Canada’s NDP Party Elects Sikh-Canadian Jagmeet Singh as Leader

Jagmeet Singh, at a campaign event in Brampton, Ontario in May 2017. (Photo credit: Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

In a historic vote, the third largest political party in Canada — the social democrat New Democratic Party (NDP) — has elected Sikh-Canadian Jagmeet Singh as its federal party leader, making Singh the nation’s first non-white leader of any major political party.

Singh won 53.8% of the New Democrat vote on Sunday in the first ballot of the NDP Leadership race, far out-performing the other candidates vying for the position. The position of NDP leader was vacated after Singh’s predecessor — former NDP leader Tom Mulcair — lost a leadership review vote at the party’s convention in April.

Hours after winning the NDP leadership vote, Singh declared he was challenging Justin Trudeau to be the next Prime Minister of Canada in 2019.

Singh was born in Scarborough, Ontario to immigrants from Punjab, India and received his bachelor’s degree from University of Western Ontario in biology before pursuing a law degree from York University. Singh worked as a criminal defense lawyer in Toronto — where he provided pro bono work for Sikh Canadian activists — before deciding to enter into politics in 2011.

After a failed run for federal Member of Parliament, Singh was successfully elected to the Ontario Provincial Parliament as a member of the Canadian NDP party, where he became the first turban-wearing Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP), as well as the first to represent the Peel region. In 2015, Singh was elected to serve as Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP party, and he served in that capacity until earlier this year when he launched his campaign to run for the federal leadership of the NDP party.

Singh’s campaign rocketed into global headlines in September after a video of him being confronted by a racist heckler at a campaign event went viral. In the video, Singh responded to the woman — who accused him of promoting sharia law and being a part of the Muslim brotherhood — with calls for love and courage. Singh — who is Sikh — is not Muslim; nor is the Muslim faith based on violence and terrorism.

Singh was widely praised for demonstrating patience and love in the face of his racist attacker, although some critics felt that his response perpetuated an ongoing burden placed upon non-white people to react reasonably in the face of unreasonable hate.

Nonetheless, Singh is now characterized as a “rock star” of Canadian politics, and his appeal has been likened to that of Barack Obama in 2008. Already, Singh — who describes himself as a progressive — has taken a strong stance against the province of Quebec’s efforts to pass a ban on the wearing of the burka and the niqab in public. Quebec describes itself as a secular province where even Singh’s signature turban came under attack.

Although Singh’s popularity is high in Canada right now, he still faces several hurdles as the NDP party’s new leader and in his bid for the Prime Ministership in 2019. Singh does not currently hold federal office, and the NDP party holds only 44 of the 338 seats in the federal Parliament.

If elected as Prime Minister of Canada in two years, Singh would be the first non-white leader of Canada.

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