MONTREAL -- New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh on Sunday kicked off his election campaign in Quebec, where the party that dominated the landscape after the 2011 election fell to one seat in 2019, saying he wants to show Quebecers how hard the NDP fought for them during the pandemic.

The province embraced the orange wave, driven by the popularity of then-leader Jack Layton, a decade ago but lost many of those seats in 2015 and then largely spurned the NDP in the last election amid the debate over Bill 21.

The law prohibits many public sector workers from wearing hijabs and turbans on the job. During the 2019 campaign, a man in Montreal encouraged Singh to "cut (his) turban off."

Standing in a sunny Montreal park on Sunday, flanked by his wife and sole remaining Quebec NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice, Singh focused on his party's efforts to improve pandemic relief for Canadians and took aim at Trudeau's decision to call a "selfish summer election."

"When times were tough, we were in this pandemic and it was hard on a lot of people, and workers were wondering and uncertain about what was going to happen next, we were there for them. We were there for people. We fought for you and your families," Singh said.

New Democrats fought for the minority Liberal government to increase the wage subsidy and bring in some paid sick leave for federal workers, he said.

"Everyone across Canada benefited from New Democrats being in Ottawa. I say to folks, imagine how much more we could do with more New Democrats elected."

Thousands of Quebecers marched through the streets of Montreal on Saturday to denounce the provincial government's plan for a COVID-19 vaccine passport. Those protesters expressed their mistrust toward not only Quebec Premier Francois Legault but also Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government.

Singh said it was important for people to have confidence in the federal government's decisions, adding that he intended to rebuild trust. He has repeatedly encouraged people to get vaccinated, and thanked Canadians for their efforts fighting the pandemic.

"One of the most important things we can do is give transparency, clear evidence, clear reasons why people need to follow public health measures," Singh said.

"A lot of people have genuine questions and we can answer those and provide more information."

Singh then introduced Nima Machouf, an epidemiologist who is a candidate for the NDP in Quebec.

Machouf called Trudeau's decision to call an election and spend money on the campaign instead of the pandemic "irresponsible." She said in an interview with The Canadian Press that education and transparency are key to improving trust in government.

"We must explain to people why we need vaccination, why we need measures to get out of the pandemic. Otherwise, when the measures are not clear and are not logical, people stop following," Machouf said.

Boulerice said Singh's decision to launch the campaign in Montreal goes to show how important Quebec is to the party. Boulerice reiterated how the election was unwanted, adding that the feeling was also shared among Quebecers.

"Let's take the feeling of frustration and anger and we will make the Liberals pay the price," Boulerice said. "We must prevent them from having a majority and we must send the message that we are going to elect people to go and fight for everyone."

McGill University political analyst Daniel Beland emphasized the importance of re-electing Boulerice, stressing that the NDP cannot afford to lose their only seat in the province.

"In Quebec, for the NDP, it's really about rebuilding the party," said Beland, who is director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. "The most important thing is to make sure Alexandre Boulerice gets re-elected. The Bloc and Conservatives want his seat."

"Boulerice has a good chance to get re-elected and that's a key aspect. He has quite a lot of support, people like him. Beyond that, to win new seats in Quebec is an uphill battle."

Beland explained the NDP lost a good number of seats during the 2019 election after refusing to take a strong and clear position on whether it would intervene in Bill 21.

"It might make a comeback in the electoral campaign if there's something that triggers the conversation," Beland said. "If it doesn't, it's good for both the Liberals and NDP who don't want to talk about the issue. It brings a lot of division."

Singh's popularity among young people might help him attract attention in Quebec, where there is otherwise not much space for his party, Beland said.

"The NDP hopes to stimulate higher electoral participation among Quebec and if young people go out and vote, on average, it's better for the NDP than for the Conservatives who have a much older demographic in terms of their base," he said.

Beland said the NDP's focus on the environment is something that might help in Quebec.

"Quebec is a province where it has an interest in environmental policies in climate change," Beland said, adding there are voters unhappy with Liberal policy on pipelines.

The election call also coincided with the Pride parade for the LGBTQ community in Montreal, where the NDP leader headed after his news conference.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Aug. 15, 2021.