NDP's Jagmeet Singh tackles turban issue head-on in French-language campaign ad


OTTAWA — The NDP has unveiled its slogan and campaign ads ahead of the federal election, and in a French-language ad targeting Quebecers, leader Jagmeet Singh makes clear that he will be the party’s face in Quebec, despite concerns his turban could turn off voters.

The ad comes as the NDP struggles to hold ground in Quebec, with candidates nominated in less than half of Quebec’s ridings and polls suggesting the party could be facing collapse in the province.

The party has chosen “In it for you” as its national campaign slogan, an effort to position the NDP as the party working on behalf of ordinary people. The French slogan, “On se bat pour vous,” translates to “We’re fighting for you.”

In the English-language ad, Singh tells viewers he’s “different from the other leaders,” because he doesn’t “work for the wealthy and well-connected.” He promises to invest in health care and fight climate change. The spot shows him chatting with voters and playing soccer with a group of children.

But the 30-second French-language ad is quite different, opening with a shot of Singh with his long hair down, followed by a glimpse of him winding a turban around his head. “Like you, I’m proud of my identity,” he says in a voiceover. The images send a clear message about Singh’s values to a province that has recently passed a ban on religious symbols for some public sector workers. Under Bill 21, Singh would not be able to work as a teacher or police officer in Quebec unless he removed his turban. The law is popular in Quebec, and the importance of secularism in the province has led to concerns about whether the NDP leader will be able to reach Quebecers.

“I think we want to say to Quebecers that of course he’s wearing religious signs because it’s part of his identity and he’s proud of that,” said Montreal MP Alexandre Boulerice, the party’s deputy leader. “But it’s also to say it’s not the end of the world and he can show his head without a turban and it’s not a big deal.”

Karl Bélanger, former national director of the NDP, said the party is making the best of the cards it’s been dealt. “There is no point in not talking about the elephant in the room,” he said. “Short of him losing the turban altogether, which I don’t think is in the cards, they have to deal with it. Bill 21 is not going to disappear, and so they are trying to make of his difference an asset.”

The ad goes on to show Singh, who grew up practising taekwondo, punching a bag and grappling in a ring. “I’ve known enough injustice to know how to fight,” he says. “And now, I’m ready to fight for you.”

The spot also makes clear that Singh will be front and centre for the NDP in Quebec, and will not take a backseat to Boulerice and other Quebec MPs who are better known in the province. “My name is Jagmeet,” he says at the end. “You know the NDP. Now, you know what I’m made of.”

Boulerice said Quebecers still need to get to know Singh, and this ad aims to give them a closer look. “We know that with that attention, when people get to know him, the first barriers will come down,” he said.

The NDP is facing an uphill battle in Quebec, with recent polls showing the party’s support in the province hovering at or below 10 per cent, sometimes behind the Green Party. To date, the party has just 29 candidates nominated in Quebec’s 78 ridings, though communications director Mélanie Richer said that number will be up to 53 by the end of next week.