Jagmeet Singh looks West to seize opportunities from Conservative weakness

With support on an upswing for his NDP, Jagmeet Singh is looking for new seats in Western Canada as Conservative support hits new lows and the Greens struggle with internal turmoil.

OTTAWA — Under the shade of Douglas fir and western hemlock, Jagmeet Singh pulled up to Burnaby Central Park one day last week to greet constituents and gear up for his first campaign-style tour of the summer.

Ahead of a likely early federal election, and with polls showing support for his party on the upswing, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is targeting Conservative Party weakness in an effort to win seats in Western Canada.

"Folks frustrated with the Liberals and that have lost faith in the Conservatives providing a real vision for Canada are going to see us as the real alternative," Singh said in a recent telephone interview from Burnaby.

As he looks to shift closer to the driver's seat, the NDP leader is casting his eye to Greater Vancouver and across the Prairies, where it often goes head to head with Tories.

"The Island, we’ve got a strong presence already," says Singh, whose summer tour will hit ridings on Vancouver Island at week's end, including Nanaimo—Ladysmith, where NDP candidate Lisa Marie Barron will take on Green MP Paul Manley.

"The urban centres like the Lower Mainland in B.C. is important because it represents a lot of people, and we see important opportunities for growth, for sure," Singh said.

The fourth-place party also hopes to win back city turf in Saskatchewan and shore up beachheads in spots such as Winnipeg Centre — swiped from the Liberals in 2019 — and South Okanagan—West Kootenay, which the NDP took from the Tories in 2015.

Six of the eight seats that New Democrats lost outside of Quebec in 2019 went to Conservative challengers, and almost all were in B.C. and Saskatchewan.

Karl Bélanger, a former senior adviser to the NDP, says historically low Conservative support under leader Erin O'Toole could liberate voters who might otherwise cast a Liberal ballot out of fear.

"With Erin O’Toole being stuck in reverse right now, he's not seen as a credible threat by those voters who are maybe influenced by the usual Liberal campaign messaging to vote strategically to stop the Conservatives," said Bélanger, president of consulting firm Traxxion Strategies.

Ongoing turmoil in the Green party also opens the door to further potential gains in B.C., the Greens' traditional stomping grounds.

And the NDP leader is talking about the issues that seem to most concern voters.

Housing affordability, environmental protection and the response to the COVID-19 pandemic remain top of mind for British Columbians, who face staggering real estate prices — increasingly outside Vancouver and its inner suburbs — and perennial wildfires.

"The NDP isn’t going to have to contort itself and change its broad message in order to align with voter concerns," said David Laycock, a political-science professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University.

In Greater Vancouver, the Liberals won three of the five ridings that cover Burnaby and Surrey in 2019, while New Democrats snagged the other two — including Burnaby South, Singh's riding. All five were two- or three-way battles where the NDP posted second or first.

"The Liberals are particularly strong, in historical terms, in Metro Vancouver right now," Laycock said, citing a recent Angus Reid poll showing them with roughly equal popularity there and in the Greater Toronto Area.

To distinguish his party, Singh points to NDP moves in the Commons that were opposed by Liberal and Tory MPs over the past nine months, including motions to abolish for-profit long-term care and impose a wealth tax and a private member's bill to usher in universal pharmacare.

A $24-million election budget and a recent poll by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies showing 19 per cent of decided voters intend to vote NDP could energize an ambitious New Democrat campaign. That number rose to 30 per cent in British Columbia.

But the party continues to lag in Quebec — making western wins all the more essential — and faces a Liberal government keen on polishing its image as the key player in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press with CNC files

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