Jagmeet Singh defends NDP's election showing despite little caucus growth

·4 min read

Jagmeet Singh said Tuesday he feels secure in his leadership despite the NDP's seat count barely shifting after a pandemic election where Canadians consistently ranked him as the most popular party chief.

"I’m really here because I want to make a difference," the NDP leader said in Vancouver Tuesday morning.

Singh said New Democrats will still get work done in Parliament even though they hover within a few seats of their 2019 tally, and despite his campaign talking point that Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau cannot be trusted.

The New Democrats had 24 seats in the House of Commons at dissolution and, while some close races are still being counted, it appeared as of Tuesday afternoon they have gained only a seat or two.

Singh said he was proud of his team and the campaign, but "disappointed" that many NDP candidates who failed to win their ridings will not be joining him in Ottawa.

The showing was significantly smaller than Singh predecessor Tom Mulcair's 44-seat outcome in 2015, which led to a leadership review and Singh's ascension in 2017.

Monday prompted some déjà vu among New Democrats after a tough run in 2019 that yielded a seat count nearly identical to the latest election. Singh was relatively new on the federal scene at the time, with only two years under his belt as leader of a party that also faced financial difficulty.

This time around the NDP spent a lot more money, and Singh enjoyed name recognition across the country and a stated record of boosting pandemic relief to run on. He has also consistently been found the most likable leader in public opinion polls, leveraging an outsized social media presence that blends talking points and trap beats.

But that didn't translate into ballots cast — "the only currency that matters," said Karl Bélanger, president of consulting firm Traxxion Strategies and former senior adviser to the NDP.

The NDP failed to make significant gains in key ridings in Quebec and downtown Toronto, and its share of the popular vote — 17.7 per cent as of Tuesday evening — fell short of polling projections.

"You've lost a few seats, you've gained a few others. So you're treading water. You need to do better. And the key to that is to get the people who say they will vote for you to actually vote for you," said Bélanger.

He added that Singh's place atop the party is secure at least in the short term.

"I have total confidence in Jagmeet," said NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, citing his "incredible enthusiasm and positive spirit" on the campaign trail.

Neck-and-neck races the NDP may be on the cusp of losing include Toronto's Davenport riding, Montreal's Laurier-Sainte-Marie, Berthier-Maskinongé in rural Quebec, the New Democrat-held Hamilton Mountain and, in downtown Toronto, Spadina—Fort York, where the Liberal candidate was effectively booted from the party over the weekend.

"They cannot consider this a victory," said Sanjay Jeram, senior lecturer of political science at Simon Fraser University.

"If you're thinking about what kind of conditions in which the NDP could make their breakthrough with Jagmeet Singh at the helm, this was it. And he didn't pull it off."

The party did pick up at least one new seat in Edmonton and remained in the lead in the previously Green riding of Nanaimo—Ladysmith.

Singh criticized Trudeau on Tuesday for holding an election during the pandemic, saying it seems to have resulted in long lines at polling stations, less accessibility and ultimately a low voter turnout.

The New Democrats, as the fourth party, are back in a position to hold some of the balance power in supporting the minority government following a 36-day campaign that largely focused on slamming Trudeau, often in very personal terms.

Singh said has no intention to force another election.

"We used our position successfully to win really big victories for people, for Canadians. They were better off because we were there," he said.

"We will do the same thing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone and Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press

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