Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is including his identity as a turbaned Sikh in his pitch to voters in a province immersed in debate over separating the state from religious symbols.
Mr. Singh, who is expected to face a fierce battle in Quebec in the forthcoming campaign, is featured in a new advertisement that begins by showing the leader with his hair down – a marked difference from his usual appearance, where his hair is concealed under coloured turbans.
The ad release comes as Mr. Singh is dealing with challenges such as slumping fundraising, naming a roster of candidates and the Tuesday announcement that 14 former candidates from the New Brunswick NDP are now joining the provincial and federal Green parties.
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Mélanie Richer, a spokesperson for Mr. Singh, played down the announcement from the Greens on Tuesday, adding the NDP will soon be announcing a full slate of candidates in New Brunswick and that “people change their mind for who they would like to support.”
The party is also hoping that through its Quebec advertisement, set to be circulated online and on television, that it can deliver a message that its leader may look different but that he shares progressive values on issues such as climate change.
Intense debate has played out in Quebec over a law barring public-sector employees such as teachers from wearing religious symbols in the workplace.
For his part, Mr. Singh said he will not shy away from talking about his turban.
“What I want to achieve with that is assure folks that I kind of get Quebeckers have had to fight, for respect, for space, for their language, for their identity,” he said.
“It has been tough. I’ve had to as well, fight for a lot of things in my life and I get that it is not easy.”
The advertisement amounts to a show of authenticity for the leader, said NDP Quebec lieutenant Alexandre Boulerice, adding Quebeckers will appreciate that he is being genuine about who he is.
“This is his identity and his religion but it is not a big deal,” he said. "He can show his head like anybody.”
The advertisement is an interesting move, said Karl Bélanger, the former principal secretary to Tom Mulcair, who led the party during the 2015 election.
“Now the key question is how far and wide will it be seen and heard?" Mr. Bélanger said.
It is clear the party has tooled its message to Quebeckers in a different way from the message it is delivering to the rest of Canada, he said, adding the NDP was aware of these differences when it broke through in Quebec under the 2011 orange wave with late leader Jack Layton.
The party should be very concerned about its prospects in Quebec at the moment, Mr. Bélanger added, noting there is not a single safe seat.
The party currently holds 14 seats in Quebec while the Liberals hold 40, the Conservatives have 11 and the Bloc Québécois have 10. People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier also hails from the province.
In August, former Quebec NDP MP Pierre Nantel, first elected under the Layton wave in 2011, was removed as a party candidate after it was learned he was in discussions with the Green Party. He is now running under the Green banner for the Oct. 21 election.