British Columbia

'A long time coming': Jagmeet Singh's victory a historic win for visible minorities

Jagmeet Singh's decisive first ballot victory for the leadership of the federal NDP marks the first time in Canadian history a visible minority candidate has been elected leader of a major federal party.

Singh won the federal NDP leadership race becoming first visible minority to lead major Canadian party

Jagmeet Singh won on the first ballot of the NDP leadership on Oct.1, only the third NDP leader to do so after Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Jagmeet Singh's decisive first ballot victory for the leadership of the federal NDP marks the first time in Canadian history a visible minority candidate has been elected leader of a major federal party. 

A criminal lawyer from Scarborough, Ontario, Singh became the first turban-wearing Sikh to sit in Ontario's legislature in 2011. He served as the NDP's critic for justice and consumer services before becoming the party's deputy leader in 2015. 

His NDP leadership campaign relied in part on strong support from British Columbia. He was the only candidate to have a campaign office in both Ontario and B.C. and he received endorsements from many prominent B.C. NDP members. 

Harry Bains, B.C.'s  labour minister and a Singh supporter, says the victory is especially striking when one considers Canada's history of excluding minority groups from politics.

"I think it's a proud moment when you reflect back to the time when there were discriminatory laws," Bains said. "People of the Sikh faith, people from India, China, Japan, First Nations didn't have the right to vote.

"Now, we're at a place where we are potentially looking at ... a Sikh prime minister of Canada," he said. 

B.C. has the largest Sikh community in Canada, but Bains, who is also Sikh, says Singh's victory goes beyond the Sikh community. 

"It's just great news for all of us, not just the Sikh community, but all of us as Canadians," he said.

'A long time coming'

Ujjal Dosanjh, who was premier of British Columbia from 2000 to 2001, acknowledged Singh's historic achievement. "It's been a long time coming," he said. (CBC News)

Former B.C. premier and federal cabinet minister, Ujjal Dosanjh, who is Sikh, also acknowledged Singh's historic achievement.

"Others have run before [for federal leadership] but nobody has won," he said. "It's been a long time coming." 

He noted that B.C. politician Rosemary Brown, a black Canadian, ran for the federal NDP during the 1975 leadership race, but finished second.

"There are forerunners and there were people who had done things before I ever became leader of the NDP or premier ... All of those things go into creating a future for us."

A crucial moment

Davina Bhandar, a professor at Simon Fraser University who specializes in Canadian identity and critical race studies, said Singh's victory is "earth-shattering" given the current political climate.

"We're seeing battles in small towns across Canada between white supremacists and others challenging that," Bhandar said.

Singh made headlines himself worldwide after a video of him responding gracefully to an anti-Muslim heckler went viral

Jagmeet Singh celebrates with supporters after winning the first ballot in the NDP leadership race to be elected the leader of the federal New Democrats in Toronto on Sunday, October 1, 2017. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

At the same time, Bhandar said she is wary that Singh's win will be interpreted as an "ethnic vote," buoyed by the Sikh community.

"Yes, he really brought together representation from his Sikh or Punjabi community to support him ... but he speaks to a much wider audience than that."

Prime Minister Singh?

As for whether Singh has the chance to become Canada's first visible minority prime minister, Dosanjh is cautious.

"I think that's a long, long way from now. Not that it won't happen or couldn't happen, but it's going to be much harder."

Bains is more optimistic.

"I'm not only hopeful, I'm confident that'll happen," he said. "He's got values that are shared by a majority of Canadians ... I think this is a real chance for us as Canada to go even further than we are today."


Roshini Nair is a writer for CBC News in Vancouver, covering news from across British Columbia. You can reach her at