Singh swarmed by cheering students at Ryerson University day after debate
TORONTO -- It wasn’t planned, but the long lineup of people waiting to buy the latest Air Jordan basketball shoes was a sign of what NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was walking into at Ryerson University.
As soon as Singh stepped off the bright orange NDP bus, the shoppers waiting outside a downtown Toronto shop pulled out their cell phones and started taking pictures.
“We watched the debate last night in our residence ... It was awesome, “ said a student named Bella who asked for a photograph with Singh. “Congratulations on a great night.”
“Hanging out in Toronto with all these amazing people it is so good,” Singh said to a woman who briefly left work to bring Singh a slice of cake, decorated with an on-brand orange flower.
It was that early flow of tweets, Instagram posts and even a few FaceTime calls that formed a large crowd around Singh at Ryerson University’s downtown campus. The students CTV News talked to found out Singh was on campus through social media posts.
“Ryerson students, this is the future, make some noise for us,” Singh said to the crowd that immediately started cheering.
Singh’s visit to Ryerson University was planned by campaign staff, but the students who came out didn’t know in advance about the “mainstreeting” event. In fact, the leader was supposed to walk around campus and meet people as he went but the student mob was so big he didn’t move more than a block in his nearly two hours on campus.
“Thanks for being patient everyone. I’m coming up there,” Singh said to the hundreds of students who gathered around him.
“I’m very excited to have you on campus,” another man told Singh. “You did an absolutely fantastic job last night.”
Young people represent a major voting block and Singh, like the other leaders, is trying to tap into that power. In 2015, 58.3 per cent of newly eligible voters turned out, an increase of roughly 17 per cent from the 2011 general election. According to Elections Canada, the greatest change was among voters aged 18-24. Turnout in that age category increased 18.3 per cent.
The NDP is proposing a number of policies it believes will entice young voters: the party says it will immediately end interest on student loans, eventually make tuition free, cap cell phone plans and give rent subsidies to make housing more affordable.
Singh has already made that pitch to students on two other campuses, but neither had as big of a spontaneous reaction as Ryerson.
Last week, Singh visited Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., for an event that was at capacity. Campaign insiders say they were extremely happy with the turnout that saw students turned away from the event waiting outside to meet Singh.
Before that, in mid-September, Singh visited McGill University in Montreal. While the organized campaign stop with local candidates was well attended, Singh’s name recognition during the campaign walkabout was significantly lower than on Tuesday.
“He’s like Justin Trudeau of the NDP,” one McGill student said to her friend during Singh’s walkabout on Sept. 16. “Wait, he’s a Conservative?” someone else responded. “No, he’s the leader of the NDP.”
“That’s so cool,” said one man who had just met Singh. “He’s the second biggest leader I’ve ever met after Doug Ford, and Rob Ford.”
The NDP campaign attributes the difference to time. Campaign insiders say the interactions that day were “real,” but Singh was still relatively unknown. After months of difficulty trying to cut through headlines as the leader of a third party, the moments that followed the writ drop -- from Singh’s reaction to Trudeau’s blackface photos, to the racist incident in Montreal and his response to a funding question about ending boil water advisories on reserves — have resonated with voters and given Singh a big boost.
“The ways those moments get shared on social media amongst youth, that is powerful,” said James Smith, Singh’s press secretary.
Whether these young voters who came out Tuesday take their support to the polls is the big question. The other question is whether the event was a one-off or whether post-debate momentum is starting to morph into an orange wave.
We were supposed to walk through campus but we’ve only made it one block. Singh can barely move a foot before someone asks for a photo or a handshake pic.twitter.com/xsD3VuFFU5— Annie BergeronOliver (@AnnieClaireBO) October 8, 2019