Dress Lo­cally, Se­cure the Sikh Vote in 2019?

Policy - - In This Issue - Col­umn / Don New­man

I’m sorry, An­drew Scheer, but ap­par­ently, you don’t mat­ter. New Demo­cratic Leader Jag­meet Singh is the man the Trudeau Lib­eral Gov­ern­ment sees as the big­gest threat in the next elec­tion, 18 months from now.

Singh has been the leader of the fed­eral NDP for only a few months. He does not have—and ap­pears in no hurry to get—a seat in the House of Com­mons and the higher pro­file that would come with it. Nev­er­the­less, the move from pro­vin­cial pol­i­tics in On­tario to fed­eral pol­i­tics in Ot­tawa has al­ready had an im­pact on Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and his Lib­eral Gov­ern­ment. In fact, they ap­pear to be run­ning scared, as two events in Fe­bru­ary il­lus­trate.

Ex­am­ple A: The fed­eral bud­get. The eco­nomic plan un­veiled by Fi­nance Min­is­ter Bill Morneau on Fe­bru­ary 27th was ba­si­cally NDP Light. It fea­tured spend­ing for gen­der eq­uity, sex­ual ha­rass­ment and ways to pro­mote more women at all lev­els of the work place.

It had more spend­ing for indige­nous Cana­di­ans and a va­ri­ety of other pro­grams that usu­ally warm NDP po­lit­i­cal hearts. It even had the be­gin­ning of what could be phar­ma­care. It was more a so­cial pol­icy doc­u­ment than an eco­nomic one. There was no prom­ise of tax cuts or deficit re­duc­tion to counter the crit­i­cisms Con­ser­va­tives tra­di­tion­ally make of Lib­eral bud­gets.

Ex­am­ple B: The Prime Min­is­ter’s re­cent travel.

The Prime Min­is­ter re­cently spent a week in In­dia. Not only did he take his wife, So­phie Gré­goire Trudeau, with him, he took his three chil­dren, Xavier, Ella Grace and Hadrien, as well. Per­haps that should have been the tip-off that there was go­ing to be more to this trip than the ad­ver­tised trade ne­go­ti­a­tions, meet­ings with busi­ness lead­ers and eco­nomic deal-mak­ing.

In­stead, much of the trip turned out to be the Trudeau fam­ily tour of In­dia’s fa­mous land­marks, his­toric sites and shrines. In­cluded in the lat­ter cat­e­gory was the Golden Tem­ple in Am­rit­sar, a Sikh holy place and the scene of a raid by the In­dian gov­ern­ment to re­move Sikh sep­a­ratists in 1984. Four months later, Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi was as­sas­si­nated by her Sikh body­guards.

Not only did the Trudeaus have this am­bi­tious sight­see­ing agenda, much of the time they wore tra­di­tional In­dian cloth­ing as they toured. That opened them to much de­ri­sion in both Canada, and In­dia, where the out­fits were slammed as Bol­ly­woodthemed pan­der­ing. The Prime Min­is­ter fi­nally had a meet­ing with In­dian Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi on the fi­nal day of the trip.

But who wasn’t laugh­ing? Who was en­joy­ing the pic­tures? And who will get a chance to see them again in the fall of 2019 in the fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign? Vot­ers in the On­tario sub­urbs of Bramp­ton and Mis­sis­sauga, north and west of Toronto, and in Sur­rey and Rich­mond, just south of Van­cou­ver.

All of the rid­ings in those two ar­eas have large Indo-Cana­dian pop­u­la­tions. In fact, it is the votes of those elec­tors that de­cide who goes to Ot­tawa. Most of them won’t think the Trudeaus looked funny. Would the Lib­er­als and the Prime Min­is­ter have gone to so much trou­ble with­out Mr. Singh lead­ing the NDP? If you ask them they say yes, but it is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture.

Singh is a Sikh who rep­re­sented a Bramp­ton rid­ing in the On­tario Leg­is­la­ture, and that is where he will run fed­er­ally in 2019. In the 2015 elec­tion, the Lib­er­als cap­tured vir­tu­ally all of those rid­ing as they rode from third place to first and formed a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment. An NDP leader from the Sikh com­mu­nity run­ning there, and with coat­tails in the sur­round­ing rid­ings, could spell disas­ter to their hopes for another ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment and per­haps any Lib­eral Gov­ern­ment at all.

And de­spite the num­ber of Sikhs in the Trudeau cab­i­net and the Lib­eral cau­cus, an NDP leader from the com­mu­nity could wreak havoc with a Lib­eral ma­jor­ity.

This doesn’t mean that the NDP will likely be the gov­ern­ment af­ter the next elec­tion. At the mo­ment that seems a re­mote pos­si­bil­ity. In fact, it raises the pos­si­bil­ity that Mr. Scheer and the Con­ser­va­tives could in fact be­come the gov­ern­ment. Con­ser­va­tive sup­port is rel­a­tively con­sis­tent across the coun­try. They have their best elec­toral re­sults when a strong NDP siphons off Lib­eral sup­port.

Which is why in Fe­bru­ary, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment was mov­ing to try and make sure that won’t hap­pen.

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