NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh announces he will run in a byelection in Burnaby South, during an event at an outdoor film studio, in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday August 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

For NDP’s Jagmeet Singh, the pressure rises as the votes draw closer

Leader’s performance in TV interview spawned social-media backlash from NDP supporters and foes alike

Critics of NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh say his performance in a weekend TV interview is a sign he may not be prepared for the challenges of the election year ahead.

His supporters shrugged it off as an inconsequential moment that only those within the “Ottawa bubble” actually care about.

During an appearance on the political show CTV Question Period, Singh appeared to be unaware of a news story that made a lot of headlines last week.

Singh was asked how he would respond, if elected prime minister, to the recent statement by China’s Canadian ambassador Lu Shaye, that Canada and its Western allies’ calls for the release of two Canadians detained in China is rooted in ”white supremacy.”

“Sorry, who accused who of white supremacy?” Singh asked his interviewer. He later told the Toronto Star he didn’t hear the initial question. Host Evan Solomon repeated it in full and asked how Singh would have responded if he were prime minister.

“I don’t know if there is any evidence of that suggestion,” Singh said, then quickly pivoted to talking about U.S. President Donald Trump.

The performance spawned a social-media backlash from NDP supporters and foes alike.

READ MORE: Date set for byelection in hotly-contested Burnaby-South riding

Karl Belanger, the NDP’s former national director, said Singh’s response to the China question is not a big problem on its own, but he believes these kinds of things can add up. Whether he didn’t hear the question properly or he wasn’t fully briefed, Belanger thinks Singh should have been able to handle it better.

“Frankly, it’s not helpful to have answered the way he answered because it feeds into a narrative that Jagmeet Singh is not ready to play at the same level as the other main party leaders,” Belanger said.

Singh, elected the NDP leader about 15 months ago, is in the political fight of his life as he seeks to win a seat in the House of Commons for the first time. He is currently devoting almost all his time to that campaign ahead of the Feb. 25 vote but has said even if he doesn’t win he will continue to lead the party into next fall’s general election.

BC NDP MP Peter Julian, who has been canvassing the riding alongside his leader, said Burnaby voters like Singh because, compared to the candidates from other parties, he has a lot to say on the issues that are most important to people in the riding, like housing affordability, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and education.

“We’re certainly seeing, both with the phone calls we’re making and the door to door, very strong support,” said Julian, who insisted he’s heard absolutely nothing about Singh’s response on the China question.

“It’s just not something that people are talking about in Burnaby South and that’s, I think, indicative as well of the difference between the kind of issues that are talked about in the Ottawa bubble and the types of issues that people are actually talking about.”

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