NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh to run in B.C. byelection
|Toronto Star 08 Aug 2018 at 15:16|
OTTAWAâIn his biggest political gambit yet, federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is relocating to the West Coast to run for a soon-to-be-vacant seat in Burnaby, B.C.
The former Brampton MPP, whose political life began when he spearheaded a suburban GTA breakthrough for the Ontario NDP seven years ago, said he is committed to the citizens of Burnaby South â regardless of whether he runs in a byelection or has to wait for the 2019 general election to vie for a seat in the House of Commons.
âThis government hasnât done what people need,â Singh said, speaking to reporters at a rally in the suburban city east of Vancouver.
He attacked the Liberal government in Ottawa on a number of fronts, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of âbetrayalâ by breaking his promise to change the electoral system, and of failing to address income inequality, a lack of affordable housing and the need for universal pharmacare.
âWe dare to believe that this is not as good as it gets,â Singh said. âIt starts here. It starts today.â
Singhâs announcement ends months of repeated questions about when and where he would try to win a seat. Over the 10 months since he won the NDP leadership, Singh has said he is comfortable on the sidelines of Parliament, as he toured Canada and held a series of events dubbed âJagMeet and Greets.â
Pressure mounted, however, during a challenging stretch for the NDP this year. Two NDP MPs were accused of inappropriate behaviour, Singh was forced to address a controversy over rallies he had attended, and the partyâs standing in the polls stalled.
The opportunity to run in Burnaby South emerged when the incumbent MP, Kennedy Stewart, announced he will resign his seat in September to run for mayor of Vancouver.
Singh said Wednesday that he wants to win the seat to push the government on issues such as the environment and affordable housing, rather than as an effort to boost the NDPâs popularity. He said he can use his platform as national leader to highlight local issues, such as opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion â Burnaby, home to the lineâs terminus on Burrard Inlet, has become a hotbed of protests against the project â and demand for more health-care spending that could help build a new hospital in the city.
âThese are the issues that impact the people here in Burnaby South, and Iâm committed to fighting hard on those issues,â Singh said.
Farouk Karim, a former NDP press secretary who worked on Quebec MP Guy Caronâs leadership campaign last year, said Singhâs decision to run in Burnaby South is a âsmart gamble.â By winning the seat in a byelection, the NDP leader would increase his familiarity with Canadians in the crucial lead-up to the 2019 election. A successful run would also highlight a policy contrast with the Liberals on Trans Mountain, a key issue for left-leaving voters who value the environment, he said.
âFor the NDP to do well in the next election, they will have to appeal to progressive voters and to environmentalists who voted for Trudeau last time,â Karim said.
But itâs not clear the riding will be a slam dunk for Singh. The NDP won a tight, three-way contest there in 2015, when Stewart beat the second-place Liberal candidate by 547 votes.
This time around, the âwild cardâ will be when the prime minister decides to call a byelection in the riding, said Stewart, who will officially resign his seat on Sept. 14. After that, Trudeau has 180 days to call a byelection â though in the past, such as in Ottawa Centre in 2004, byelections in the waning months before a federal election have been postponed until the general vote.
âThe timing is up to the prime minister,â said Karl BĂ©langer, a former NDP strategist and president of the Douglas-Caldwell Foundation, who pointed out Mulcairâs former seat in Montrealâs Outremont riding could also be among the vacant ridings to host a byelection in the coming months.
âI think that if (the Liberals) have a chance to take out Singh and take out Outremont, they will do their best to do so,â he said.
Braeden Caley, spokesperson for the Liberal Party, said the party âwelcomes the opportunityâ to present a candidate whenever a riding is vacant. âWe wish Mr. Singh well as his partyâs candidate in the riding,â he said, âand weâre looking forward to a positive campaign to contrast our ideas with the other partiesâ.â
Regardless of when the election happens, both BĂ©langer and Karim said itâs a contest the NDP leader canât afford to lose.