It wasn’t that long ago that many people thought Jagmeet Singh’s tenure as leader of the federal NDP would be short-lived.
After taking charge in October, 2017, he struggled to find his footing. He often seemed poorly informed and embarrassingly ill-prepared. When several NDP MPs announced they would not be seeking re-election in the 2019 campaign, it looked like a group deserting Mr. Singh’s sinking ship.
The party lost 15 seats in that election, leaving it in fourth place federally. (The NDP was at 24 seats at dissolution for this election campaign.) The days of Jack Layton’s Orange Wave and 103-seat Opposition seemed a distant memory.
But then a funny thing happened: The 42-year-old Mr. Singh didn’t wilt amid the heat enveloping his leadership. Instead, he hung in there, got better at his job and started connecting with Canadians in a way he hadn’t before.
The NDP Leader has authored one of the most compelling story lines of the 2021 election campaign. No, the party is not poised to emulate its historic breakthrough campaign of 2011 under Mr. Layton. But it does seem ready to make some noise again, possibly picking up several seats and playing the spoiler to Justin Trudeau’s dream of a majority. (Although the way things are going, the Liberal Leader may be thrilled just to win another minority.)
I think there are a number of reasons for all the positive energy Mr. Singh is generating, but one is noteworthy: his high “authenticity” quotient among millennials.
In 2015, millennials were a driving force in the Liberals’ march to their first majority since 2000. Young people got swept up in Mr. Trudeau’s promise of a brighter tomorrow and believed he would be the difference maker they were looking for on climate change. Over the course of the next six years, however, it’s fair to say many of them fell out of love with the Liberal Leader.
They felt particularly let down on the climate file, seeing the purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline as a massive betrayal. Now, many voters in the 18-to-34 demographic are turning to Mr. Singh and the NDP for hope and inspiration.
A Léger poll shows support for the Liberals among this cohort has dropped 16 points since 2015 – from 46 per cent to 30 per cent.
Meanwhile, in an interview with the National Post, David Coletto, the CEO of Abacus Data, said a recent survey by his company showed 46 per cent of millennials had a positive view of Mr. Singh, versus 39 per cent for Mr. Trudeau.
Mr. Singh comes across as far more trustworthy and genuine. One thing you often hear about the leader of the Liberals is that he strikes many as insincere. I often hear people complain about the way he talks when he is making an announcement – it’s not a normal, conversational style. His slow and often affected delivery is grating.
Many more people have come to know Mr. Singh since 2017 and like what they see. His personal story is also evolving. He’s gotten married during that time. His wife, Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu, is pregnant with the couple’s first child. They make a striking (and happy-looking) couple on the campaign trail.
A recent poll by the Angus Reid Institute showed Mr. Singh with the highest favourability ratings of all the federal leaders.
The NDP platform remains an expensive tableau of left-wing ideology that includes commitments to national pharmacare and dental care programs. “Tax the ultrarich to invest in people,” Mr. Singh said the day he unveiled his party’s campaign promises. “That’s our plan.” However, in 2021, it no longer stands out for its price tag. The Liberals and even the Conservatives are right there with them in this spending derby.
The NDP are well-financed, and Mr. Singh is using the cash to get around, sometimes popping up in unexpected places. This week he was in Mr. Trudeau’s riding of Papineau to make a climate change announcement, no doubt attempting to use the location to draw attention to the Liberals’ failings on this file.
There is, of course, lots of campaign left. And much could change in the interim. Progressive voters may be inclined to send the Liberals a message, but if they become convinced that a vote for the NDP would put the Conservatives in charge in Ottawa, then who knows? This dilemma has always been the bane of the NDP’s existence.
But right now, Jagmeet Singh has people listening. And many voters like what they’re hearing.
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