Federal NDP MPs are beset by languishing poll numbers, poor finances and the growing pains of new leadership as they arrive in British Columbia this week for a three-day strategy session ahead of the return of Parliament this fall.
The MPs are meeting in one of the two provinces the NDP governs − the other being Alberta, where federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is at odds with Premier Rachel Notley over the Trans Mountain pipeline. His position is in sync with that of B.C. Premier John Horgan.
The federal party, however, is back in its traditional third-place position in the polls after being within sight of victory during the 2015 election campaign.
NDP caucus chair Matthew Dubé acknowledges that all is not well for the party Mr. Singh, who is seeking a parliamentary seat in a coming by-election in Burnaby South, has led since last fall.
“No one’s afraid of admitting there are challenges and things we need to work on,” he said.
But Mr. Dubé said he is hoping that Mr. Singh’s first summer on the barbecue circuit − as well as caucus time in ridings − may have provided fodder for the leader and MPs to work with in meetings that run from Tuesday to Thursday at a hotel in Surrey, southeast of Vancouver.
“We’re coming out of a year where we had just elected a new leader. We’re in a position where we can begin to capitalize on that. I think we’re finding our groove when it comes to the issues we need to work on.”
Nathan Cullen, a veteran NDP MP from B.C., said the caucus gathering represents a kind of political do-or-die moment.
By Thursday, he said the caucus has to make smart, strategic choices about what the next year, leading to the 2019 federal election, looks like in terms of where voters are now and where they will be on voting day.
“There’s a potential for a reset. We’ve had a good and not-good year,” said Mr. Cullen, who endorsed Mr. Singh during the 2017 leadership race.
In an interview, Mr. Cullen said electing Mr. Singh was good, and that the party has been building up staff and been on the right side of such issues as the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
The bad, he said, has included an inevitably challenging transition to new leadership, and problems handling the #MeToo environment. He referred to the situation around Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir. Mr. Singh recently said Mr. Weir can’t seek re-election as a New Democrat given allegations of harassing behaviour that got him kicked out of caucus last spring. Sixty-seven former NDP MPs and MLAs from Saskatchewan have now written to all NDP members of Parliament, accusing Mr. Singh of denying Mr. Weir due process and unfairly maligning his character, while flouting the party’s constitutional rules for dealing with harassment complaints.
Mr. Dubé expects some in caucus, during meetings, will want to comment on the Weir situation. Mr. Cullen doubts there will be much discussion on Mr. Weir. “Do I think it will be a distraction? I don’t think so. Maybe for some of our prairie folks.” However, discussion of the issue, he says, takes away from time talking about broader issues relevant to Canadians.
“I’m hoping the caucus will be in the mood for a clear vision and I am hoping that’s what we build in the few days we have in Surrey.”
The party is also facing financial challenges, with newly released documents showing the NDP’s fundraising fell last year. It raised less than $5-million in 2017, and ended the year in the red. The party says ownership of the Jack Layton building in Ottawa actually brings the financial balance into positive territory.
A recent Nanos Research survey showed federal NDP support at less than 16 per cent, well behind the Liberals and Conservatives, and down from 20 per cent in late 2017.
“It’s a little too early to press the panic button because support for the NDP now is where support for the NDP has been historically, which is the mid-teens,” pollster Nik Nanos said in an interview.
Editor’s note: (Sept.11, 2018) An earlier version of this article included an incorrect riding for the byelection. This version has been corrected.