The 2019 Canadian federal election has brought Indian-origin Jagmeet Singh and his New Democratic Party to the fore. Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau failed to secure a majority in the results announced on Monday and will need to rely on coalition partners to form a minority government.
Trudeau’s Liberal Party secured 157 of the 338 seats in the Canadian Parliament, missing out on an outright majority. The Conservative Party emerged the second largest party with 121 seats, keeping the door open for coalition partners for the two biggest parties. However, Bloc Quebecois (32 seats) and Singh’s New Democratic Party (24 seats) have both showed willingness to ally with the Liberals.
Trudeau’s immense popularity in the 2015 elections propelled him to an outright majority with 184 seats but his charm waned in the wake of questionable policy decisions as well as the SNC-Lavalin affair — which involved Trudeau allegedly influencing his attorney general to intervene in criminal proceedings against the construction firm, SNC-Lavalin — that threatened to derail his reelection bid.
In the lead up to the polls, old photos of Trudeau sporting “blackface” and “brownface” emerged further setting back his election prospects.
However, Trudeau has overcome the setbacks to secure a second term albeit in a minority government.
Singh’s personal popularity failed to translate into seats in parliament as his party secured 24 seats, down 20 seats from its 2015 tally. However, the Liberals’ predicament puts Singh’s leftwing party in a strong negotiating position.
“Everything is on the table,” Singh, told reporters following election results.
“I’m hoping that Mr Trudeau respects the fact that there’s a minority government now, which means we’ve got to work together,” he added.
New Democratic Party has taken progressive positions on issues, including fight against climate change, funding healthcare services, and reconciliation with the Canadian indigenous communities.
Singh, a Scarborough, Ontario resident whose parents migrated from Punjab, saw his personal popularity surge before the polls. He enjoyed a 52 percent
approval rating in polls, ahead of Green Party’s Elizabeth May (46 percent) and pulled well clear of Trudeau (39 percent), and Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer (27 percent). He finished joint-second as the best prime-ministerial choice — tied with Scheer (24 percent) — with Trudeau leading the pack (28 percent).
His popularity in Canada notwithstanding, Singh has courted controversy in India. In December 2013, he was denied an Indian visa, owing to his comments about the 1984 riots in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination that targeted the Sikh community in Delhi.
"The government of India, like any other government, has a sovereign right to grant or refuse a visa to any foreign individual and it is not obliged to give any justification or explanation for exercising this prerogative," the then-Indian consul-general to Canada Akhilesh Mishra
told about the visa refusal. "The consulate doesn't have to explain its decision to anyone," he added. The Globe and Mail
In the context of the 1984 riots, Singh has been quoted to have said: “The word 'riot' is a misnomer for what happened in November, 1984. I have been propagating the issue that these were not riots between the two [Hindu and Sikh] communities. Instead it was a state-sponsored massacre.”
He has also been reported to have used the word “genocide” to describe the 1984 riots and in the past lobbied the Ontario government to label the riots as genocide.
Interestingly, Singh had travelled to India in January and February 2013. His visa refusal made him the first Western legislator to have been denied entry into India.
Singh also courted controversy for attending a
pro-Independence Sikh rally in San Francisco in 2015.
During a campaign event in September 2017, Singh, a turban-wearing Sikh, was heckled by a woman who started interrupting his speech. However, the NDP leader kept his cool and
responded, “We're not intimidated by hatefulness,” encouraging his supporters to welcome the heckler.
The video subsequently went viral and his popularity soared.NDP, however, doesn’t hold all the cards in the next Canadian government. The nominally separatist Bloc Quebecois, with eight more seats than NDP, could also prop the Liberals.