VANCOUVER — The NDP is still hoping to see some growth in its caucus even as election night started off with the loss of a key seat in Atlantic Canada.
St. John's East, the New Democrats’ only seat in the region, fell to Liberal Joanne Thompson. It was formerly held by Jack Harris, who retired from politics with the onset of the election. He was replaced by candidate Mary Shortall, a veteran labour leader.
The NDP has tempered its own expectations on election day with party officials saying any gains in seats will be considered a success. They had 24 seats in the House of Commons at dissolution.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and his wife, Gurkiran Sidhu, were watching the election results from an executive suite on the 19th floor of the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel with views of Stanley Park and the harbour out the window. The mood remained positive as they watched early results roll in.
Singh earlier in the day said he was feeling excitement and trepidation.
“It’s confusing because I’m feeling excited but a little bit nervous, because I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen,” Singh said in the Burnaby North—Seymour riding.
The New Democrats took an aggressive approach during the 36-day campaign, visiting 51 ridings that the party had not held before the vote.
To do that, Singh has been laser-focused on Justin Trudeau and what he calls the Liberal leader’s broken promises around drinking water for First Nations and the housing crisis. Despite running a campaign that outwardly prides itself on positivity, the New Democrats have been very negative about Trudeau.
The NDP has also been discouraging people from voting strategically, hoping to wrestle progressives over to its side.
The party pegged hopes on reaching voters through their own housing strategy, an environmental plan and Indigenous issues. Singh was the first leader to campaign on a reserve and spent an entire campaign day in Neskantaga First Nation, a fly-in northern Ontario community with Canada’s longest boil-water advisory.
Anne McGrath, the national director of the NDP, said the goal from the very beginning has been to increase the size of the caucus and there are seats across the country the party believes are in play.
“We are pretty confident that we are going to win some seats across the country,” McGrath said at the Vancouver Convention Centre where Singh will be waiting as results start to roll in.
It will be a pivotal election for the party and its leader. McGrath explained that 2019 was a difficult election for the NDP. Many former members of Parliament decided not to run again, Singh was a new leader that Canadians didn’t know, and the party itself was facing significant financial difficulty.
But there’s been a significant change leading up to this election, especially when it comes to Singh’s personal popularity in opinion polls.
“We go into this campaign with a track record, with a trusted and admired leader, who is authentic and really connects with Canadians,” McGrath said.
The New Democrats have also been pushing for people to vote early or mail. Those results are likely to be delayed so McGrath said the NDP are preparing for it to take a few days to really see where they stand.
Back in Newfoundland, Shortall said she wanted to wait for remaining votes to be counted in a short speech after numbers rolled in indicating she’d lost the riding. She has not conceded the seat.
“We probably won’t know until tomorrow,” Shortall told a small crowd of supporters.
While Singh campaigned on the intention of becoming prime minister, the party’s messaging has evolved as opinion polls show the Liberals and Conservatives in a close race. The NDP's popularity in polls has not moved much throughout the campaign.
When recently asked what the key issue would be for Singh to support another party in a minority Parliament, he said the “ultrarich” must pay their fair share when it comes to the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have a great team that’s done a great job and I’m proud of the work we’ve done,” Singh said.
“We’ve shown Canadians a choice and now the choice is in the hands of voters.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 20, 2021.
Kelly Geraldine Malone and Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press