Canada has added one more feather to its cap and Jagmeet Singh has created history by becoming the first Sikh politician to lead a major Canadian party – the New Democratic Party. Interestingly, Singh was also in the news recently for his remarks on ‚Äúself-determination as a basic right‚ÄĚ for Punjab leading to a row with Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who retorted that the Canadian authorities should take serious note of such disruptive elements and anti-India conspiracies trying to spread discord in India.
The 38-year-old lawyer, Jagmeet Singh would fight Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next Federal election in October 2019. Singh used his visible minority status to build an inclusive base that represents Canada in all its diversity. Although he won largely on the strength of new voters, mainly Asian, but he could not have won without support of the traditional rank and file of the NDP.
It was a landslide win because when the first ballot results were announced at the Metropolitan Ballroom in Toronto, Singh easily garnered votes, surpassing the 50 per cent minimum requirement for winning 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. Singh described his win as ‚Äúan incredibly profound honour‚ÄĚ.
A devout Sikh, Singh wears a turban and carries a kirpan, a religious dagger. He is the first person of colour to lead a federal party in Canadian history and the World Sikh Organization of Canada hailed his victory as ‚Äúa historical milestone‚ÄĚ for Sikh-Canadians. ‚ÄúJust a generation earlier, many in our community could not have imagined a time where someone wearing the Sikh articles of faith would be so warmly accepted,‚ÄĚ the organization said in a statement after the vote.
Jagmeet Singh has now announced the beginning of the 2019 race to lead Canada, saying, ‚ÄúCanadians 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‚Äôs why today I‚Äôm officially launching my campaign to be the next prime minister of Canada.‚ÄĚ
Four candidates were in the fray for the leadership, but as the numbers for the first three were announced, it became obvious that Singh had clinched victory. 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. By winning the leadership of the National Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh has obviously become the new brand ambassador for Canada‚Äôs rich diversity and its willingness to accept minorities as its leaders. The lawyer-turned-politician is no stranger to the hustings but the national stage represents a major milestone for the first non-white politician to make a difference. For Canadian politics, it throws a strong message that a new breeze, a whiff of fresh air is on the cards to bring in new energy and perspective to the political system.
Though he is already being talked about as a potential challenger to Justin Trudeau, the road ahead for the NDP leader is a long one. He has to revitalize a party that has been an also-ran in Canadian politics since it was founded in 1961. It has had its moments, but the highest it has achieved so far was to share power with the Pierre Trudeau government from 1972 to 1974. The most arduous task for Jagmeet Singh would be to build on the NDP‚Äôs traditional white base and strengthen is base among minorities, especially browns. Jagmeet Singh must now consolidate his position and craft for himself an image of a serious and substantive leader, equal to the task of leading a diverse and vast country like Canada.
‚ÄúThank you, New Democrats. The run for Prime Minister begins now,‚ÄĚ Singh tweeted. He secured 54 per cent of the vote to become the new head of the NDP, succeeding Thomas Mulcair. The Toronto-area politician had been touted as someone who could bring new life to the party, which has struggled since the death of charismatic leader Jack Layton in 2011.
Singh‚Äôs profile was boosted in early September after a video went viral showing him calmly responding with words of love to a heckler.
Born in Scarborough, Ontario, to immigrant parents from Punjab, Singh grew up in St John‚Äôs, Newfoundland and Labrador and Windsor. He obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Western Ontario in 2001 and a Bachelor of Laws from York University‚Äôs Osgoode Hall Law School in 2005. He worked as a criminal defence lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area before entering politics. Sikhs account for 1.4 per cent of Canada‚Äôs population.
Trudeau congratulated his new political rival, saying: ‚ÄúI look forward to speaking soon and working together for Canadians.‚ÄĚ Singh will now focus on rallying supporters and targeting Centre-Left voters who helped propel Trudeau‚Äôs Liberals to a decisive victory in 2015. But as the dust settles on the leadership contest, political analysts say the charismatic politician has a long road ahead if he wants the leftist NDP to win back seats in the House of Commons. He will have to articulate what sets the NDP apart from its political rivals, especially Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party.
The next challenge for Singh, the 2019 election, will prove to be more difficult. One thing going in his favour is the historical performance of the NDP, which has never had two consecutive elections in which the party has lost both vote and seat share. ¬†That will be a tall order for Singh. Despite the drop from the party‚Äļs 2011 breakthrough, the NDP won 44 seats and 19.7 per cent of the vote in the 2015 federal election ‚ÄĒ its second and third best performance, respectively, in its history. With the party polling at 15 per cent, Singh has a steep mountain to climb just to match results that weren‚Äļt good enough for former leader Tom Mulcair to keep his job. But he has already smashed expectations by winning in stunning fashion, becoming only the third person, after Douglas and Layton, to win the NDP leadership on a single ballot. To put him in such august company, New Democrats must believe he can continue to defy expectations.