Canada makes history on Oct. 1, 2017, when Jagmeet Singh, a turbaned Sikh, became the leader of the New Democratic Party — 1 of 3 of Canada’s major federal political parties. Amongst a history of white leaders, Singh is the first person of colour, as well as the youngest candidate at 38, to be elected to such a position.
Singh won with more than 50 percent of the votes. With a total of 65,782, he takes claim to 35,266 of them on the first ballot. In second place was Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton behind him, and Guy Caron. With this high percentage win was 11 endorsements from NDP MPs, a number higher than that of the other candidates.
This seemed a bit of a surprise, as Singh was up against Members of Parliament with more federal experience. Within the span of a few months, Singh brought in 47, 000 people as members of the NDP. According to the Toronto Star, over one-third of the NDP membership has come from Singh. Many of these new members’ votes have most likely gone to him during the NDP leadership election. Singh was also able to amass 53% of the money garnered by Angus, Ashton, and Caron in total from May to the first 2 weeks of September. His win is a powerful one, as it aligns with the single ballot wins of Layton and Douglas, who were also significant leaders of the NDP party.
He told Canadian Press that he does not plan on taking a seat in the federal Commons until 2019 should he be elected a leader of the NDP. He says of the decision, “I would be happy to spend the time while I am not a sitting member to campaign across the country, to get to know the issues, to get know the different ridings … spending that time speaking with people, reaching out to them.”
However, he has said to the Toronto Star, “I’m open to hearing suggestions and counsel on this so I haven’t made a decision.”
This is also the case of Jack Layton, one of the most prominent NDP leaders yet, who also did not take a seat in the Commons until after being elected. Since Layton’s passing in 2011, the party has struggled in gaining funds and is significantly behind Canada’s other 2 major political parties- the Progressive Conservatives and Liberals. Singh’s election and the different elements in colour, age, and style he brings might be what the NDP needs for a revamp.
But who is this man that has so vigorously shaken the course of Canadian leadership with his historic victory?
He entered the contest for candidacy in May 2017, after Tom Mulcair resigned his position as leader of the NDP. He was a criminal defense lawyer and Brampton MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament).
You might have seen him in a video online that became pretty viral, in which a woman claims he wants to implement “sharia law.” Singh responds with a message promoting love and peace, rather than disassociating himself from the issue by clarifying his being a Sikh and not a Muslim.
It is a video vital to the representation of Singh’s character- someone who in the face of hatred remains calm and with a message of unity to preach.
He has also been featured on GQ, and the article on him attests to his millennial captivity. He is described by Buzzfeed as “the most stylish politician in Canada by like a million kilometres” and is met by his GQ interviewer while listening to PartyNextDoor, a Canadian rapper.
Speaking to HuffPost Canada, Singh said, “Kids would say: ‘You’re dirty, your skin is dirty, why don’t you take a shower’ … or ‘You’re not a boy, you’re a girl because you have long hair,’ and then they would just come up and pull my hair, or just punch me.”
With more humble beginnings, Singh began working as sole source of income in his family in his 20s, when his father was unable to work and his mother was sick. He took on the responsibility of caring for his family through this difficult time until his father’s health was stable enough to allow him to return to work. Singh related this to the struggles faced by many Canadians on a daily basis who have more difficulties in looking forward to a way out of their instabilities.
Singh is self-made; his parents are immigrants from India, he began his political career with no familial connections or a reputable legacy to fall back on (no offense Trudeau!), his name was not known to a broader spectrum of Canadians a few months ago. Yet he soon became a prominent candidate in the NDP leadership race and claimed a satisfying victory on October 1st.
Albeit the rougher beginnings, he is now the face of diversified leadership and the source of inspiration to many young hopefuls.
During his acceptance speech, Singh says, “Growing up with brown skin, long hair and a funny sounding name meant I faced some challenges. I’ve been stalked by the police multiple times for no other reason than the color of my skin. It makes you feel like you don’t belong like there’s something wrong with you for just being you. And that’s why as prime minister, I will make sure no one is stopped by the police because of the way they look or the color of their skin.”
Amongst this goal of the prevention of racial profiling, Singh will also be focusing on income inequality, climate change, reconciliation of the First Nations and Aboriginals, housing affordability, pay equity gap and electoral reform.
In response to his victory, Singh hopes it will,
He is young, socially progressive, accessible to the youth (he uses social media as a platform to engage the youth), and preaches a message of tolerance and inclusivity that can be gratified by all ages and peoples. Many are calling him the apt rival to Justin Trudeau, the current Prime Minister of Canada. Trudeau, son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, can be noted for his social progressivism and his ability to relate to the younger population. Singh might just be the fitting political opponent, considering his focuses as the leader of the NDP, his stark differences in identity compared to previous party leaders, and his progressive views for the future of Canada.
Now that he, leadership of the NDP, Singh will be running for Prime Minister for the 2019 elections. He has already garnered a good following, a respectable campaign, and gained abundances in fundraisers for his leadership candidacy. But that was just the beginning. He will now spend the next 2 years driving his campaign, visiting Canadians all over the country to become better acquainted with the issues closest to their hearts, and bettering the foundation of the NDP which is $5 million in debt and has been at 15% in the polls since 2015, in hopes of creating yet another historical moment.
His struggles, beginnings, and journey will be a point of resonance for many Canadians who come from all walks of life to find a home in “the true north strong and free.” For the underrepresented, this victory comes as a message of hopefulness. It is the official mark of a political and social turning point for Canada as it welcomes a visible minority into the federal legislative realms as a major party leader. Jagmeet Singh’s broken barriers are a pathway for young, underrepresented minorities. His story will be one to remember. It is in the essence of Canada’s diversity and tolerance. As if it were a victory held to the skies, it says: Here’s to the young, to the minorities, to the underrepresented; Canada is home to your successes, your legacy and yourself.