Two new lead­ers fight­ing for at­ten­tion

Toronto Star - - NEWS - Tim Harper

When vot­ers head to the polls in four fed­eral by­elec­tions next month, Jag­meet Singh’s name will not be on of­fer in any of them.

The new NDP leader says he is quite com­fort­able with­out a seat in the House of Com­mons.

Mean­while, an­other re­cently minted fed­eral leader, Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer, has been handed a se­ries of Lib­eral gifts and rises reg­u­larly in the Com­mons to take Justin Trudeau to task on his treat­ment of small busi­ness, con­flict-of-in­ter­est al­le­ga­tions against his fi­nance min­is­ter, and tax eva­sion al­le­ga­tions against his chief fundraiser.

Which path is more likely to get the new lead­ers known to Cana­di­ans in the se­cond half of the Trudeau man­date?

Be­com­ing known to the elec­torate in op­po­si­tion is tougher than it looks. And it may never have been tougher.

There is polling data and anec­do­tal ev­i­dence that shows this.

Ac­cord­ing to Aba­cus Data, 71 per cent of vot­ers say they don’t know Scheer “all that well, or know him at all.” He has been leader since May.

For Singh, who has been leader for less than six weeks, the com­pa­ra­ble num­bers is 79 per cent.

At the other ex­treme, Aba­cus found that 84 per cent of re­spon­dents said they had “a very good idea or pretty good idea” of Trudeau as a per­son and a leader.

Scheer, with Trudeau out of the coun­try, spent the past two days at events like the Royal Win­ter Agri­cul­tural Fair and a cham­ber of com­merce lun­cheon. But he has been spend­ing the bulk of his time in the Com­mons on his op­po­si­tion leader du­ties.

He must guard against Mul­cair syn­drome. The former NDP leader, Thomas Mul­cair, was seen as a su­perla­tive op­po­si­tion leader in the Com­mons, flash­ing an ef­fec­tive pros­e­cu­to­rial style against Stephen Harper, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing the Mike Duffy Se­nate af­fair.

Mean­while, Trudeau spent lit­tle time in the Com­mons as third party leader in a ma­jor­ity Par­lia­ment where his pres­ence meant lit­tle.

The heavy lift­ing was left to Mul­cair while Trudeau spent his time in the much more valu­able pur­suit of vot­ers, far from the halls of the Cen­tre Block, some­thing Singh will seek to em­u­late.

Mul­cair be­came sym­bolic of the di­min­ished value of the daily ques­tion pe­riod in an era when mul­ti­ple voices are avail­able to vot­ers.

That was driven home to me anec­do­tally dur­ing a Caribbean hol­i­day in 2014. A ta­ble full of Cana­di­ans, from var­i­ous re­gions with var­i­ous back­grounds, gath­ered one evening and the talk turned to pol­i­tics.

I chal­lenged the view of my new friends that all politi­cians were alike by ask­ing her why she thought Trudeau, Harper and Mul­cair were all the same. “Who?” she re­sponded. She had never heard of Mul­cair. It turned out none at the ta­ble had heard of the NDP leader, the man this Ot­tawa refugee had so as­sid­u­ously stud­ied in ques­tion pe­riod. Mul­cair had been NDP leader for al­most two years.

Singh might have been wise to seek a seat if there was a good fit, but there isn’t.

In Bon­av­ista-Burin-Trin­ity, the out­go­ing Lib­eral Judy Foote won with 82 per cent of the vote in 2015. New Democrats won 7 per cent.

In Scar­bor­ough-Agin­court, they won only 8 per cent, to the 52 per cent for late Lib­eral Arnold Chan.

In the Saskatchewan rid­ing of Bat­tle­fords-Lloy­d­min­ster, retiring Con­ser­va­tive Gerry Ritz took 61 per cent and the NDP just 17.6, while the British Columbia rid­ing of South Sur­rey—White Rock was a tight bat­tle be­tween the Lib­er­als and Con­ser­va­tives, with the New Demo­crat reg­is­ter­ing barely 10 per cent.

The NDP is one fed­eral party that of­ten chooses lead­ers who do not sit in the Com­mons, in­clud­ing Tommy Dou­glas, Alexa McDonough and Jack Lay­ton.

Singh says he looks at the way Lay­ton toured the coun­try learn­ing the is­sues, some­thing he says he wants to do. But such an ap­proach was not a re­sound­ing suc­cess for Lay­ton. He was able to take the NDP from 13 seats to 19 seats in 2004.

Singh, if he waits un­til the 2019 fed­eral elec­tion to seek a seat, would also be the long­est-serv­ing leader in the party’s his­tory to go with­out a Com­mons seat. Lay­ton and Dou­glas waited 14 months, and McDonough, who re­sisted pres­sure to seek a seat in by­elec­tions out­side her na­tive Nova Sco­tia, waited 20 months be­fore win­ning in Hal­i­fax.

Two new lead­ers. One press­ing the flesh. The other fill­ing his role as the leader of the op­po­si­tion. Re­cent his­tory sug­gests the Com­mons may not be the fastest route to vic­tory. Tim Harper writes on na­tional af­fairs. tjharper77@gmail.com, Twit­ter: @nut­graf1

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILE PHO­TOS

NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh and Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer are tak­ing dif­fer­ent paths in their quest to de­feat Justin Trudeau in 2018.

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