Adam Pankratz is a lecturer at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia. He is on the board of directors at Rokmaster Resources and ran for the federal Liberal Party in the riding of Burnaby South in 2015.
In certain quarters in Burnaby, B.C., you could feel the jubilation and excitement on election night. The Liberals’ 157 seats fell short of the magical 170 needed for a majority, and the NDP’s 24 looked to be the key to getting legislation in the next Parliament across the finish line. The NDP would likely hold the balance of power in the coming minority Parliament, and Leader Jagmeet Singh bounded on stage and delivered a long speech that had all the hallmarks of a victory lap.
But the buoyant crows from NDP corners also made for a dissociating scene. After all, Mr. Singh and the NDP lost badly.
Other than Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada, no other party did as poorly as the NDP. Not the Liberals, who maintain government; not the Conservatives, who increased their caucus by 26 and won the popular vote; not even the Greens, who added their first non-Western federal seat. The NDP’s seat count plunged to 24 from 44, a decrease of 45 per cent – a grim follow-up to 2015’s showing, when they lost 59 seats and fell from official Opposition status.
This all appeared improbable, after Mr. Singh’s strong performance in the lone English-language national leaders’ debate, which seemed to give the NDP all the momentum and put the Liberals on their heels. The myriad criticisms of the Liberal Party – that they were fake environmentalists, corrupt and cozy partners with the wealthy and big corporations, disingenuous reconcilers, pretend feminists, ejectors of strong women from cabinet, apologists for blackface and brownface, and hypocrites – seemed to be sticking. There was clearly room for a positive, progressive voice, unsullied by these issues.
And while the NDP had every advantage thrown their way, and managed a campaign that surprised many in its strength, it delivered bupkis. Needing to hold, if not gain, seats in the Greater Toronto Area, the NDP was wiped out. One Conservative campaign insider, who was given anonymity in an interview with TVO, declared that despite their desire to split the progressive vote – even helping in their own way by holding back on any criticism of Mr. Singh – “the NDP bounce wasn’t a thing.”
The results in orange-friendly British Columbia exemplify the campaign’s failure: Not a single incumbent Liberal MP lost to the NDP. Not even in the riding of Burnaby North-Seymour, where environmental activists assured anyone who would listen that approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion had sunk any Liberal whose riding touched Burrard Inlet. To add insult to injury, the NDP’s failures will likely only embolden the Liberals to push ahead with TMX, since they know that such an act will carry no electoral penalty.
The NDP will have some small say in the strong Liberal minority, and it’s a remarkable result given its early stumbles, including a wave of NDP incumbents declining to run this time around. But that cannot obscure the cold, hard fact that this was a big defeat. Mr. Singh himself seems oblivious to this: On election night, he declared that “if the other parties work with us, we have an incredible opportunity.” The reality is that the NDP will have to work with the other parties to get the “incredible opportunity” to not simply be ignored – not the other way around.
The NDP is broke, too. According to its 2018 financial return, the party had negative net assets last year, and were bested in second-quarter fund-raising by even the Greens; it surely didn’t help that as of July, Mr. Singh had attended just one party fundraiser. Without the money necessary to campaign again in the near-term, the NDP will need to settle for being a weak partner in a Liberal minority government.
Since ousting Thomas Mulcair as leader in 2016, largely for his refusal to plunge headlong into the Leap Manifesto – a document that included a harder move to the left and an opposition to fossil fuels – the NDP has been held hostage by an activist wing that has done its best to sink the mighty ship former leader Jack Layton built. Canadians are clearly not interested in the small minority who scream the loudest on Twitter or protest to shut down infrastructure projects indiscriminately. There is no balance or pragmatism left in the NDP. This needs to change.
The NDP cannot continue to define failure as success. Its position today – holding the balance of power in a minority government – came down to chance, and falling upwards isn’t a reliable strategy. Mr. Singh is by all accounts affable and sincere. But real leadership needs to deliver results, and revelling in loss does not look like the kind of leadership that can grow a party.
Politicians who lose always want to look through rose-tinted glasses. They can hardly be blamed for doing so; running for office at any level requires an enormous amount of work, dedication and emotional energy.
The reality is, however, less kind: Politics is a winner-take-all game. There are no ties; there is no quarter. If Mr. Singh and the NDP are thrilled that they might have limited say for the next few years, and fail to take responsibility for this crushing defeat, they’ll be cast into irrelevance before long.
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