Yasir Naqvi: Yes, Ontario is ready for its first Muslim premier

“My journey has never been easy, but I didn’t get into politics because it is easy. No barrier was ever broken without hard work and sacrifice.”

As published in Toronto Star
Tuesday, August 1, 2023

My journey has never been easy, but I didn’t get into politics because it is easy. No barrier was ever broken without hard work and sacrifice,” writes Yasir Naqvi.
Cynthia Münster photo


Is Ontario ready for a Muslim immigrant premier?

It’s a question asked many ways since I joined the race to lead the Ontario Liberal Party.

“Can he really win a general election?”


“Will he represent ‘regular’ Ontarians, too?”

“What about that sharia law stuff?”

These backroom whispers and dog whistles remain a sad reality in Ontario politics and not just from xenophobic tabloids or social feeds.

Thankfully, it is not something I hear from hard-working Ontarians and grassroots Liberals as I travel across our province. They get that we are a province of immigrants of all faiths and backgrounds.

One out of every three Ontarians was born outside of Canada. When you walk through our neighbourhoods you hear a harmony of languages — from English to Mandarin, Urdu to Ukrainian, French to Farsi and dozens more. Indeed, beyond Indigenous people, we are all immigrants to this place.

Ontarians deserve to have a premier who understands their lived experience. So, let me tell you about mine.

At 15, I came to Niagara Falls with my parents and siblings, some 35 years ago. Our father had been a pro-democracy political prisoner under Pakistan’s military dictatorship. We were happy to start fresh, but the transition wasn’t easy. I was a brown kid with a thick accent, just trying to make friends and fit in. Meanwhile my parents — lawyers who couldn’t practice — struggled to build a home from scratch.

My parents didn’t bequeath me a million-dollar business or a political dynasty. I’ve worked three times as hard to get to where I am today — but I am not unique. If you are an immigrant, a person of colour, a woman, live with a disability, come from a working-class background, or are part of the LGBTQ+ community, you can relate.

When I first decided to run for elected office, I was called “too Muslim” by some and “not Muslim enough” by others.

People who look like me want me to represent an ideal and people who don’t need me to prove I’m “mainstream” enough.

Growing up, my parents instilled two things in us: we are going to maintain our faith, culture and language, but Canada is home and we will reflect mainstream values. And that’s what we did. Even though the difficult years following 9/11, when much of the West was gripped by Islamophobia — Canada and Ontario were no exception — we sought that balance. It wasn’t always easy, and I’m still more likely to be “randomly screened” at the airport.

However, Canada and Ontario were not nearly as bad as other places. Why? Because we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms that protects us regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

If these protections are weakened for any group — all groups suffer. That’s why, when Quebec prohibited provincial employees from wearing religious clothing or symbols, some of the loudest critics were other marginalized groups. It’s also why Conservatives like Doug Ford, who push the notwithstanding clause at a whim, are so dangerous.

Throughout my career — including when I was Ontario’s first Muslim and first person of colour to serve as attorney general — I worked to ensure that fundamental human rights are protected for all.

It’s one of the reasons why I want to lead the Ontario Liberal Party and our province.

I’m ready to build a party and a province that embraces diversity, inclusion and equality. A place where everyone belongs — socially and economically.

My journey has never been easy, but I didn’t get into politics because it is easy. No barrier was ever broken without hard work and sacrifice. I’ve never been afraid to disrupt the status quo. Not just for me, but for the next generation.

So, is Ontario ready for a Muslim premier? An immigrant premier? A brown premier?

Yes. Let’s do this, together.


Yasir Naqvi is running to lead the Ontario Liberal Party. He is the current MP for Ottawa Centre and a former Ontario attorney general.