NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is proudly showcasing his turban in a pitch to Quebecers that comes as the province grapples with debates over religious symbols.
In a French-language ad released Tuesday, Singh, a practicing Sikh known for his colourful religious headwear, is shown with his long hair down. A scene of him tying a yellow turban cuts to one of him taping his hands before a Brazilian jiu-jitsu sparring session.
“I’m not like the others,” he says in the 30-second video. “Like you, I’m proud of my identity. No gifts, no inheritance. I’ve experienced injustice enough to know how to fight.”
The ad goes on to list his priorities, from fighting climate change to making the rich pay their “fair share.” Singh’s wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu, is also featured in the video.
“You know the NDP,” Singh says, as the party’s Quebec lieutenant Alexandre Boulerice is shown marching with him in a Pride parade. “Now, you know what I’m all about.”
The spot is being released in the wake of Quebec’s Bill 21, passed into law in June. The law prevents teachers and other public servants deemed to be in positions of authority from wearing religious symbols, such as a turban or hijab on the job. The restriction does not apply to people hired before the legislation took effect.
While public opinion polls suggest a majority of Canadians outside Quebec oppose the bill, recent numbers suggest the new law promoting secularism is popular in the province.
Singh ‘deeply saddened’ by Bill 21
NDP focus groups have also highlighted concerns over Singh’s religious symbols, but a senior campaign strategist told HuffPost Canada earlier this year that the party felt those feelings could be addressed by “making clear statements about values like being pro-choice or pro-LGBT equality.”
Singh told reporters on Parliament Hill in June that he was “deeply saddened” to see Bill 21 pass into law. The legislation is “hurtful” and divides communities, he said at the time.
“It’s sad, in a country like Canada which welcomes people from around the world, we’ve got a government that’s now passed a law that targets a specific group of people that are a minority community, that are a minority religion, and that are primarily racialized,” he said. “That is wrong.”
Related: Singh, Trudeau, and May march in Montreal Pride parade. Story continues after video.
While other federal leaders, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have expressed some opposition to the law, it remains to be seen how much of a factor the issue will be in the upcoming election.
The NDP currently holds just 14 of Quebec’s 78 seats. In 2011, the so-called “orange wave” saw the NDP win 58 of the province’s then-75 seats and become the Official Opposition.
A Leger poll, released on Aug. 31, had the NDP at just seven per cent among decided voters in the province, with Liberals at 34 per cent and Conservatives at 23 per cent.
A senior campaign strategist told HuffPost Canada earlier this year that Quebec focus groups had highlighted concerns over Singh’s religious symbols but the party felt those feelings could be addressed by “making clear statements about values like being pro-choice or pro-LGBT equality.”
The ad was also launched on the same day that the NDP was rocked by the defections of former provincial NDP candidates in New Brunswick and the party’s executive member from Atlantic Canada to Elizabeth May’s Greens.
That executive, Jonathan Richardson, told The Canadian Press that the party doesn’t have a path to success in any of the province’s 10 ridings, placing part of the blame on Singh’s lack of attention and visits to the province.
But Richardson also said that “racism” helped explain why the party hadn’t yet nominated N.B. candidates and that some would-be NDP candidates worried voters wouldn’t support a party led by someone in a turban.
“That was probably… a reason that they felt people wouldn’t want to vote for them because that would hold them back,” he said.
Veteran NDP MP Charlie Angus tweeted Tuesday that it was “sickening” that some in his party jumped ship rather than “run under a progressive leader who comes from another religion.”
“Good riddance. Go to Elizabeth May,” Angus tweeted.
Last month, Greens formally welcomed Quebec MP Pierre Nantel into the party fold just days after he was dumped as an NDP candidate for reportedly flirting with May’s party.
Nantel, first elected in 2011, made headlines during the 2017 NDP leadership race when he said that Singh’s turban would turn off voters in Quebec.
“We don’t want to see any ostentatious religious symbols. We think that is not compatible with power, with authority,” he told a Radio-Canada journalist at the time.
Singh responded by saying the people of Quebec “have a rich history and heritage of being open-hearted and open-minded.”
With files from The Canadian Press, Althia Raj