How a young Sikh became head of a major political party in Canada

The first ethnic minority to lead a major Canadian party.
The first ethnic minority to lead a major Canadian party.
Image: Reuters/Mark Blinch
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Jagmeet Singh is known for many things—his bespoke suits, brightly colored turbans, and finesse for handling hecklers. Now, he is the leader of a major Canadian political party.

The New Democrats (NDP) picked Jagmeet Singh as their party leader in the next general election. Singh, a Sikh politician, is the first ethnic minority to lead a major party in Canada. He beat three other candidates vying for the position in a ballot race on Sunday, garnering 53.6% of the vote.

He’s probably best known for going viral  after video footage captured his graceful interaction with an angry heckler who accused him of bringing Islamic sharia law to Canada.

He immediately used the opportunity to show his supporters how “to welcome someone with love” and not allow hatred to ruin a campaign rally. The response epitomized Singh’s deep commitment to “love and courage,” and endeared him further to his base.

Singh, a criminal-defense-lawyer-turned-politician, is every bit the progressive leader you’d imagine. He has close to 80,000 followers on Instagram, an extremely popular SnapChat channel, bikes to work, and as told by BuzzFeed, is “the most stylish politician in Canada by like a million kilometres.” (Which is perhaps harsh to Canada’s wildly popular progressive leader, Justin Trudeau.)

Now 38, Singh was the son of immigrants from the Punjab in India. His family moved to Windsor, Ontario, a working-class town, and his father completed his studies to be a doctor when Singh was seven. Singh was picked on as a child, for his name, skin color, and long hair, which struck him as fundamentally unjust. It was this feeling of being side-lined, and seeing his friends side-lined as well, that launched a career in activism.

Singh then made the move to local politics, serving as the deputy leader of the Ontario New Democratic Party. His progressive policies, adoring fans, and sharp suits landed him a GQ interview as well, where he discussed his desire to enter national politics. He’d originally thought the nomination was a fluke, but as it garnered support, he began to take it more seriously.

While both Singh and Trudeau fall on the liberal side of the political agenda, Singh is further along the left of the political spectrum. Singh is calling for electoral reform, the repeal of Canada’s anti-terrorism act, an immediate end to solitary confinement, a focus on restorative justice, as well as a whole host of progressive environmental policies. He’s fighting for living wages, fair labor standards, improved conditions for Canadians with disabilities, racial justice, “LGBTQI2S+” (yes, he’s included all the letters) housing programs, and the end to gender-based violence.

The success of Singh’s platform will be tested in Canada’s next federal election, in 2019. As leader, Singh has his work cut out for him. The NDP lost 59 seats in the 2015 election, only holds 44 of the 338 seats in the Canadian Parliament, and has never held power.