Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has been going hard at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s false promises, claiming his government’s actions never match his rhetoric.
Singh has said that young people feel “betrayed by Trudeau,” and that he “could have worked for you, but instead, he chose himself.” He’s also tweeted, “I’m not Justin Trudeau. I’ll stand up to big oil and end subsidies.”
The message is clear: Trudeau is full of shit, and if elected, Singh will actually do what he says. The first part of this statement is undoubtedly true. The second part is difficult to accept, though, because of Singh’s lack of condemnation of his provincial counterparts who have won power.
Singh has yet to utter a bad word about NDP British Columbia Premier John Horgan, whose government is in the process of undertaking a host of destructive actions in the province.
There, the RCMP have spent the summer brutally cracking down on protesters objecting to the logging of old-growth forests on southern Vancouver Island, where cedar trees that have been around for 1,000 years are being cut by the Teal-Jones Group for the sake of getting the biggest and best wood to make saunas, deck chairs and woodsy smelling toothpicks.
These protesters had set up a series of rolling blockades in an attempt to prevent the logging companies from getting to the forest. In response, after being granted an injunction by a judge, the RCMP have arrested nearly 700 people, and reports of brutality are rampant: Protesters are pepper sprayed, violently hauled from protest lines and have their car windows smashed, while police wear thin blue line patches and ignore other court orders to allow media to document their actions.
In response to all this, the best Horgan could muster was a two-year deferment of the project while local First Nations prepared forestry plans, telling reporters he hoped this brief reprieve for millennia-old trees would stop the protests.
Some NDP MPs have been critical of the RCMP response to the protests, going so far as to request a formal investigation into its tactics, but Singh himself has stayed clear of commenting on them.
You can see him walking the tightrope between principle and pragmatism in a recent one-on-one interview with Christopher Curtis of The Rover. When asked what he thinks about the situation, Singh says: “Old growth forests, I’ve been there and walked amongst these trees and it’s spectacular. We need to protect those.” What he doesn’t say is that he would try and put a stop to the logging. Instead, he touts a promise for a $500-million fund for Indigenous-led conservation efforts.
So essentially, Singh has tacitly accepted Horgan’s middle-road on logging through his silence on the matter. The current NDP election platform only talks about providing funds for “forestry innovation.”
Singh’s acceptance of controversial B.C. policies hasn’t stopped there. After Horgan’s government lost a case looking to block the Trans Mountain pipeline, he accepted that it should go ahead. “Personally, I’m not enamored with the prospect of seven-fold increase in tanker traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Salish Sea,” Horgan told reporters at the time. “But the courts have determined that the project is legitimate and should proceed.”
But he went beyond reluctant acceptance, saying Indigenous land defenders should give up the fight against the pipeline: “This is a legitimate project that has massive benefits to B.C., particularly to Indigenous communities, and through dialogue we’ll find a way forward.”
Here, too, Singh has fundamentally accepted the construction of the pipeline. The federal platform sidesteps the issue, only mentioning ending fossil fuel subsidies, and not stopping their construction. So as much as Singh has chastised Trudeau for buying the Trans Mountain pipeline, there’s little sign he’d sell it or shut it down.
And then there’s Singh’s support of the NDP in Alberta under Rachel Notley, the once and maybe-future premier, who has repeatedly chastised those who don’t support the pipelines that keep the oil flowing from her province into the world.
Notley has been heavily critical of Singh’s party, in 2019 going so far as to publicly muse that she may not vote for them in the federal election: “I think that Jagmeet Singh is unrealistic about the need for all Canadians to have economic security and the kind of economic security that Alberta provides to all Canadians, not just to Albertans.” She added, “When we get closer to the election, I’ll make a decision in my own riding about which candidate is best able to represent the needs of Albertans and the people in my riding.”
Singh, meanwhile, has taken a far more reconciliatory approach, saying earlier this month, “We know that people in Alberta benefit from more New Democrats both provincially and at the federal level. We have far more in common and we’re going to build on those things.”
Singh in his heart of hearts may not support the logging, the pipelines, the oil sands and the police violence. And, unlike former federal leaders Tom Mulcair and Jack Layton, he has gone against the strategy of moving the party away from the left and toward the centre in an attempt to gain seats and win government.
The problem, however, is that Singh has made the calculation that he needs support from the provincial arms of the party, where leaders have been able to actually wield power. And his support for these premiers means compromising his progressive values.
When Trudeau became prime minister, swept in by promises of “real change,” he quickly compromised and kept doing things the way they were always done. In Singh’s support for Horgan and Notley, you can see those very compromises being telegraphed in advance.
The federal NDP leader is setting himself up to become what he is campaigning against: someone whose words don’t match their actions, who could have worked for you but instead chose themselves.
Someone, in essence, who betrayed their voters.