Dreary performances in four Monday byelections in which the New Democrats saw a drop in support and picked up no seats do not mean the party is in trouble, say NDP MPs.
The NDP cracked 10 per cent support of the vote in only one riding, peaking at 13.2 per cent in Battlefords-Llyodminster in Saskatchewan. In all four ridings the party had a smaller percentage of the vote than it did in the 2015 general election.
“I don’t know if you know that part of Surrey. I do,” said Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin, referring to the South Surrey-White Rock riding the Liberals stole from the Tories Monday. “It’s not exactly NDP-friendly turf.”
The Surrey riding, left vacant by former mayor Dianne Watts as she pursues the BC Liberal leadership gig, is the only territory changing party hands after Monday’s votes.
The drop in NDP support comes more than two months after the New Democrats elected their new leader Jagmeet Singh in a landslide first ballot victory Oct. 1. The Toronto-area politician stepped down from his job as the deputy leader of the Ontario NDP to take over the party federally and has a reputation as a charismatic and fresh leader.
Singh met with controversy early on in an interview with the CBC’s Terry Milewski in which he didn’t automatically denounce those displaying posters of Talwinder Singh Parmar, believed to be the mastermind of the 1985 Air India bombing.
Singh also decided not to pursue a seat in the House of Commons, opting to tour Canada as the country inches toward its 2019 federal election. He has taken some flak from the media and politicians over the decision, but Rankin said he isn’t worried about the approach.
On Parliament Hill Tuesday afternoon, New Democrat MPs told The Tyee they aren’t looking too hard at the byelection results or how they may reflect on Singh’s appeal.
“I think he’s doing what a new leader has to do and he’s working extremely hard going from town to town,” Rankin said. “Everywhere he goes he draws extraordinary large and enthusiastic crowds, particularly among young people, who will be the voters in 2019.”
Rankin said he doesn’t find anything “surprising or disturbing” about Monday’s results.
Vancouver-Kingsway NDP MP Don Davies echoed similar sentiments, saying he has no concerns about the leadership of Singh or the recent byelections.
“These are bedrock Liberal and Conservative ridings that have been held by them for decades,” Davies said. “I don’t expect them to be any indication of our support at all.”
David Moscrop, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, said because the ridings in the byelections historically have been either Liberal or Conservative, strategic voting might have taken votes away from the NDP.
No one expected the NDP to win those ridings, Moscrop said, but the party should be careful not to dismiss the results too easily. He said the NDP could have a tough slog next election, fewer than two years away.
“Unless they’ve got a grand plan that they’re not revealing yet I would be a little concerned that there was a general under-performance,” Moscrop said.
Singh’s election hasn’t given the party much of a boost because the NDP doesn’t seem to have the “organizational capacity” to right the ship before the 2019 election, he said.
Moscrop said Singh’s decision to tour Canada rather than seek a seat in Parliament may be a losing gamble.