Some voters question whether Canada is ready for a PM with a turban
Wearing a bright yellow turban, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh stepped onto the orange tractor in Verner, Ont., on Tuesday to a round of applause from supporters. But in the back of the crowd at this year’s International Plowing Match, some voters were turned off by the image.
“Me, it does not bother me too much but that guy, that is a very smart guy, but to wear his hat the way it is, I don’t think everybody likes that,” said Verner resident and self-declared NDP supporter Marcel Betty.
Betty, just one of thousands at the plowing match known as a fall must-stop for provincial politicians, told CTV News he likes what Singh stands for and has voted for the party provincially and federally -- but he feels that Canada isn’t ready for a Sikh prime minister.
“He could explain something why he has to wear that here because we are not familiar to have a guy like that with a position like that,” Betty went on to say. “If he would take it off, and be normal like us, I would vote right away because I am a (New Democrat) myself.”
CTV News spoke to a number of other voters at the same event who wouldn’t give their name but issued the same sentiment. Many said they wished they knew more about Sikhs and said they felt they weren’t ready just yet to vote for a party leader who wears a turban.
Singh has been open throughout his career about the racism he faced from a young age. He said his mother taught him to fight division and negativity with a message of unity and love.
It’s that message he shared with a roomful of hundreds of supporters at a town hall in Sudbury, Ont., on Tuesday.
“I believe in Canada. I believe in Canadians and I believe Canadians are ready for someone who is going to put them first,” Singh said.
“A lot of people face barriers because of who they are. I’ve experienced a little bit of what that’s like and I want to build a Canada where everyone is included,” he added.
In the Sikh faith the turban is a visible symbol of equality, unity, and humility. One of the articles of the faith is to leave the hair and beard uncut, or unshorn, so the turban also serves a practical purpose of covering the hair. But more than that, the turban is central to the identity of observant Sikhs and being asked to remove it is offensive.
Support for the NDP in Quebec has been eroding since Jack Layton’s Orange Wave united the province in 2011. Singh and his team are trying to build off Layton’s vision for the province by promoting the party as an ally to Quebecers. But that will not be easy, since he is openly opposed to Bill 21, which is extremely popular in the province.
The NDP leader says he knows standing up for what is right takes courage and he vowed to continue doing just that.
“I faced it all my life, that people have said things about my look -- that’s not new,” Singh said in Sudbury.
“When faced with negativity the only way to overcome that is not with more negativity, not with name calling, but by trying to find that human connection, by saying I care about you and I want to build a better country and I want to build that together.”
Two weeks ago, Jonathan Richardson, the former federal NDP’s executive member for Atlantic Canada who was one of the defectors, said some potential candidates were hesitant to run in the province because they thought Singh’s turban limited their chances of getting elected.
While Singh was running for the NDP leadership in 2017, he was heckled in Mississauga, Ont., by a woman who yelled at him asking whether he supports Sharia Law.
And earlier this month, Singh’s brother Gurratan, an NDP legislator in Ontario, was accosted by a far-right activist at a MuslimFest in Toronto.