 (she lost) to show this basic lack of political judgment was surprising.
Wang’s lack of judgment obviously couldn’t be tolerated by federal Liberals. So, “the party had no alternative but to pretend to be appalled,” Coyne wrote, “just as the other parties had no alternative but to pretend to be outraged.”
(It’s also worth pointing out that Wang reportedly approached the federal Conservatives in 2018 to be a candidate. She was apparently rejected due to questions surrounding her judgment, but this hasn’t been officially confirmed.)
Wang immediately apologized. She claimed not to have written the post but approved it. She asked the party to reconsider and they declined. She briefly toyed with running as an independent. But that won’t happen, according to Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington on Jan. 21, because of her “unexpected pregnancy.”
For Singh, this scenario was a godsend. The Liberals had tossed out his biggest potential rival. He went on the media circuit and, while stating he didn’t take the comments personally, said “politics that divides people along racial lines is not the type of politics we need from our country.”
Some prominent Liberals, including strategist Lisa Kinsella, publicly stated they wanted him to win in light of what had happened in Burnaby South.
Plus, the Liberals didn’t have a lot of time to fix this situation. The byelection will be held on Feb. 25. A new candidate had to be located and appointed pretty quickly. As well, the bad taste left in the mouths of Burnaby voters, including those in the sizable Chinese and Indian communities, lingers.
It seemed like a nearly impossible task.
Yet the Liberals also had a stroke of luck. They appointed Richard Lee, who had served as a B.C. Liberal MLA in Burnaby North for 16 years (2001 to 2017) and was a deputy speaker of the legislature. He touted his support for “democracy, freedom, equality and multiculturalism” and, unlike Wang, wouldn’t condemn Singh for being a parachute candidate. He even has cross-appeal due his fiscally conservative approach to Asia-Pacific economic development and support for the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The battle has just become much more difficult for Singh. He faces a longtime provincial politician with deep roots in the community who appeals to left-leaning and right-leaning voters.
Singh’s political blunders will become the focus of attention once more. If he loses, it will change the political landscape. And calls inside the party for his resignation – which he won’t heed, as he recently told CBC’s Rosemary Barton – will undoubtedly intensify.
From rags to riches to rags again. The saga of Jagmeet Singh’s political future continues.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.