TORONTO -- “What’s up, Jagmeet?” A passerby calls out like an old friend.

“Hey! what’s up, brother?” Jagmeet Singh responds easily with a smile.

Tucked slightly out of the way under the shade of a patio umbrella, the federal NDP leader is mostly left alone on this sunny July morning during an interview with at a coffee house in downtown Toronto, but the casual exchange illustrates Singh’s approachability that is frequently characterized by colleagues and captured in public opinion polls.

At 42, Singh would become the second youngest Canadian Prime Minister after Joe Clark should his party win the election this year. One poll described him as “arguably the most popular national political leader” while another survey found that Canadians see him as a better prime minister than the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole. For all the positive sentiment, however, not everyone is enamoured with him. And whether he can translate his popularity into votes will be one of the biggest questions of this campaign.

“In some ways, the space between the Liberals and the NDP has really narrowed, and when that happens, it's usually to the benefit of the Liberals,” Grace Skogstad, a professor with the University of Toronto's Department of Political Science, said in a phone interview in early August.

Still, the upheavals since the last federal election, but especially this past year -- the socioeconomic, racial, and health care inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, racism, Indigenous truth and reconciliation, the fires and floods that have amplified the climate crisis -- dovetail with the issues Singh cares most about.

From the NDP’s perspective, that combination has supporters inspired and hopeful by what is possible. 

But they were hopeful in 2019 too. Voter turnout for 18 to 24 year olds, for example -- a crucial demographic Singh is counting on -- saw the biggest drop, falling to 53.9 per cent from 57.1 per cent in 2015, according to Elections Canada.

In the end, the NDP lost 20 seats in its poorest showing in more than a decade, despite the public’s overall positive view towards Singh. It was a major disappointment, though the 24 seats they did win were still enough to wield significant voting power in a Liberal minority government.

If you ask Singh, he wants much more than to simply prevent a Liberal majority at the next election. He wants to form a New Democratic government.

“I believe as prime minister, I would be able to help a lot more people,” he says unequivocally.



Paul Taylor, an anti-poverty activist and federal NDP candidate running for the second time in the Parkdale-High Park riding of Toronto, recognizes in Singh a fellow optimist. He’s witnessed firsthand how easily Singh engages with the community and how much they appreciate his passion for the issues they care about.

“He’s an incredible listener,” Taylor said in a phone interview, noting that more traditional politicians do not feel as authentic or accessible. “It is everybody coming up to him -- young people, really low-income people coming up to him and just saying, ‘Thank you for all that you’re doing’.”

An Abacus Data poll published in mid-July showed Singh to be a popular national political leader, particularly among women and younger voters, with even a slight edge over Trudeau among swing voters.

Singh is betting on young Canadians for support, saying on a number of occasions they will “make history in the next election.” His conviction stems from the activism young voters have participated in over the past year and the notion they can influence those around them too.

A 10-second video he posted on TikTok reiterating this belief has been seen more than 5.4 million times. This is a platform that leans toward younger users and in this particular video, Singh slow jams to the backdrop of the viral “Alors On Danse” TikTok meme.

The federal NDP leader’s efforts to be approachable, especially through his social media presence, have been well-documented. Whether he is talking about policy and social issues or giving instructional videos on how to tie a Sikh warrior knot or pronounce his name -- it’s Jug-MEET, not JAG-MEET -- Singh’s ability to navigate naturally and effectively on platforms other political leaders might find challenging sets him apart, supporters say.

He livestreamed a five-plus hour game of “Among Us” on gaming platform Twitch late last year against U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and others, despite not being a big gamer. (He says he’s played enough to hold his own, though.)

He says he is simply doing online what he does in person -- reaching out, checking in, and staying connected with people in the spaces they occupy, whether it is in a coffee shop, a park, or on social media.

He is a Gen Xer who connects with Millennials and Gen Z alike.

“There's support out there but I don't take it for granted,” Singh says.

To be sure, his popularity is noticeably lower in Alberta and Quebec, due in part to his policies and regional politics.

In Alberta, Rachel Notley’s provincial NDPs have gained significant backing from voters, both in terms of polls and in donations, but whether provincial support could equate to seats at the federal level appears doubtful given Singh’s opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project, according to Skogstad.

Even so, she says that Singh really surprised a lot of people in the 2019 campaign and debate; people who would never have thought about voting for the NDP before were impressed.

While Quebec is more socially progressive, making inroads in that province will also be difficult, Skogstad added. And she’s not alone in that view.

Polling data from Nanos Research, for example, paint a similar picture on Quebec.

“It’s still a tough slog for the New Democrats. They were dealt a significant setback in the last election that they’ve never really recovered,” Nanos Research’s Nik Nanos said in a July episode of CTV News’ Trend Line podcast.

Yet Singh is more optimistic the NDP will resonate with Quebec voters. It’s a province that has some of the best childcare in the country and some of the most affordable tuition rates, he notes, policies that align with his party.


He is criss-crossing the country again this summer and was in Toronto for a brief couple of days in between making a campaign-style job creation proposal in Windsor, Ont. and flying to Neskantaga First Nation, a remote community in Northern Ontario that has been without clean drinking water for more than 26 years. His stops in Ontario were book-ended by trips to Alberta, B.C., and Atlantic Canada.

Shortly after Singh became the leader of the NDP he spent the better part of a year on the road, rarely spending more than a week in the same city, he says. When the pandemic hit that changed, marking a dramatic change of pace for Singh. As much as he thrives off travelling and meeting people from coast to coast to coast, it was nice to stay put and spend more time with loved ones, he says.

“I’ve been able to be with my wife … It’s been cool to be in one spot,” says Singh. He was able to indulge in his gastronomic passion, confessing on Instagram to spending whatever free time he could in the kitchen, in between Zoom meetings and phone calls. Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu, whom he married in February 2018, got to enjoy more of his cooking too.

But those quiet days have come to an end, in more ways than one. The couple announced on Twitter and TikTok just before the election was formally called that they are expecting their first child. And he is back to travelling again. Not that he’s complaining. Connecting with people is something he really missed over the past year, he says, and being able to do it again has been energizing.

Jagmeet Singh

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh poses for a photograph following an interview with on July 23, 2021.  Photo by Solarina Ho

“There’s goodwill for Jagmeet Singh as an individual. I think people generally like him, but … converting that into votes is still going to be quite difficult,” Nanos said on Trend Line.

Singh and his supporters are not dissuaded.

“We face some of the most significant crises we’ve ever had to face. And people are not seeing the leadership on those issues,” says Taylor.


Still, Singh has also been criticized in some quarters, including by the Liberals, for being light on details when it comes to policy proposals. Among some NDP supporters, there is also a push to take on positions further left that call for more sweeping -- even radical -- systemic changes, rather than follow a path that treads too closely to the Liberals.

Singh says the NDP’s track record, along with policy proposals and motions that both Liberals and Conservatives voted against, illustrates how they stand apart.

Questions & Answers
1. What TV show did you binge-watch during quarantine?
I watched “Attack on Titan.” It's an anime show and it's huge -- like wildly popular amongst anime fans … I got so into it that I actually bought the anime books as well.
2. Who has inspired you most in the last year?
Indigenous people. The resilience, the courage, the power. From just how clearly the campaign of genocide was designed to eradicate kids and despite that, the resilience and to still be standing strong, and tall, and proud.
3. What’s your dream destination once restrictions lift everywhere?
My partner and I were debating where we wanted to go for a honeymoon … and we never got around to doing it. We both really like Japan. And I guess because of the anime and my martial arts background, that would be a cool place to go.
4. What’s one habit or hobby you picked up during the pandemic you hope to keep?
I really doubled down on home workouts and outdoor workouts … Being able to work outdoors has been really enjoyable and probably something I'm going to keep on doing, even now that gyms are opening up.
5. What’s your position on pineapple on pizza?
Yes! No hesitation. Love sweet and savoury combined and I love pineapple.

He credits the party with putting pressure on the Liberal government to provide more financial help through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS).

From Singh’s perspective, when the Liberals said something could not be done, the NDP refused to settle and demanded more: he gives his party credit for raising the wage subsidy to 75 per cent from the Liberal’s initial 10 per cent; for pressing for CERB when the Trudeau government proposed to make Employment Insurance (EI) access faster; for convincing the Liberals to double CERB to $2,000.

“We said $1,000 doesn’t even cover someone’s rent, let alone food, groceries, or the bill,” Singh said.

“We saved millions of jobs. So yeah, I think we showed by action that I’m not willing to just settle for less for people.”

Even so, he appears to recognize the realities of politics -- that compromise is sometimes necessary. He concedes there are things he had to give up in order to move the needle towards meaningful change. He says he wanted a guarantee that wage subsidies would not go to companies that increased executive pay or paid dividends to shareholders, for example, but the Liberals did not agree to it.

The University of Toronto’s Skogstad says the NDP under Singh has been effective in a Liberal minority government, holding their feet to the fire, but cautioned that success may work against them in an election.

She explains that a government will take credit for getting something done and is unlikely to share that credit with an opposition party for their role in helping pass the legislation.


Over the last four decades, Singh has lived in Newfoundland and Labrador, Windsor, Ont., London, Ont., and the Greater Toronto Area. His move to the West Coast in 2019 after winning a byelection in the Burnaby South riding completes a chapter, he says.

Burnaby is particularly suited to his passion for the outdoors. He is an avid cyclist and owns multiple bicycles. On TikTok, he can be seen cruising on a longboard, a longer and faster type of skateboard. He loves going to the ocean and snowboarding. He appreciates the more relaxed character of the West Coast.

But he appears equally comfortable sitting at a cafe in the heart of Toronto’s financial district, talking about policy proposals. The city will always hold a special place in his heart, he says.

Born in Scarborough, Ont. to immigrant parents, the story of Singh’s life, his family, and their difficulties is a familiar one for many Canadians whose family roots began elsewhere.

In his autobiography, “Love and Courage,” Singh shared the experiences that shaped his outlook, including the relentless incidents of bullying and racism in grade school over the colour of his skin and for wrapping his hair in a patka.

Decades later, on the campaign trail during the last election, he encountered a man who told Singh he should cut his turban off so he would look like a Canadian.

"I think Canadians look like all sorts of people," Singh responded at the time. "That's the beauty of Canada."

He has earned praise for his deft and compassionate response when confronted by anger and racism. For Singh, the pandemic proved that Canadians really want to take care of one another, and that the country is stronger for it. That compassion is what invigorates him to do the same as a political leader, he says.

“I am a hopeless optimist.”

Riding Profile for Burnaby South, B.C.

This riding used to be the federal seat held by the now-mayor of Vancouver Kennedy Stewart. Jagmeet Singh, who eyed a run in the GTA after becoming leader, moved west and won it with nearly 39 per cent of the vote over Liberal and Conservative candidates in the 2019 byelection, taking over after Stewart stepped aside to launch his municipal politics career. The margin of victory narrowed for Singh in the 2019 federal election, with the Conservative candidate coming a not-dramatically-distant second. Unlike some other party leaders, Singh has spent a considerable amount of time over the pandemic in his home riding. Will voters reward him for that?

Incumbent: Jagmeet Singh

Status: Seeking re-election

2019 Turnout: 45,006 / 76,849 (56.4%)

2021 Candidates
LIB Brea Sami Official site
NDP Jagmeet Singh Official site
CON Likki Lavji Official site
GRN Maureen Curran Official site
PPC Marcella Williams Official site
Recent Vote History
NDP Jagmeet Singh 2019
NDP Kennedy Stewart 2015

Edited by senior producer Mary Nersessian and producers Rachel Aiello and Phil Hahn