Jagmeet Singh becomes first Sikh politician to lead major Canadian party

The 38-year-old lawyer, Jagmeet Singh, will fight Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom he has criticised over the employment situation, in the next federal election in October 2019.
(Jagmeet Singh surpassed the 50% votes required to win the leadership of the New Democratic Party. (Reuters file photo))
(Jagmeet Singh surpassed the 50% votes required to win the leadership of the New Democratic Party. (Reuters file photo))
Updated on Oct 03, 2017 12:50 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Toronto | By

Thirty-eight-year-old lawyer Jagmeet Singh made history on Sunday as he became the first person belonging to a visible minority group, and obviously the first of Indian and Sikh heritage, to be elected leader of one of Canada’s three largest national political parties.

It was a whopping win, and a landslide. As the first ballot results were announced at the Metropolitan Ballroom in the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel in Toronto, Jagmeet Singh easily garnered votes, surpassing the 50% required to win the leadership of the New Democratic Party of Canada.

He will now captain the NDP in the next federal election to be held in October 2019.

In his acceptance speech, Singh described his win as “an incredibly profound honour”. He also announced the beginning of the 2019 race to lead Canada, as he said, “Canadians deserve a government that understands the struggles that people are facing right now. Most importantly, Canadians deserve a government that gets the job done. That’s why today I’m officially launching my campaign to be the next prime minister of Canada.”

Cheers and applause broke out among NDP members who had gathered at the venue for the announcement of the result. Four candidates were in the race for the leadership, but as the numbers for the first three were announced, it became obvious Singh had managed to gather well over the percentage needed to prevent another round of balloting, which was scheduled for October 8.

In the end, of the nearly 66,000 votes cast, Singh tallied more than 35,000, almost three times the total for the runner-up, Ontario MP Charlie Angus, who had 12,705 votes.

Jagmeet Singh with his mother Harmeet Kaur (centre) and father Jagtaran Singh (left) during the announcement of the leader of the leftist New Democratic Party in Toronto on Sunday. (AP Photo)
Jagmeet Singh with his mother Harmeet Kaur (centre) and father Jagtaran Singh (left) during the announcement of the leader of the leftist New Democratic Party in Toronto on Sunday. (AP Photo)

Singh, who was denied a visa by India in December 2013 and has been critical of the Narendra Modi government, is a member of the Ontario provincial parliament, representing Bramalea-Gore-Malton.

This was his maiden foray into federal politics. Since his constituency lies in a suburb of Toronto, the majority of those packing the hall appeared to be his supporters, who waved the orange placards bearing the slogan, “Love & Courage”, the theme of his campaign.

He reiterated it while speaking after winning the vote, as he said his vision offered “the courage to fight the politics of fear, a politics of love to fight the growing politics of division”.

Singh attacked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, talking about job insecurity and accusing him of being someone who had only looked at “employment as a hobby”.

He also spoke of prevalent racism, underscoring exactly how momentous this victory was: “Growing up with brown skin, long hair and a funny sounding name meant I faced some challenges. I’ve been stopped by the police multiple times for no other reason than the colour of my skin.”

Singh’s supporters were understandably ecstatic. His brother, Gurratan Singh, who played a key role in the campaign, told the Hindustan Times this was “the accumulation of all our work and the real hard work starts right now.”

Among those who were in the hall was 18-year-old Harman Kaur, a student at the University of Ottawa, who had traveled from the Canadian capital to Toronto specially for this event. “I’m so excited, I just had to be here,” she said.

Another supporter Sukhminder Singh Hansra was delighted, declaring, “It is an historic day for diversity, multiculturalism and especially for the Sikh community in Canada.”

Gurmeet Kaur said the community would need to “work hard” to ensure Singh became the next prime minister of Canada, while her husband Manjeet Singh Bhinder pointed out he had been “101%” certain even before the results were declared that Singh would emerge on top.

Singh, who was born in Scarborough in Toronto, was joined on the stage by his family, including his parents Harmeet and Jagtaran Singh, sister Manjot Kaur and brother Gurratan Singh.

Singh will be in Ottawa on Monday as he meets with party MPs and the NDP leadership to chart out the course for the national campaign. He will face the challenge of making the NDP, the third party in Canadian politics, a credible choice for 2019.

But he noted his campaign had achieved this win in the few months since he announced his leadership run, and added, “Imagine what we can build together in two years.”

Among the challenges he faces is having people pronounce his name correctly, as he told one person, “Jag as in hug”.


    Anirudh Bhattacharya is a Toronto-based commentator on North American issues, and an author. He has also worked as a journalist in New Delhi and New York spanning print, television and digital media. He tweets as @anirudhb.

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