NDP leader and Burnaby South MP Jagmeet Singh (Facebook)

Despite 4th place finish, Jagmeet Singh remains confident about his leadership

While Singh remains optimistic, he is receiving some criticism within his party.

By Simran Singh | September 22, 2021 |5:00 am

You couldn’t help but hear a hint of disappointment in NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s voice on Tuesday morning during his post-election media conference.

Singh, who is known for his enthusiasm—often dancing during campaign rallies and making trendy TikToks to resonate with Gen Z—had a slightly more reserved tone during this question period.

And he didn’t hold back his disappointment, either, at least when it came to what Monday night’s election results meant for NDP candidates who lost in their ridings.

“I’m really disappointed that there are some really incredible people that fought really hard, that poured their hearts in, and that would have made incredible members of Parliament that would have really lifted the voices of so many people in their communities and would have made our Parliament a better place, and I’m disappointed that they were not able to join us in Ottawa,” said Singh

“It’s a loss, not just for me as a leader and not just for New Democrats as a team, but it’s a loss for Canada. Some of these really incredible candidates would have really made a big difference.”

What went wrong

As of Tuesday, the NDP was elected or leading in 25 ridings, receiving 17.7% of the vote and making an extremely small gain of 1 seat compared to the 24 won by the NDP in the 2019 federal election. This put the NDP in a 4th place finish, coming behind the Bloc Quebecois’ projected 34 seats.

According to Elections Canada’s results as of Tuesday, Singh secured 15,041 votes (39.8%) in Burnaby South. The Liberals’ Brea Huang Sami trailed behind Singh with 11,560 votes (30.6%).

Singh was also repeatedly asked by reporters about “what went wrong” with the party’s campaign.

The NDP spent over $25 million on this campaign, honing in on an aggressive social media strategy, in order to reach younger voters. The NDP’s chances at gaining more seats were also fueled by the fact Singh came into this campaign with more experience than his run in 2019.

Steven Weldon, a professor of political science at SFU, told the Beacon that he doesn’t believe the NDP’s results were a disappointment. Instead, Weldon said the party had high expectations.

“The numbers were suggesting they might get over 30 seats … It seems like some of those voters they lost [at] the last minute to the Liberals, which is a common challenge for the New Democrats,” he said.

“I don’t think, if you’re the NDP, you’re disappointed in these results. I think that’s too negative,” he said. “I think they held their ground in an election that seems pretty consistent from 2019.”

Cara Camcastle, a political science lecturer at SFU, told the Beacon that strategic voting played a part in the lack of an orange wave.

“I will say that strategic voting is one of the primary reasons for the weak NDP performance. The Liberals made progressive voters worry about the Conservatives, who the Liberals claimed would bring in weaker Covid restrictions, private health care, weaker gun laws … if they would form government,” she said.

Camcastle also pointed to the “minimal difference between the NDP and Liberals.”

Singh, she said, spent much of his time on Vancouver Island, particularly in Nanaimo-Ladysmith trying to chase Green votes but he did not clearly state whether he would cancel the TMX pipeline project.

“The Liberals have moved to the left-of-centre into the NDP space. Singh is not as popular within Quebec as his predecessor Layton where his party comes up against the Bloc,” she said.

Singh maintained that he and his party are proud of their campaign. “We fought really hard, and we showed what we’re all about, and we’re going to continue to do that. So I feel really confident about that.”

His confidence, he added, stems from the “notable victories” the NDP achieved during the pandemic.

“We heard from people that said when they were losing their jobs because of lockdowns, they needed money to be able to pay their bills to stay at home, and we were the ones that fought to increase CERB,” stated Singh. “Many times the Liberals wanted to cut it, and we fought to keep it going because we knew people needed help.”

The grass is greener

Singh was also riding high on his personal popularity during the election campaign. An August Ipsos poll conducted for Global said Singh was the most likeable of the federal leaders and a September CBC poll found him to be viewed as the most competent and trustworthy leader. But Singh’s likeability didn’t translate to more votes for his party.

When asked why he’s unable to turn his personal popularity into more seats, Singh didn’t provide a clear answer, instead highlighting that the NDP had 24 held seats previously, and he was “pretty honoured and amazed at how much we got done, despite being the 4th party.”

“Having seen what we’re able to do in a minority government with only 24 seats, I know in my heart we can make this country so much better. We could do so much more good for people if we form government. So, I’m going to keep on fighting. As you know, I’m a fighter. I’m relentless. I will never back down,” he stated.

Singh’s pledge to “never back down” was reinforced when asked whether he felt he felt secure in his leadership, to which he simply answered “yes.”

Weldon said what’s to come of Singh’s leadership is difficult to answer. “It’s like the grass is greener on the other side of the fence,” he said.

“I think that there’s always going to be a comparison for the NDP to the era of Jack Layton and thinking what the NDP could be. But that was also a period in which the Liberals had sunk significantly, and the NDP was seen as kind of the main alternative party on the left at that point in time,” he explained.

Weldon added that there are risks that come with changing leaders, which could be seen with the Greens during this election.

As for Singh, he said that he doesn’t think it’s “wise to get rid of a leader who overperformed expectations relative to where we would have expected the [political] landscape to have been 5 months ago.”

‘We’re an ad campaign’

While time will tell what the future holds for Singh and his leadership, some within the NDP are speaking about how the campaign was handled financially.

Jessa McLean, a community organizer and president of Ontario’s York-Simcoe NDP Riding Association took to Twitter on Tuesday responding to the party headquarters’ decision to keep 100% of all Elections Canada campaign expense reimbursements.

As reported by CBC in April, these reimbursements are usually allocated to candidates to fund local ridings and riding associations. The NDP made the decision to keep the rebates before the 2019 federal election. An NDP representative told CBC that the party was financially strapped after the 2015 federal election and leading up to the 2019 election. The rebates helped party headquarters pay down millions in debt.

“NDP federal council took the rebates from the local ridings and poured it all into [Jagmeet Singh’s] image and campaign,” wrote McLean, adding that nothing was invested “on the ground,” meaning that there were a lack of community organizers in place to fuel grassroots support.

“Two elections: Down 11 seats. We’re not a movement. We’re an ad campaign,” she stated.

“Many, many ridings had no one ‘pulling the vote.’ That means no rides to the polls available. No reminder calls. No flyer to the door. Possibly no signs. Those rebates were everything.”

The Beacon reached out to McLean but did not hear back before publication. 

Simran Singh

Managing Editor at Burnaby Beacon

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