The Singh Victory: Spin Versus Reality

The Singh Victory: Spin Versus Reality

John Delacourt

Jagmeet Singh’s first ballot win today in the NDP leadership contest is going to generate a great deal of copy and punditry from across the political spectrum. Herewith is a quick reality check with regard to the spin, pro and contra-Singh, that you’re about to read and hear.

Contra:
He’s a 905 phenomenon. Outside of Ontario – and especially in Quebec, the NDP will have trouble making gains and raising their seat count in the next election.

Actually, you could map the areas of the country where Jagmeet’s strongest support is and come up with a worrying picture if you were plotting Team Trudeau’s ground game. Singh’s campaign was able to attract significant numbers for a first ballot victory from parts of the country that include the Lower Mainland and the Greater Vancouver Area, and respectable numbers in urban Alberta as well. Leadership contests are a good read on where the boots-on-the-ground federal campaign support is likely to be strongest and those are communities where key gains for Team Trudeau came from in 2015. As far as Quebec goes, well, in 2008, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives formed a majority government with only 5 seats in la belle province. That’s a victory forged from the old iron of the land of two solitudes, you could argue. But if you’re a political pragmatist, you’d be focused on one thing first and foremost: more seats in the House. If that mantra sounds familiar, it should. It was Jack Layton’s strategy throughout his political career.

Pro:
He’s young, telegenic and bilingual: he’s the NDP’s Trudeau and could catch fire in the same way in the next federal campaign.

It is true that Singh has great potential to grow the party’s vote beyond an older, traditionally progressive base of support. But the dynamics of federal campaigns do not equate to voters swapping out one young, telegenic candidate for another for one simple reason: it is always about the retail, economic issues. You may be tired of the Liberals’ constant messaging about the middle class, but that’s because you’re listening all or most of the time. As the brain trust behind Stephen Harper’s first election victory maintained to great effect, it is the voters who aren’t necessarily listening that winning strategy focuses on and the simple truth remains for every candidate: whoever connects with a plan for the economy that gives the greater number of Canadians reason to be optimistic will always find their way to 24 Sussex.

Beyond the Spin:
The number of seats across the country where a Singh victory might make the NDP contenders is significant. And very few of those – apart from in Western Canada – map on to where the Conservatives might make gains as well. What this could bode well for is a 2019 campaign result that puts the Liberals into a minority and the Conservatives in a strong position to work effectively with the NDP to ensure stormy weather rather than sunny ways for the Liberals’ second mandate. And that might position the NDP for greater gains than ever imagined when Canadians go to the polls again. That could also be sooner than 2023, given how minority governments can go.

There is enough reason for Team Singh to look ahead that far and be optimistic.