StarMetro Vancouver - - BIG OPINIONS - Thomas Walkom

In pol­i­tics, we are told, any­thing can hap­pen. A week is an eter­nity and the pre­dic­tions of ex­perts may prove use­less.

For Canada’s fed­eral New Democrats this credo — the pos­si­bil­ity of a bright fu­ture — is the only good news. Be­cause right now, the party is lan­guish­ing. It is low in the polls, starved of money and largely in­vis­i­ble

Within party ranks, much of the blame is placed at the feet of its new leader, Jag­meet Singh. A bit­ter slo­gan, “Singh or swim,” is mak­ing the rounds.

In­deed, Singh has not de­liv­ered. He won the NDP lead­er­ship on a prom­ise to ex­pand the party’s reach, par­tic­u­larly among sub­ur­ban­ites and new im­mi­grants.

So far, that hasn’t hap­pened.

The party’s per­for­mance in by­elec­tions has been tepid. The gains it had made in Que­bec un­der Jack Layton and Thomas Mul­cair are threat­ened.

In Bri­tish Columbia, the Greens are si­phon­ing off tra­di­tional NDP sup­port­ers. One prom­i­nent New Demo­crat is even think­ing of run­ning for the Greens.

In Al­berta, the fed­eral party’s

anti-pipe­line po­si­tion is earn­ing it no friends. Linda Dun­can, the party’s sole MP in Al­berta says she won’t run in Oc­to­ber’s fed­eral elec­tion. Her Ed­mon­ton seat is not likely to re­main New Demo­crat.

Singh has also man­aged to an­tag­o­nize al­most the en­tire Saskatchewan wing of the party. He has done so by evict­ing Regina MP Erin Weir from cau­cus for the crime of

be­ing so­cially in­ept — a sin that put the pop­u­lar New Demo­crat in the crosshairs of the Me Too move­ment (Weir was ac­cused of stand­ing too close to some women and talk­ing too much to oth­ers).

Even in Toronto, where the NDP has a chance of win­ning back some of the seats it lost to Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als four years ago, party ac­tivists are de­mor­al­ized.

Talk of us­ing the so-called Leap Man­i­festo to re­vi­tal­ize the NDP and point it in a more ac­tivist di­rec­tion has pro­duced lit­tle.

Is this all Singh’s fault? Cer­tainly, he hasn’t helped. He won the lead­er­ship on the po­etic slo­gan of “love and courage.” But he has not man­aged to trans­late this into any­thing real.

In­deed, the most mem­o­rable prom­ise he made dur­ing that cam­paign was to elim­i­nate what’s left of the uni­ver­sal Old Age Se­cu­rity pro­gram for se­niors and wrap any sav­ings into a new meanstested ben­e­fit for the el­derly poor.

It was a bold move if for no other rea­son than it ran counter to party pol­icy. Luck­ily for Singh, few paid much at­ten­tion to it.

In fact, few have paid much at­ten­tion at all to Singh.

He ini­tially chose not to seek a seat in the Com­mons in or­der to spend more time build­ing the party across Canada. But the party re­mains un­built and Singh re­mains un­no­ticed.

Now he has changed his strat­egy and plans to run in a B.C. by­elec­tion. If he wins, he will en­ter the Com­mons just a few months be­fore it shuts down for the next fed­eral elec­tion cam­paign — rais­ing the ques­tion as to why he is even both­er­ing.

If he loses (as some New Democrats pri­vately hope), he will be un­der pres­sure to step down as leader.

But Singh alone isn’t re­spon­si­ble for the NDP’S tra­vails. The party re­mains con­fused about where it stands on the big is­sues of the day. It op­poses build­ing pipe­lines to move bi­tu­men from Al­berta but is vague about the fu­ture of the tarsands them­selves.

It sup­ports elec­toral re­form. But, as the re­sults from a re­cent B.C. ref­er­en­dum sug­gest, the gen­eral pub­lic does not.

The party’s po­si­tion on free-trade deals seems in­dis­tin­guish­able from that of the Lib­er­als.

The NDP has still not re­cov­ered from Trudeau’s feint to the left dur­ing the 2015 elec­tion cam­paign. Its re­sponse has been that the de­vi­ous Lib­er­als can’t be trusted to de­liver on their prom­ises.

But the prob­lem with this strat­egy is that some­times the de­vi­ous Lib­er­als do de­liver — as they did with the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana and the Canada child ben­e­fit.

All of which leaves New Democrats in a ter­ri­ble quandary. What can they re­al­is­ti­cally of­fer that the Lib­er­als have not al­ready promised?

And who is this guy Jag­meet Singh any­way?


NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh in a cof­fee shop in Mon­treal’s Outremont bor­ough, on Dec. 22, ahead of a fed­eral by­elec­tion ex­pected to be called there this month.

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