SURREY, B.C. — New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says he's faced barriers to creating change within the party as he reflects on a shaky first year and looks toward the 2019 election.
Singh wrapped a three-day caucus retreat in Surrey, B.C., on Thursday amid criticism from party stalwarts about weak fundraising and his controversial decision to oust a Regina MP over harassment complaints.
He acknowledged it had been "tough" to achieve his vision as a new federal leader who was previously an NDP member of the Ontario legislature.
"Coming into an organization and executing that vision is always going to take time, and I found that that's been a little bit harder than I thought," he said in an interview.
"When you come into a leadership position, there's always barriers to bringing in a new change. You just have to work with people and you have to provide a new direction. ... That's been a challenge, bringing in the new way of doing things that I want to see happen."
Singh added the experience has been "rewarding" and he appreciates a challenge. The party has an "incredible movement" already, with excellent volunteers, MPs and staff, and building on that foundation is an honour, he said.
The 39-year-old Ontario-born leader will run for his first Parliament seat in Burnaby South, a riding that MP Kennedy Stewart was set to officially resign on Friday as he campaigns to be Vancouver's next mayor.
Singh was scheduled to knock on doors with volunteers in the riding on Thursday evening and attend a roundtable discussion on housing in Burnaby on Friday before mainstreeting at Simon Fraser University. He is expected to receive the party's nomination in the riding on Saturday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau must call a byelection within six months of Stewart's resignation. Singh was asked whether he's concerned about the prime minister running out the clock to ensure the byelection happens as late as possible.
"It's not about me," he said at a news conference Thursday. "The focus has got to be people across this country. There's about five byelections and the government is making it impossible for those five (ridings) to have the representation they deserve."
Singh countered reporters' suggestions that he wasn't well-known in the riding. He said he's spent a lot of time walking the streets in Burnaby and plenty of people have run up to him for selfies or to ask how they can get involved in the campaign.
While Singh met with his caucus members in a Surrey hotel this week, he faced a barrage of outside criticism from NDP loyalists about the state of the party's finances.
The party pulled in $4.86 million from 39,053 donors in 2017, a decline from the $5.39 million it collected in 2016, and a steep drop from $18.59 million in 2015.
Singh said he knew when he came in as leader last fall that fundraising was a problem, and the party conducted a thorough forensic analysis and identified what needs to change.
"I put forward a plan to do it, put forward a new fundraising team, and a clear set of steps that we're going to take as a party to ... get it to the point it needs to be," he said in the interview.
He's also grappled with controversy over his decision to oust Regina MP Erin Weir after an investigation upheld several harassment complaints against him. Dozens of former NDP politicians in Saskatchewan penned a letter criticizing Singh, while female NDP activists have signed a letter supporting the leader's decision.
Yet Singh pushed back against a suggestion the party was divided.
"At the end of the day, if we talk about New Democrats, we're all determined to push for better for more people. We want to have a better Canada and we want it now," he said.
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Laura Kane, The Canadian Press