Based on the numbers alone, Jagmeet Singh came out of the federal election bruised.
The New Democrats started the campaign with 39 seats, sitting in third place.
As election night came to a close, the party’s caucus had shrunk to roughly 24 seats, according to CBC’s projections, leaving it behind the Bloc Québécois.
“These results are disappointing. There’s no doubt about that. We had higher hopes,” said Robin MacLachlan, a vice-president at Summa Strategies and an NDP strategist.
“The way I look at it is this: When we started the campaign, everybody was writing the NDP’s obituary and talking about how the NDP wouldn’t be able to hold on to official party status. Had that happened, the Liberal Party would have a majority right now. Instead, it’s a minority and I think many Canadians are probably relieved at that.”
Singh used his election night speech to add a positive spin to the results, promising to use the NDP’s new position as the balance of power to fight for the party’s core beliefs.
“If the other parties work with us, we have an incredible opportunity to make the lives of all Canadians so much better. We even have an opportunity to change the way we do politics in this country,” Singh said at a rally in Burnaby, B.C., as the crowd chanted “Jagmeet” and “Tax the rich.”
“I want to thank you for voting for hope.”
Singh and the NDP rode a late-campaign bump in the polls, but that momentum failed to turn into actual seats.
The night started off on a positive note for New Democrats, with Jack Harris retaking his seat in St. John’s East, but the party’s fortunes soured as the Quebec results trickled in.
The NDP appears to have lost most of its 14 Quebec seats to the Bloc, with Alexandre Boulerice being the exception in Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie.
While Singh likely will fend off questions in the coming days about his future as leader, even before the results were made official, he sent a message to party supporters emphasizing the need for teamwork in the days to come.
“Tomorrow, our work together begins again,” reads the email.
MacLachlan said questions about the viability of Singh’s leadership were answered partway through the campaign.
“From his very constructive, measured reaction to the blackface incident with Justin Trudeau [to] how he managed to work with a less than ideal budget but still managed to have viral moments throughout the campaign. He won every single debate he participated in. This is an investment for a long time,” MacLachlan said.
“The fact that he gets to work in a minority Parliament after his first election is a really important test for him.”
Role in a minority government
Despite the seat losses, the NDP does appear to be in a position to extend its influence by propping up a Liberal minority government.
Singh took a risk in the final half of the campaign, positioning himself as a federal kingmaker if no party could secure a majority.
On Day 30 of the 40-day campaign, Singh began to lay down some of the conditions a Liberal government would need to meet in exchange for NDP support.
Singh has said any negotiation would have to cover his six “urgent priorities,” which are essentially a condensed version of the NDP’s platform:
- A national, single-payer universal pharmacare plan and a national dental care plan.
- Investments in housing.
- A plan to waive interest on student loans.
- A commitment to reduce carbon emissions, to end subsidies for oil companies and to deliver aid to oilpatch workers to transition them out of fossil fuel industries.
- The introduction of a “super wealth” tax and a commitment to closing tax loopholes.
- Reducing cellphone bills.
While the party has an interest in crafting policy, the NDP has another reason for not wanting to trigger an election soon — a financial one.
According to the party’s annual financial return, which Elections Canada posted the week before the campaign started, the NDP finished last year with assets worth $4.7 million and liabilities totalling $9.2 million, leaving the party with a $4.5 million negative balance.
Racism on the campaign trail
During the campaign, Singh — the first visible minority person to lead a major Canadian federal party — was challenged on Quebec’s secularism law, which would prevent public employees from wearing religious symbols (such as Singh’s turban) on the job.
He even faced a challenge from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau about what the federal government should do about the law, which is still referred to as Bill 21.
Singh said that while he wouldn’t challenge Quebec’s religious symbols law in court, he hoped his presence in the province could change Quebecers’ minds about wearing religious symbols.
Issues of race and culture delivered one of the more memorable moments of the campaign, when a man approached Singh during a whistle stop in a Montreal market in early October and urged him to “cut off” his turban to “look like a Canadian.”
“Oh, I think Canadians look like all sorts of people,” Singh replied. “That’s the beauty of Canada.”