Jagmeet Singh became the first non-white leader of a major political party in Canada after a decisive victory in the NDP leadership election on October 1. Singh won 53 per cent of the vote, solidifying his place as leader of the NDP and a challenger to Liberal Justin Trudeau and Conservative Andrew Scheer in the 2019 federal election.
Singh graduated from Osgoode Law School in 2006 and began working as a criminal defence lawyer shortly after. Representing groups like immigrants and refugees, Singh, writing on his website , said, “They didn’t have an ally they could turn to in government. These community organizations needed a partner and they encouraged me to make the jump into electoral politics.”
Singh has represented Bramalea-Gore-Malton in the Ontario Legislature since 2011. He also served as the critic for justice and consumer services for Ontario’s NDP. In 2015, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Howarth named him the party’s deputy leader. As an MPP, Singh notably created a motion calling for the end of carding in Ontario, a controversial police practice which was found to disproportionately target black people. The motion unanimously passed.
He also successfully introduced legislation to have April designated as Sikh Heritage month, and introduced a private member’s bill in support of allowing turban-wearing Sikhs to be able to ride motorcycles without a helmet. That bill did not pass, but has since been reintroduced.
Singh spoke about the influence of his Sikh spirituality on his actions as a politician in a 2014 GQ profile. “If I see someone else suffering, as a Sikh, I see that as me suffering. There’s this morality that flows from this idea that we are one and connected, and we celebrate diversity and people of different backgrounds, cultures, and religions,” he said.
Singh has campaigned on a message of “Love and courage.” This guiding principle shaped Singh’s response to a racist heckler at an event in Brampton before the leadership vote. While a woman shouted racist remarks at Singh, he told the audience, “We don’t want to be intimidated by hate. We don’t want hatred to ruin a positive event.” A video of the interaction later went viral.
In his GQ profile, Singh also discussed how he uses his brightly-coloured turbans to break down stereotypes that people may have about him. “Because I was considered stylish, with these colorful turbans and well-cut suits and showing myself as confident person, I could use that as a tool to talk about things like unfairness, injustice, poverty, and inequality in the public sphere,” he said.
Singh has also caused a fair bit of controversy in the past. Following the death of Fidel Castro, for instance, Singh said that Castro “uplifted the lives of millions” and wished that he would rest in peace while failing to mention his human rights abuses. Also, recently Singh was asked by CBC journalist Terry Milewski whether he would disavow Sikh supporters of the perpetrator of the Air India bombing – the largest mass murder in Canadian history – but Singh would not.
In the 2019 federal election, Singh will run on a platform focusing on inequality, reconciliation, climate change and electoral reform. He seeks to reduce the income inequality which he says is prevalent for Canadian seniors,“the working poor and Canadians with disabilities,” he said in a 2017 Toronto Star interview. To create programs to achieve this, he has proposed redesigned federal tax brackets for the wealthy and a corporate tax increase, as HuffPost reported.
He also has a number of policies focused on justice, from taking children off of the ‘no-fly list’ to banning carding and racial profiling by the RCMP and other federal enforcement agencies. Singh is also calling for criminal justice reform: he wants to “prioritize compassion over criminalization and will re-orient the criminal justice and correctional systems toward equality, rehabilitation, and restorative justice.”
In line with his overall emphasis on reducing inequalities, Singh wants to fully implement the standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and ultimately work towards reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples. He also has several initiatives geared towards LGBTQ Canadians, including a youth housing project and repealing the blood ban.
In the run up to the 2019 election, Singh said that he will not seek a seat in the House of Commons. Instead, he plans to travel around Canada to build support for the NDP.