NDP Leader Singh tells Quebec TV audience he shares province's values, won't touch Bill 21
Published Sunday, September 22, 2019 1:54PM EDT Last Updated Sunday, September 22, 2019 11:46PM EDT
MONTREAL -- NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tried to have it both ways Sunday night during an appearance on one of Quebec's most popular television talk shows, telling the audience he shared Quebecers' values despite his deep -- and conspicuous -- religious convictions.
Singh was a guest on the first episode of the 16th season of "Tout le monde en parle" (Everybody is talking about it). The show often breaks the one-million viewer mark -- meaning more than 10 per cent of Quebec's total population could be tuning in on any given Sunday.
And it has become an important campaign stop for politicians looking to win the hearts of Quebec's francophone majority.
Singh talked about taxing the "super-rich" and expanding Canadians' medical coverage. The NDP leader also got personal, discussing the sexual abuse he suffered as a child as well as his alcoholic and abusive father.
But he couldn't escape questions about race and religion that have so far dominated the election campaign.
Show host Guy A. Lepage introduced Singh, a practising Sikh who wears a turban, as the country's "first racialized person" to lead a Canadian political party. Lepage said many people in Quebec and in Canada oppose a leader who wears a religious symbol.
"We share the same values," Singh said about Quebecers, inside the studios of Radio-Canada in downtown Montreal. "On abortion, women's rights, and same-sex marriage." Singh also made sure to end his answer with a nod to Quebec culture.
"I fell in love with the French language when I was 11 or 12 years old, living in an anglophone city," he said.
Lepage returned with another question about religion, asking whether the NDP leader, if elected prime minister, would support Quebec's controversial Bill 21, which bans some public sector workers such as teachers from wearing religious symbols on the job.
The so-called secularism law, and Quebec's self-proclaimed nationalist provincial government, enjoy wide support among the province's francophones. Premier Francois Legault said the law reflects the will of the French-speaking majority and asked all federal leaders to stay out of court challenges against it.
Singh replied that he "recognized the competency of Quebec in this file," despite the fact he was personally "against laws that divide the population."
Tout le monde en parle is a weekly talk show with guests who are mostly newsmakers from Quebec's entertainment, sports and political circles.
Political leaders, whether at the federal, provincial or municipal level, take the show seriously because of its popularity. The show is widely credited with catapulting the political career of former NDP leader Jack Layton.
Following Layton's appearance on the program a month before the 2011 election, his party jumped from third-place in the Quebec polls to first. The NDP's so-called "Orange Wave" allowed the party to win most of Quebec's then-75 electoral seats and become the Official Opposition.
But in 2019, the NDP is struggling inside Quebec and in the rest of the country. The party is polling around 13 per cent nationally and in some polls, behind the Greens for fifth place in Quebec.
Singh's appearance on Sunday's show was polished and consistent, but it remains to be seen if it was enough to endear himself to Quebec's francophones, who already have strong alternatives to the Liberals, who are currently dominating the polls in the province.
The Conservatives have nominated a series of high-profile candidates in Quebec, and the resurgent Bloc Quebecois is confident it can bring out the nationalist and sovereigntist vote on election day, Oct. 21.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet also appeared on Sunday's show. He said Quebecers' decided to "flirt" with the NDP in 2011 when they massively supported the party. "But it brought nothing," he noted.
Dany Turcotte, who acts as a type of comedic side-kick to host Lepage, gives a card to each guest on the show at the end of their interview, which the guest is asked to read aloud.
Turcotte's card was somewhat biting, and it reflected the common wisdom of Singh's chances in Quebec.
"During your stay in Montreal, you feel a new Orange Wave," Singh read from the card. "But don't be fooled -- those are only orange cones," in reference to the myriad of construction cones littering the city's streets.
Sunday's episode also featured Canadian tennis phenom Bianca Andreescu and Quebecois filmmaker Xavier Dolan.