A man confronted NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during a campaign stop in Montreal Wednesday and told him to cut off his turban, hours ahead of an election campaign debate where the issue of religious symbols is expected to come up.
Video posted online showed Mr. Singh touring Montreal’s Atwater Market when he was approached by a man who told him: “You should cut your turban off … and look like a Canadian.” Mr. Singh said he disagreed.
“I think Canadians look like all sort of people. That’s the beauty of Canada,” Mr. Singh said in the video.
The interaction comes amid a debate over Quebec’s Bill 21, a law that restricts religious dress among some public servants. Speaking to reporters in Montreal Wednesday morning, Mr. Singh addressed the province’s law and how it may affect Quebeckers’ impression of him as a Sikh man.
“I am hoping that by being in Quebec and saying, ‘Hey listen, I got a turban and a beard and I’m out here talking about loving the language’ … that people can see maybe this isn’t a good idea to have divisive laws that discriminate [against] people based on the way they look,” Mr. Singh said.
NDP strategist Anne McGrath said Mr. Singh is the only leader who has to deal with racism on an ongoing basis.
“He tries to remain very strong in his convictions and his beliefs, which he is, but also to respectfully confront any racist attitudes that are sent his way,” Ms. McGrath said.
“A lot of Canadians are very impressed and moved by his responses when it comes to racist incidences.”
Federal party leaders spent Wednesday preparing for a French-language debate that evening, where the focus is expected to be centered on Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau as he faces his opponents for the first time during this campaign. Mr. Trudeau skipped the first leaders’ debate last month.
Mr. Trudeau started Wednesday at Ali Nestor’s gym to box, telling reporters he’s “doing good.” Mr. Nestor also trained Mr. Trudeau for his fight with Senator Patrick Brazeau. The 2012 fight was a defining moment for Mr. Trudeau has he tried to gain credibility in the House of Commons.
Posters of Mr. Trudeau and his fight with Mr. Brazeau decorated part of a wall at the boxing gym, one poster from a movie read: “God Save Justin Trudeau: the art of politics in the 21st century.”
By debate day, Liberal strategist Scott Reid said all the legwork is done and leaders will spend some time reviewing the key strategy and messages they want to get across. While many elements of debate prep are universal, he said how leaders get in the zone is personal and comes down to what it takes to get “relaxed and focused.”
“Because those are the two things you want the leader to be when they step on the stage,” Mr. Reid said.
The Conservative campaign had a quiet day Wednesday, with Leader Andrew Scheer spending the day preparing.
Virginie Bonneau, a spokeswoman for the Conservative campaign, said staff members are playing the roles of other leaders and firing off questions to Mr. Scheer in French.
Conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies Tim Powers said Wednesday’s debate marks an important introduction of Mr. Scheer to voters who may not have paid attention to the campaign until now.
“He'll want to demonstrate that he is competent and capable, not the fire-breathing brother of Doug Ford as the Liberals are describing him,” said Mr. Powers, adding that Mr. Scheer has the ability to surprise people.
The leaders will be up against Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, a former provincial minister and television analyst. The separatist party is riding high in Quebec polls.
Wednesday night’s debate in Montreal is hosted by TVA, which is not part of the media consortium affiliated with the two commission debates. The head-to-head format will see each leader squaring off against another in 10-minute segments. The topics covered will be the environment, economy, Quebec’s place in Canada, immigration and social policies.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier were not invited to the TVA debate, but will be in debates next week.
All of the major party leaders, including Mr. Trudeau, will also take part in two televised debates organized by an independent commission the Liberal government established. The debates – one in English and another in French – will take place next week.
The latest national numbers from Nanos Research has the Liberals and Conservatives tied with 34 per cent of support from respondents. The NDP is at 15 per cent, followed by the Greens at 10 per cent, the Bloc Québécois at 5 per cent and the People’s Party of Canada at 2 per cent.
The poll was sponsored by The Globe and Mail and CTV, with a total of 1,200 Canadians surveyed from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1. It has a margin of error of 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Respondents were asked: “If a federal election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences?” A report on the results, questions and methodology for this and all surveys can be found at tgam.ca/election-polls.
Nanos Research, looking only at their responses from Quebec between Sept. 21 and 30, found that the Liberals were in the lead in Quebec with the support of 35 per cent of respondents, followed by the Bloc at 22 per cent. The Conservatives are at 17 per cent, followed by the NDP at 13 per cent and the Greens at 10. The People’s Party of Canada is at 2 per cent. That sample size of 828 people has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.