It’s hard to ignore the feeling Jagmeet Singh was set up to fail.
The federal New Democrat leader was campaigning in the Kootenays this week as new poll numbers put him a distant third in popularity behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
The lack of a coherent party apparatus behind Singh is still evident. It’s at once disarming and alarming. There are none of the usual secretarial sit-ins on his interviews, no audio recorders on the table but mine.
That may be down to lacklustre fundraising, the leader’s lack of a seat in the House of Commons, or a simple trick of geography: The Kootenays are, after all, a happy long way from anywhere.
But the NDP leader doesn’t wear his poll numbers alone. And there’s precious little he can do about them for now, outside of showing up to party fundraisers and sniping at the Liberal government from the media sidelines.
Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair carried the party to the edge of power in 2015 — the closest the New Dems have come to forming government — largely on the back of his predecessor Jack Layton’s groundwork, and his own strong performances in Parliament. For his troubles, Mulcair was turfed out in a leadership review less than six months later.
Singh, of course, remains without a seat in the House and without a date to earn one. The former Ontario MPP will run in a byelection in Burnaby South to fill the vacancy left by outgoing MP and new Vancouver mayor, Kennedy Stewart. But the Liberal government could call the byelection as late as March 2019, giving a victorious Singh scarcely a dozen weeks of scheduled parliamentary sessions in which to try to score points on his opponents across the floor.
“We’re quite surprised that the federal government chose to play politics with this and not call the byelections altogether,” Singh told Black Press Media on Saturday. “It is troubling that the government doesn’t believe that 300,000 Canadians have the right to representation.”
Singh was touring the Southeast Interior in support of Kootenay MPs Wayne Stetski and Richard Cannings, both of whom won narrow victories in 2015. But the leader was also here to vouch for B.C.’s divisive electoral reform initiative.
Singh has long been a supporter of proportional representation, and he renewed his vow to take pro rep national via referendum, if elected PM next year. “It would be a priority,” Singh said. “I would make it happen as soon as I can — as soon as possible.”
Never mind that public engagement with the pro rep project has so far been limp, with just 21 per cent of B.C. voters weighing in at last count Monday. For a ballot initiative ostensibly designed to make every vote count, an electoral overhaul decided by the better half of just one in five British Columbians doesn’t give Singh pause.
“There was an opportunity for everyone to engage and there weren’t barriers, per se,” Singh said. “If there were significant barriers to mass participation that could be raised, then I’d say there were problems with the decision.”
With just over a week to go before the mail-in referendum closes, one of the largest piles of discarded ballots in the province is likely to litter the NDP reformer-in-chief’s Burnaby riding, where just six per cent of votes had been cast by Nov. 20.
Welcome to B.C. and its politics, Mr. Singh.