POLITICS

Most Canadians Open To Voting For A Sikh Party Leader If Policies Are Right, Poll Suggests

But half say their friends and family members might not.

10/06/2017 06:34 EDT | Updated 10/06/2017 09:43 EDT
Mark Blinch/Reuters
New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh speaks a meet and greet event in Hamilton, Ont. on July 17, 2017.

Most Canadians would consider voting for a federal party led by Sikh man who wears a turban and carries a kirpan, but apprehensions to the idea are strongest in a key battleground for Jagmeet Singh's New Democrats, a new poll suggests.

The Angus Reid Institute tested early views of the NDP's electoral chances under Singh, who captured the party's leadership Sunday in a rout. The 38-year-old Sikh is the first member of a visible minority to lead a national party in Canada's history.

The poll findings, released Friday, suggest that a majority of Canadians are open to the idea of a Sikh prime minister, assuming they support his ideas. Nearly seven-in-10 told the firm they would consider voting for party led by a Sikh man wearing religious symbols, while 31 per cent said they would not.

Angus Reid Institute

Yet, half of the respondents also said that "some" or "most" of their family members or close friends would not vote for a Sikh man who wears a turban and carries a ceremonial knife.

Respondents in Quebec were the least likely to vote for such a person, regardless of the policies he might espouse. The province has a history of debates over secularism and religious symbols, including Bill 62, which would prohibit those who cover their faces from delivering or accessing public services.

Nearly half of Quebec respondents said they could not vote for a party led by a Sikh, leaving aside their personal opinions about Singh.

Angus Reid Institute

Quebec was the home of the so-called "orange wave" that propelled New Democrats to official Opposition status in the 2011 election. The party now holds just 16 of the province's 78 seats, with a spot set to open up soon if, as expected, former leader Thomas Mulcair steps down.

Singh confronted questions about a possible "Quebec problem" throughout the race, even releasing an ad that showed him tying a pink turban while listening to francophone singer Roch Voisine. He brushed aside charges from the Bloc Quebecois leader that he is too "religious" for Quebec.

On Wednesday, Singh tapped Quebec MP Guy Caron, a former leadership rival, to serve as the NDP's parliamentary leader in the House of Commons. Singh, an Ontario MPP, does not hold a federal seat.

I'm confident that we'll not only be able to maintain seats there, but ... we will be able to grow in Quebec.Jagmeet Singh

At a press conference, Singh lauded Quebec as a province that has led on a number of progressive fronts, from daycare to tuition fees.

"It's a place where we can connect to people with our values and I'm confident that we'll not only be able to maintain seats there, but because of our values and our unique offer that we will have for Quebec, we will be able to grow in Quebec," he said.

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While 71 per cent of Angus Reid respondents said that having a member of a visible minority leading a major federal party is good for Canada overall, a small majority — 54 per cent — agreed Singh's religion would hurt the NDP's electoral chances.

That sentiment was felt strongest in Quebec, where two-thirds said Singh's religion will hurt the party.

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Jagmeet Singh speaks to Guy Caron as they arrive to hear the first ballot results for the NDP leadership race in Toronto on Oct. 1, 2017.

The numbers show Singh will need to raise his profile, which is perhaps unsurprising considering he is a newcomer to federal politics.

Thirty-three per cent of respondents told the firm they had never heard of Singh until now. By comparison, 44 per cent of respondents had the same view about Andrew Scheer when he took over as Conservative leader in May.

The poll also suggests Singh will be able to take the fight to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the next election. In 2015, Trudeau's Liberals won over many NDP supporters eager to see the Conservative government defeated.

Sixty-seven per cent of Trudeau supporters told the firm that they would "maybe" or "certainly" consider voting for Singh-led New Democrats in a future election. Just one-third of Trudeau voters said they definitely wouldn't consider tacking left.

Chris Young/Canadian Press
Jagmeet Singh poses for a photograph after winning the NDP leadership in Toronto on Oct. 1, 2017.

Singh hasn't been shy about his goal to get himself better known and increase his followers, in Quebec and across the country.

"I'm out here to win everyone over. I'm here to win all of you over as well," Singh told reporters Wednesday.

"Our goal is that we're going to win and form government in 2019. So there's not anyone in this country that I don't want to win over."

The survey was conducted online between Oct. 2-4 among a representative randomized sample of 1,477 adults who are part of the members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes, the firm notes a similar poll would carry a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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