By Julia Cluett-McCullough
Written on Oct. 2, 2017
A little less than 24 hours ago, Jagmeet Singh became the new leader of Canada’s NDP, becoming the first person of colour and first Sikh person to lead a major federal party in Canada. I have been extremely proud to support Jagmeet for the past four months, and to be able to have my first choice candidate win on the first ballot in my first leadership race since joining the NDP in 2014 is incredibly exciting.
But this is also an historic moment, regardless of which candidate you were supporting. I want to put down some thoughts on the significance of this moment, right now, while I still remember exactly how exciting everything feels, so that I can look back on it in five or 10 or 20 years.
Over the course of this campaign, I have been inspired by Jagmeet’s vision for a more inclusive Canada, where everyone can feel they belong. I may not have experience with racial or religious prejudice but I have felt like I haven’t belonged often in my life and, because of that, I have always desired a society where everyone feels they belong regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, class or ability. I am proud to stand behind his message of love and courage over hate and fear. Yesterday, I saw young children of colour at the event with their parents, able to see, for the first time, someone who looked like them leading a party in Canada. I can only imagine how amazing that felt. The election of Jagmeet represents a changing tide in Canadian politics, one of greater opportunity for all and that fills me with so much hope. Regardless of party affiliation or who you supported in this race, this historic first and sign of diversity is something of which we should all be proud.
Since the results were announced yesterday, something I have thought about a lot is my grandfather, a lifelong CCF/NDP supporter and proud CCF candidate, who passed away in 2010. In 1975, my grandfather drove 19 hours from Owen Sound, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba to an NDP leadership convention to support Rosemary Brown, the first black woman to run for the leadership of a major federal party in Canada. My grandpa believed that it was time for a person of colour to be a major party leader and create a sign of opportunity for all. Rosemary Brown did not win the leadership race (Ed Broadbent did) and I think a factor in that loss may have been that, in 1975, many people weren’t ready for the idea of a woman of colour to lead a major party. But 42 years later, we now have the first person of colour to lead a major federal party in Canada. And I hope if my grandpa were here he’d be proud of our choice.
Finally, today I’m wearing my favourite shirt, the one with a quote from Jack Layton’s last letter to Canadians before his death, “Let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic and we’ll change the world”. I believe in my heart that if we listen to the words of Jack and Jagmeet and show a little more love, hope and optimism and a lot more love and courage, we will change the world.
Julia Cluett-McCullough is an 18-year-old, Grade 12 student at Bluevale Collegiate in Waterloo, Ontario. She describes herself as an intersectional feminist, progressive activist, proud member of the NDP and a volunteer with the Youth Sexual Health Advisory Group in Waterloo Region. She hopes to one day become a social worker.