NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has put it all on the line. He’s running in a by-election in the Vancouver-area riding of Burnaby South.
A loss could be politically fatal. But with a win, the idea might start to catch on that the political class needs a swift kick in the pants.
It’s pretty clear now that Singh’s leadership win came with terrible follow-up. In Singh’s post-leadership CBC interview he was asked a string of questions about religion that shouldn’t have been strung together – but any political veteran knew would be. Singh was unprepared. He stumbled badly.
And there was embarrassment when, in a media scrum, Singh had to ask NDP parliamentary leader Guy Caron about the caucus decision made in the caucus meeting he’d just been in.
But he’s had good moments – in particular, his appearance on the French-language Quebec politics show Tout le monde en parle (Everybody Talks About It). Many thought Singh would trip up on Quebec’s secularism debates. But he came across smart, friendly and in touch with everyday realities. His appearance was widely applauded.
And though it was a poor start, polls continued to show NDP support in the 20% range. A year before the 2011 election, Jack Layton’s NDP had lower public support. And in the summer of 2015, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were polling in the low- to mid-twenties. So all is not lost.
But Singh has ground to make up. First, he needs to win Burnaby South, which the NDP narrowly won in 2015. Then Singh needs to recruit his candidate team, amp-up his fundraising and bring focus to his MPs’ work. If anyone in the NDP thought Singh would be allowed to succeed on style and fandom, expel that thought now.
Singh must show his New Democrats are a political force with a purpose – that an NDP vote will solve a problem for people where Liberals and Conservatives won’t. That’s why the NDP exists.
Yes, Liberal and Conservative pundits will talk down Singh. But if the recent Ontario election proved anything, nothing unites Liberals and Conservatives faster than their opposition to the NDP. They worry the NDP will pressure them for solutions people urgently need. Can’t have that.
So let’s really compare.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, born in Ottawa, is a career politician who started on Parliament Hill at age 21. As leader, his priority was to hire a former Rebel Media director as his campaign manager. He not focused on the challenges people go through everyday. There’s been no change from Harper’s policy of tax giveaways for the richest people and corporations. He’s put no pressure on Trudeau to address people’s urgent needs on housing or health care. Scheer is a politician without a point.
Then there’s Trudeau. He’s had three years to fix what Harper broke. He hasn’t stopped Harper’s stock option tax breaks. He hasn’t reversed Harper’s cut to health care transfers. Instantly, he finds billions for a pipeline. But on housing, transit, pensions and drug costs, Trudeau only has multi-year strategies and long-term plans. Thing is, people are waiting for solutions today.
Scheer won’t do what’s right. Trudeau hasn’t done what people need. People need someone who will push for more.
So, if voters want to tell Ottawa to get focused on what people are going through everyday, why not send that message with Jagmeet Singh?
Tom Parkin is a former NDP staffer and social democrat media commentator.
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