Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/9/2019 (988 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Driving down Winnipeg streets, motorists will often be greeted by two sets of signs advertising Conservative candidates, two sets for Liberal candidates, etc. This is thanks to Premier Brian Pallister’s decision to trigger an early provincial election. The provincial election will conclude right at the beginning of the federal campaign, and federal candidates are already out and about with their advertising, which will surely confuse electors.
So let me clarify: the New Democratic Party is doing surprisingly well in the provincial election campaign. Leader Wab Kinew outperformed his rivals in the leaders debate, appearing disciplined and serious.
The party has consistently and successfully hammered the governing Tories on the issue of health care. The NDP campaign has been gaffe-free, which is more than can be said of Pallister’s PCs. The NDP is up in the polls, though not likely up far enough to deny the PCs a second term in government.
If the provincial NDP is on the upswing, the same cannot be said of the federal NDP under Jagmeet Singh. On the national level, the party has been plagued with bad news in recent weeks which, combined with consistently low support in public opinion polls, has created the sense that the NDP is heading for a blowout in the upcoming federal election.
First, the polls: CBC’s poll tracker reports a polling average of support for the NDP at 12.8 per cent, compared with 34 per cent for the Tories and 33.3 per cent for the Liberals. Singh and the New Democrats are only two points ahead of the Green Party.
The NDP scored 19.7 per cent of the vote in the 2015 election. Singh delivered only a tiny boost to the party’s standing after being selected as leader in October 2017, and support has slid since then. At its current level, polls predict the party would win only 14 seats, down from its current 40. Indeed, the NDP’s official party status might be in danger.
More bad news surfaced last week when it was reported that the NDP had nominated only 148 candidates to run, out of 338 seats. The other parties were far ahead; even Maxime Bernier’s fledging People’s Party of Canada had nominated 314 candidates.
The news went from bad to worse as two Ontario candidates — including longtime party and union stalwart Sid Ryan — abandoned their campaigns, alleging the party organization was as slow as molasses in approving their nominations. Then this week, one member of the national party executive and eight former provincial NDP candidates — all from New Brunswick — defected to the Greens, claiming the NDP is uncompetitive in their province. Indeed, as of this writing, the NDP hasn’t nominated a single candidate in New Brunswick.
Defending the leisurely pace of his party’s nomination process, party officials argued the NDP under Singh is prioritizing the diversity of candidates, and recruiting women and others from traditionally disadvantaged groups takes time. Slow and steady wins the race.
Perhaps. But the federal election — unlike Pallister’s early provincial election — is being held right on schedule. Everyone knew it was coming; there’s really no excuse for the NDP to have such a dearth of nominated candidates this close to the opening of the campaign.
Singh himself has to accept responsibility for the state of affairs. In New Brunswick, the defectors noted he had not visited the province once since being selected as leader.
In contrast, Green party Leader Elizabeth May has lavished attention on New Brunswick, visiting frequently. May’s attention paid off, whereas Singh’s lack thereof has contributed to the NDP pile-on.
If you hope to become prime minister, you should probably get out to New Brunswick at some point.
It’s entirely possible potential NDP candidates have taken note of the party’s low poll numbers and decided to take a pass on running in this election cycle. Very few people want to run as sacrificial lambs. This will make it even harder for the NDP to recruit candidates.
But there may be another factor at play: rumours in the party about Singh’s treatment of his caucus.
The leader, for example, turfed Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir from the party caucus in 2018 following allegations he was both too argumentative with staffers and stood too close to others when talking to them.
In response, Weir’s constituency association appealed to Singh to allow Weir to rejoin the party and run for re-election under the NDP banner. Weir also received support from 68 former NDP MPs and MLAs, who accused Singh of acting against Weir on the basis of hearsay. But Singh held firm, saying he wouldn’t be intimidated by "privileged" people.
In a party that tends to nominate longtime party activists and workers, rumours about Singh’s poor relationships in caucus could have had a major effect on the supply of potential NDP candidates.
Royce Koop is an associate professor and head of the political studies department at the University of Manitoba.