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Two-thirds of Canadians could vote for party led by Sikh, says new survey

A new survey has shown that two-thirds of Canadians have no problem voting for a national party led by a Sikh.

world Updated: Jul 05, 2017 00:11 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
Hindustan Times, Toronto
Sikhs in Canada,Canadian survey,Jagmeet Singh
File photo of Canadian politician Jagmeet Singh, who is running for the leadership of the NDP, one of Canada’s three major national political parties.(Facebook)

Even as Canada continues to celebrate the 150th year of confederation, nearly two-thirds of Canadians have no problem voting for a national party led by a Sikh, according to a major pollster.

Or, in other words, there is growing openness to having a person of the Sikh faith become prime minister and occupy the official residence at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa.

“I would suggest that for more than half of Canadians this isn’t an issue at all, they don’t see it as a hurdle, or as a barrier,” Shachi Kurl, executive director of Angus Reid Institute, told Hindustan Times in an interview.

These figures are among the major findings of a recent poll conducted by the institute, a not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation.

The issue is particularly relevant this year as Jagmeet Singh, member of the Ontario provincial parliament, has emerged a viable candidate to become the next leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP). Singh is an observant Sikh and wears a turban though there still remains some “resistance” to such visible markers of identity.

As Kurl pointed out: “There is a notable difference in terms of the willingness to vote for a candidate who is of the faith and somebody who openly displays the symbols of the tenets of that faith, and by that I mean someone who wears religious head-covering.”

Shachi Kurl, executive director of the polling agency Angus Reid Institute. ( Courtesy Shachi Kurl )

While 63 % of the respondents in the poll would support a Sikh leading a party into dederal elections, that number drops to 56% when it comes to a Sikh who visibly professes the faith, in terms of donning the turban.

Another proviso is that only about half of the Canadians polled (the sample was 1,533 adults) actually believe someone of such a minority group will become prime minister in the next 25 years.

“How likely is it? We would only know if we were to test it against an actual candidate, which is why Mr Singh’s candidacy for the federal leadership of the NDP is so interesting,” Kurl said.

But the evolving attitudes “give Singh a lot of room to work with”, she said, adding that “these numbers suggest for many Canadians these are still issues that will have to be talked about, confronted, they will have to be made comfortable around”.

There are also demographic differences in perception: Younger Canadians display a “much higher willingness” to embrace such change, and such tolerance also skews towards English-speaking Canada and if the person voted for either the Liberal Party or the NDP in the 2015 federal election.

But as Singh has been manifested as a plausible leader of the NDP, potentially leading the party into the 2019 national polls, he offers a “test case, a proving ground” for these altering attitudes.

Ultimately, the nature of his candidacy and the substance of his campaign, rather than his faith, will play a decisive role in determining his political fate.

HT-Kurl2: Shachi Kurl, executive director of the polling agency, Angus Reid Institute. (Credit: Courtesy Shachi Kurl)

First Published: Jul 04, 2017 18:04 IST