I think many of us had such high hopes in the beginning.
When Jagmeet Singh won the federal party’s leadership back in 2017, there was a wave of optimism when people thought of the possibility that Canada could elect its first non-white, Sikh-Canadian prime minister.
The then-Brampton MPP defeated more established, experienced NDP veterans to win the leadership decisively with 54 per cent of the vote. For awhile it seemed the hope and optimism espoused by the late Jack Layton was alive again. To be honest, when I went to cover Singh’s leadership launch, I felt that kind of feeling as well.
But it seems the reality of politics settles in and Singh, like others before him, is not looking as impressive as he once was.
Part of this has to do with his lack of real presence in Ottawa. Singh was an Ontario MPP and once he left that position, he had no seat in the House of Commons which made it harder for him to get noticed at all…by anyone.
All of Brampton’s ridings are currently held by Liberals, and even the embattled MP from Brampton East, Raj Grewal, decided to stay put after his scandalous situation, thus not allowing Singh a pathway to get elected in more familiar political terrain.
This prompted Singh to move all the way to British Columbia to contest a by-election in the riding of Burnaby South, left vacant after the previous NDP MP was elected Vancouver’s new mayor. Singh may yet win in a riding that only went NDP by about 500 votes in the 2015 election, as the Liberals had to suddenly switch candidates after the first one made what many called racially insensitive comments about the NDP leader.
Coupled with the Liberals own handling of pipelines (a hot button issue in BC) and the current scandal surrounding former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and SNC Lavalin, there may be enough disenchantment with the Liberal brand to allow Singh to win and get himself into the House of Commons so Canadians can actually see him face off against Justin Trudeau.
Singh’s leadership pretty much hinges on this by-election win. The leader’s absence from Ottawa on a regular basis has led to some questionable decisions on his part. One example was removing a veteran NDP MP from a committee for voting with the Conservatives on a motion protesting Liberal changes to the Canada Summer Jobs program regarding abortion protests.
Although the MP, David Christopherson from Hamilton, was pro-choice, he voted for the motion over concerns churches and other religious groups would have to disavow their beliefs to qualify for funding. Since the NDP is a pro-choice party and this MP effectively voted for a motion that reflected a pro-life position, Singh simply went and ‘disciplined’ the man amidst protest from his own MPs.
Christopherson was subsequently reinstated to the committee, although later he announced he would not be running for reelection in 2019.
Another incident was when a Saskatchewan MP, Erin Weir, was kicked out of caucus last year for allegations of harassment, which he denied. Singh refused Weir’s request to return to the NDP fold after he underwent treatment, which angered his party’s base in Saskatchewan.
According to the CBC, a letter signed by a group of 68 former NDP MPs and MLAs criticized Singh’s handling of the situation, accusing him of flouting proper procedure and acting on “hearsay.” It said Weir had sufficiently convinced his trainer that he now “gets it” and had made efforts to apologize and make amends to those affected by his actions.
To give you another idea of how bad things are for the NDP, eight current MPs (many of whom are long time veterans of caucus) announced they are not running again. Former NDP leader Tom Mulcair, who left Parliament last year and is currently a political commentator, has publicly criticized Singh’s leadership and said that a number of Quebec MPs have privately told him they were considering bowing out as well.
Quebec is a crucial province. Why? Because in 2011, Layton and the party swept 59 of the 75 seats in the province during the federal election that year, ushering in what the media termed ‘The Orange Crush’ and vaulting the NDP to Official Opposition status. The NDP went back down to 44 seats in the 2015 election after Trudeau’s Liberals surged ahead in the polls.
The NDP’s current standings aren’t any better; the last Leger poll showed them at 12 per cent, while the Liberals (at 34 per cent) are virtually tied with the Conservatives (at 36 per cent). There are projection models that show the NDP even losing seats to the Green Party out in Vancouver Island. Fundraising for the NDP hasn’t shown much promise either; they only brought in donations around $800,000 in June of 2018.
Overall, Singh is a politician atypical of today’s era; heavily influenced by social media and using the platform in his outreach. But how effective has that strategy been? If you follow Singh’s Instagram (which gets updated with daily stories as he is campaigning in Burnaby), it’s a lot of “hey fam, just chilling with my boyz at (insert name of place here)”. If he was a politician from the mid 1990s, it’s akin to hearing “Cowabunga, dudes”.
It’s a lot of flash and little substance, if you ask me.
The strategy of the leader fanning across the country to drum up support while his team remains in Ottawa to ‘hold the government accountable’ worked in the past with Layton, but in today’s breaking news driven environment and social media influence, Singh is having a hard time boosting NDP fortunes, judging by the polling numbers, numerous NDP MPs hanging up their hats and Singh’s own struggles in getting elected.
On Monday, voters in Burnaby will decide if Singh’s political career is worth a second act. Otherwise if he loses, the NDP may be pulling a page from the Ontario PC party, holding a leadership convention within months of a federal election.