Jagmeet Singh’s decisive first-ballot victory in the New Democratic Party (NDP) leadership race creates a new dynamic in federal politics midway through the mandate of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party.
Singh’s election will have implications for the state of federal politics in the lead-up to the 2019 election – both inside and outside the House of Commons.
On the campaign trail, Singh proved adept at signing up new members and galvanizing support. His youthful energy, image, fundraising acumen, and progressive policy priorities (focused on inequality, climate change, reconciliation, and electoral reform) resonated with a party still stinging from being reduced, once again, to third-party status. Singh now competes with a Prime Minister who championed those same issues – and in much the same style and approach – but who now wears some of the scars of trying to give life to those policies.
In the House of Commons
Singh, an Ontario MPP, does not hold a seat in the House of Commons, nor does he plan to run in a by-election. It will therefore be important for him to appoint a leadership team whom he trusts to lead the party’s Parliamentary functions. He will need to find strong performers in Question Period who also speak faithfully as his voice on policy priorities. Expect Singh’s team to include rookie BC MP Jenny Kwan, who endorsed Singh, as well as leadership rival Guy Caron, who has a strong presence in vote-rich Quebec.
An important note – it is not unprecedented for a new NDP leader to be without a seat in the House of Commons (e.g. Jack Layton, Alexa McDonough). Singh has stated his preference is to wait for election in 2019, running in the riding of Brampton East (currently held by Liberal MP Raj Grewal). We will see whether he changes his mind on this and decides to run in a by-election or if he sticks to his plan to criss-cross the country and build grassroots and fundraising support.
Outside the House of Commons
Until recently, the Liberals have benefited from leadership races in both the NDP and Conservative Parties. Now that both opposition parties are out of Interim Leader-mode, we should expect to see the policies and platforms of the 2019 election start to take shape. In addition to income inequality, climate change, reconciliation, and electoral reform policy positions, Singh has also floated the controversial issue of decriminalizing all personal drug use.
During the race, Singh received international media attention for his status as the potential first member of a visible minority community to become leader of a major federal political party in Canada. It remains to be seen, though, if Singh is known or recognized by Canadians any more than the low-profile leader of the Conservative Party, Andrew Scheer. It is possible that both men have a great deal of work to do to define themselves and their parties before the next election. Singh may believe his best chance of reaching Canadians rests outside of the House of Commons.
If Singh is successful in attracting a new generation of voters to the NDP, he will likely do so by focusing on regions where he poses the greatest threat to the federal Liberals; ironically, where the Conservatives hope to benefit as well. Despite nearly sweeping the Greater Toronto Area and much of Vancouver, the Liberals won many of these seats in 2015 by narrow margins. These are the same regions where Singh drew some of his greatest levels of leadership support. A semi-resurgent NDP could potentially threaten numerous Liberal seats and divide the “progressive” vote, should Singh see success in courting younger Canadians and new Canadians through progressive policies.
With the three leaders of Canada’s main political parties now in place, the 2019 election campaign is set to begin.