Call that B.C. byelection, Mr. Trudeau
If Justin Trudeau thinks he’s clever in deliberately stalling NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s bid to win a seat in Parliament, the prime minister is deeply mistaken.
While cynics might applaud Trudeau’s embrace of such bare-knuckled, partisan tactics, fair-minded Canadians who yearn for a vigorous, but respectful democracy, will feel betrayed.
This was the Liberal leader, after all, who in opposition earnestly pledged to do things differently, denouncing the “negativity” he saw in federal politics.
But his decision at the end of October — to call a byelection in an Ontario riding, but not in the British Columbia riding where Singh is vying for a seat — shows Trudeau has again broken a promise.
Since becoming NDP leader last year, Singh has been hindered by his lack of a seat in the House of Commons.
With less than a year before the next general election, he’s eager to prove himself in Parliament as a leader, a fighter, a parliamentarian and, yes, a primeminister-in waiting. As an elected MP, Singh would stride Canada’s biggest political stage where he could be seen and heard by more voters than ever.
It’s understandable Trudeau and the Liberals want to deny him this opportunity and keep Singh twisting in the B.C. wind as long as possible. But it’s still indefensible. And this is true despite the Liberals’ feeble excuses for their actions.
On Oct. 28, Trudeau called a byelection for Dec. 3 in the Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. He didn’t call a one in three other ridings with vacant seats, including Burnaby-South that is crucial to Singh and the NDP.
Criticized for not calling those three byelections, the Liberals argued the law was on their side. The Ontario riding had been vacant much longer, they said. Indeed, the government was legally compelled to call a byelection there by the end of October.
In contrast, the B.C. riding had been vacant only since September. The law permits the Liberals to wait until next March before setting a byelection date there.
But having the technical right to postpone the B.C. byelection doesn’t give Trudeau the moral right to do so. There’s no good reason for the Liberals to delay the Burnaby-South vote and deny Singh a shot at Parliament for so long, other than that the delay favours Trudeau.
As long as the Burnaby-South seat is vacant, Singh will need to devote much of his time and energy to campaigning there. Every day he’s on the West Coast is a day he’s absent from Ottawa, where the real political action is going on. If Singh eventually wins in Burnaby-South — and that could be as late as next April — he’ll have almost no time to make an impression in Ottawa before Parliament’s summer recess and then the election campaign itself. But if he loses, even worse. The NDP would likely need to choose a new leader just months before the federal election.
Trudeau might be pleased by this strategy. But it’s a disservice to voters, especially those in Burnaby-South and the other ridings who have no representative in Ottawa. It discredits our political system. It breeds voter mistrust. And it’s the cynical, negative brand of politics he vowed to end.
Trudeau can, of course, easily change all this by immediately calling the three byelections. He need wait no longer to do what’s right.
There’s no good reason for the Liberals to delay the Burnaby-South vote and deny Jagmeet Singh a shot at Parliament for so long, other than the delay favours Trudeau.