With his brightly coloured turbans and flowing beard, Jasmeet Singh is forging a new path for a leader of a mainstream political party in Canada.
Singh, 40, was elected leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP) a year ago — a relatively unknown member of the Ontario provincial legislature who convinced members of Canada’s third-largest party that he had the right stuff to succeed Thomas Mulcair in restoring its left-wing democratic socialist credentials.
He only won a seat in the federal parliament in Ottawa in February — but over the past nine months has proven to be a wily and natural politician on the campaign trail.
In last week’s leaders’ nation television debates, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau seemed hesitant, with Singh impressing voters in snap polls taken immediately after the telecast.
Heading into the six-week campaign that concludes in Monday’s polls, Singh’s NDP looked flat and likely to be lose seats to a Green party rising in on environmental concerns and caught between the Liberals and Conservatives.
But in multicultural Canada where nearly one-in-four are from visible minorities and a further 5 per cent are First Nations aboriginals, it was Singh’s emotional response to Trudeau’s blackface photograph’s that resonated with voters.
“The kids that see this image, the people who see this image, are going to think about all of the times in their life that they are made fun of, that they are hurt, that they were hit, that they were insulted, that they were made to feel less because of who they are,” he said in a three-minute video posted on social media. It went viral.
“I want you to know you have value, you have worth, you are loved,” he said. “And I don’t want you to give upon Canada, and please don’t give up on yourselves.”
Largely as a result of Singh’s response and his personal affability with voters, 15 per cent say he’d make the best prime minister. Singh’s New Democrats aren’t likely to win Monday’s election but he could become kingmaker in Ottawa if the Liberals under Trudeau or Conservatives under Andrew Scheer, fail to earn a majority of the 338 seats up for grabs.
Singh has already said that his party — the NDP went into the campaign holding 37 seats — won’t back Scheer’s conservatives to form a new government. Does that mean he’s support the Trudeau’s Liberals? Singh simply answers that he’s running to be the next Prime Minister of Canada. His party is pushing a left-wing campaign built on investing heavily in climate-change measures, building social housing, taking the uber-rich, abolishing third-level education fees, capping mobile phone bills and introducing a pharmacare programme to provide low-cost medication.
Jagmeet Singh Jimmy Dhaliwal — known as Jagmeet Singh — was born in suburban Scarborough in Toronto in 1979. He’s the eldest of three born to Jagtaran Singh, a psychiatrist and Harmeet Kaur.
He holds a Bachelors in Science and practised as a criminal lawyer in Brampton, north northwest of Toronto.
He ran for the New Democrats in Scarborough in the 2011 federal election, missing out by some 600 votes. Later that year he won a seat in Brampton in the Ontario Legislature.
He won the leadership of the NDP in September 2018, and was elected as a federal Member of Parliament in a by-election for the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South in February, 2019.
There are approximately 500,000 Sikhs in Canada out of a population of 37 million.
In British Columbia, Sikhism is the province’s second-most supported religion.
Among the Indo-Canadian population, religious views are evenly divided between Sikhs and Hindus, at 28 per cent each.
Kesur Singh, a Risaldar Major in the British India Army, is believed to be the first Sikh settler in Canada, arriving to Vancouver aboard the Empress of India in 1897.
By 1906, there were some 1,500 Sikh workers living in Canada, among around 5,000 East Indians in total.
Sikh extremists based in British Columbia were convicted on bringing down an Air India flight in a bombing near Ireland in 1985.