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Federal Election 2021: Analysis of the NDP campaign in British Columbia and Quebec

Jagmeet Singh

Since 2019, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been trying to translate his positive approval numbers (he remains the most popular federal leader) into political gains for his party. While the NDP looks primed to increase its caucus, notably via gains in Ontario, some provinces, including British Columbia and Quebec, represent a challenge for the party, and its ability to overcome these obstacles could determine the outcome of this election.

British Columbia

With the NDP now running neck and neck with both the Conservatives and Liberals in British Columbia, we’re getting closer to being able to answer the question that many asked at the start of the campaign—would the policies and actions of the BC NDP government help or hurt the federal party’s chances in the province?

While enjoying a close relationship, the BC NDP and the federal party are by no means joined at the hip. In what amounts to a two-party system in the province, the BC NDP has continued to inch closer to the centre and have taken a decidedly pragmatic approach to governing that has led to the farther left factions of the party to grow unhappy with some of the decisions being made.

Some supporters are upset with the continuation of fossil fuel subsidies and a perceived lack of urgency to protect old-growth forests. Others have criticized the provincial party’s plans to continue the Site C megaproject, as well as allowing further investments into LNG projects.

But, throughout the campaign, Jagmeet Singh has successfully thread the needle between serious critiques of his provincial friends and full-on support of some of the more “controversial” policy decisions made by John Horgan and his party, largely escaping some of the blowback many expected this campaign.

Other than expressing his serious concerns regarding LNG expansion and fossil fuel subsidies, M. Singh has been able to hold the middle ground on various hot-button issues, like the Fairy Creek protest, which has grown to become the largest act of civil disobedience in the province’s history.

Combined with the turmoil surrounding the federal Green Party, and the decline in support of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, some progressives across the province now see Jagmeet Singh and the NDP as their only option, regardless of how they feel about their provincial counterparts.

And the party is looking to take full of advantage of that shift—Jagmeet Singh made another stop this week in the Nanaimo—Ladysmith riding of Paul Manly, one of only two incumbent Green MPs, as the NDP look to retake a seat in an area that has historically leaned NDP in the past, with current BC NDP Minister of Mental Health Sheila Malcolmson winning there in 2015, and prior to redistribution NDP MP Jean Crowder dominating the Nanaimo—Cowichan riding from 2004 to 2015.

In these final days, look to see the NDP leader and his team try to lock in their support throughout the lower mainland, where Mr. Singh’s campaign rally cry of “tax the rich” will play well in an area that has seen the effects firsthand of large amounts of capital pushing the dream of home ownership out of reach for many British Columbians.

In an election largely without a countrywide ballot box issue, federal parties have needed to pivot to more regional messaging, and the NDP’s platform of progressive policies and support for the middle class is tailormade for a province that is facing an affordability crisis.

On September 20, we’ll see if that’s enough for the NDP to make up some ground here in B.C., despite its differences with their provincial friends.

Quebec

Right before the writ drop, Alexandre Boulerice, the lone remaining NDP MP in Quebec, was projected to be seriously challenged by both the Liberal and Bloc candidates. Initially, the party’s priority was to save their last man standing.

This changed quickly in the early days of the campaign, as the Liberals dropped in the polls, leaving Alexandre Boulerice with a comfortable lead. This allowed the party to try to make gains in other ridings, an outcome that would have sounded totally unconceivable a couple of weeks ago, when both analysts and polls were predicting that the NDP could be erased from the Quebec map.

Indeed, popular former MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau announced she would be running again in her old riding of Berthier—Maskinongé, where she lost by less than a thousand votes in 2019.

Back in Montreal, New Democrats are hoping to dislodge incumbent Liberal MP Steven Guilbeault in the riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie. Their candidate Nimâ Machouf ran against Mr. Guilbeault in 2019 without success. But things have changed since then: in 2019, as a former climate activist, Mr. Guilbeault managed to seduce the young, progressive voters of the Plateau. But he now has the difficult task of defending the Liberals’ record on climate change, while some people are accusing his party of using him as a “moral caution”.

With their party rising in the polls, New Democrats have even become competitive in some ridings outside of Montreal, such as Sherbrooke or Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which were represented by NDP MPs until 2019.

However, while the NDP might have some momentum in a few Quebec ridings, it is definitely not in goldilocks conditions to win seats.

Since 2015, donations to the party in Quebec have dropped significantly. Even while upping their numbers since the beginning of this campaign, the NDP is still far from having the same resources as the three other main parties in the province. Yet, funding is key to a successful campaign.

Québec remains a tough challenge for New Democrats since the “niqab gate” commotion of 2015, which showed then that the party was not in phase with most Quebecers when it came to identity issues. The resurgence of these issues (fuelled by the last debate which saw the moderator qualify two widely popular Quebec laws as “discriminatory”), could ruin the modest momentum that Jagmeet Singh’s party seemed to have in Quebec.

Consult our 2021 Federal Election section to get the latest perspectives from our experts.