NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won a seat in the House of Commons, clearing a critical hurdle for his troubled leadership and triggering the start of an urgent effort to renew his caucus.
In his victory speech, Mr. Singh derided the Liberals and the Conservatives for presiding over a series of governments with a goal of enriching corporations while neglecting ordinary Canadians. He urged his supporters to hang on to the energy that they put into his winning campaign, noting they will need it for the upcoming federal election.
“I know it’s been a long slog, but I hope you have more left in the tank. We have just eight more months to let the people know they can choose a government that stands up for people and not corporations, that doesn’t give handouts to SNC-Lavalin,” Mr. Singh said in reference to the scandal currently enveloping the Liberals.
Mr. Singh secured 39 per cent of the vote, comfortably ahead of Liberal Richard T. Lee’s 26 per cent and Conservative Jay Shin’s 22 per cent.
Mr. Singh’s victory will help quell rumblings within his party over his future. Previous NDP leader Tom Mulcair said in January that it would be difficult for Mr. Singh to stay on as leader if he lost Burnaby South.
The former Ontario provincial politician has faced criticism about his seeming unfamiliarity with federal issues and his handling of internal caucus matters − particularly his decision to kick Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir out of caucus for alleged misconduct, which infuriated many NDP stalwarts in the province seen as the cradle of the party.
Under his leadership, the NDP has plunged to its lowest standings in public opinion polls since 2000, when it won just 13 seats. The party is mired in debt and its fundraising is sluggish. At least 11 of the 44 MPs who won seats for the party in 2015 have announced they won’t seek re-election this fall.
Despite Mr. Singh’s win, the party’s troubles were evident in another by-election result Monday: In a loss heavy with symbolism, the NDP was defeated in the Outremont riding they had held since 2007.
Liberal contender Rachel Bendayan held more than 42 per cent of the vote with two-thirds of the riding’s polls reporting results, with the NDP’s Julia Sanchez running second with just over 25 per cent.
The riding had been a Liberal stronghold until Mr. Mulcair scored an upset in a 2007 by-election. His victory turned Outremont into a beachhead for the NDP, which helped to launch the Orange Wave that swept the province in 2011 and boosted the party to Official Opposition status for the first time in its history. While the party held onto just 16 Quebec seats in 2015, Quebec MPs still make up more than a third of the NDP caucus.
Mr. Mulcair won the riding, but resigned in 2018 almost a year after Mr. Singh became NDP Leader.
Mr. Singh, brushed aside the loss in Outremont, saying the party “always knew” that contest was going to be tough.
But he said he will be heading to Quebec next week to talk about the NDP environment agenda, which he suggested may resonate in the province.
He also said voters in Quebec are as concerned as voters elsewhere in Canada about offshore tax havens, the government purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the access corporations like SNC Lavalin have had to the federal government.
“No one believes this is a good way to run a country,” he told a news conference following his victory speech.
Mr. Singh had said he was comfortable not being in Parliament while he worked on managing the party. But his view changed amid the party’s troubles. Earlier this month, the president of the Canadian Labour Congress said the NDP is struggling to reach members of the labour movement and Canadians in general.
Hassan Yussuff told The Canadian Press that Mr. Singh might find a “better groove” if he won a seat in the House of Commons.
Brad Lavigne, who helped orchestrate Jack Layton’s Orange Wave in 2011 as NDP campaign chief, said Sunday that victory in the by-election would be crucial for Mr. Singh’s efforts to unite the NDP before the federal election in the fall.
Mr. Lavigne said Mr. Singh poured considerable personal energy into the riding through extensive door-knocking and meetings with constituents. The riding has voted NDP in the past both federally and provincially.
With a win in hand, Mr. Lavigne said there is a lot of work in a short amount of time before the next federal election. Fundraising will be key, as well as building a team of candidates. Mr. Lavigne said Mr. Singh will have to “reintroduce himself” to the country and focus on key issues to form the underpinnings of the NDP campaign.
Mr. Singh’s Burnaby South win comes as the Liberals have been under fire over the scandal involving SNC-Lavalin and the cabinet resignation of former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould. Mr. Singh had called for a public inquiry into the situation.
Burnaby South was one of three by-elections called Jan. 9 by Mr. Justin Trudeau. In addition to Outremont, there was a by-election in York-Simcoe, north of Toronto.
The seat was left vacant by the retirement of Peter Van Loan, who had held the seat for the Conservatives since 2004. Conservative candidate Scot Davidson captured just over 50 per cent of the vote with a majority of polls reporting results to Liberal Shaun Tanaka’s 30 per cent.
In Burnaby South, Mr. Singh overcame challenges from Tory Mr. Shin, a corporate lawyer, and the Liberal Mr. Lee, a former Burnaby member of the provincial legislature representing the BC Liberals.
Mr. Lee replaced daycare operator Karen Wang, who stepped down after her campaign circulated social-media material highlighting Mr. Singh’s ethnic background.
The breakaway People’s Party of Canada, created last summer by one-time Tory leadership contender Maxime Bernier, faced its first electoral test in the by-elections and the results suggest it could be a spoiler that deprives the Conservatives of victory in tight contests.
While the fledgling party won less than two per cent of the vote in Outremont and York-Simcoe, it did surprisingly well in Burnaby South, where Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson won nearly 11 per cent of the vote after running on a campaign denounced as anti-immigration by her critics.
The Globe and Mail, February 25, 2019