Jagmeet Singh, a 38-year-old Sikh lawyer, became the first non-white politician on Monday to head a major political party in Canada. Singh was elected the leader of the country’s New Democratic Party (NDP) to lead it into the 2019 election against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.
Born in 1979 in Scarborough, Ontario, to immigrant parents from Punjab, Singh obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Western Ontario in 2001 and a Bachelor of Laws degree from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 2005. His first tryst with politics was during his law school days, when he campaigned against rising tuition fees. He was called to the bar in 2006, where he began working as a criminal defence lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area.
Singh has often spoken about being bullied and targeted for his “funny sounding name, brown skin, and long hair”.
“I also realized I wasn’t alone. I saw kids around me — kids no less capable, no less worthy of respect and dignity—who were not in a position to follow their dreams, simply because their families couldn’t afford it. That struck me as incredibly unfair,” his statement on his website states.
He spent years defending refugees and immigrants, and entered politics in 2011 by running as an MPP with the NDP in Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Ontario. He has also served as the Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP.
In September this year, Singh gained global attention after a video from his campaign event, ‘Jagmeet and Greet’, went viral on social media. The video showed a woman heckling Singh about the Muslim brotherhood and the Sharia law, after interrupting his speech. Singh ignored the racial comments hurled at him and tried to diffuse the situation saying, “We are not going to be intimidated by hatred.” He countered the woman with his campaign motto of ‘love and courage’.
Earlier this year, on Canada’s Multiculturalism Day, Singh had tweeted about how he felt “there was something wrong” with him and how his “turban and beard evoked a reaction in every room” he went. Known for his sharp dressing style, Singh talked about fashion becoming his “social armour”, which insulated him from some of the negativity he faced.
In an interview with American magazine GQ in February this year, Singh elaborated on how his personal style — his colourful turbans and tailor-made three-piece suits — became a part of his political brand.
Singh, who led the fundraising campaign of the party since joining the race last May, won the decisive first-ballot victory over three other candidates by receiving 53.6 per cent of the vote on Monday. He has been touted by supporters as someone who could bring new life to NDP, which has struggled since its former leader Jack Layton passed away in 2011. In the general election that year, the party had made historic gains, but lost almost a million votes — mostly to Trudeau’s Liberals — four years later.
After the victory, Singh tweeted, “Thank you, New Democrats. The run for Prime Minister begins now,” officially launching his campaign “to be the next Prime Minister of Canada.”