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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks during the Fall Economic Statement on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Nov. 21.Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press

The New Democrats appear to be closing in on the free-falling Trudeau Liberals. In a recent Abacus poll, the Liberals are down to 24 per cent support – dungeon-dwelling numbers for them – while the New Democrats are at 20.

Pollster Nik Nanos has similar findings. If an election were held today, the NDP would win 46 seats, only six shy of the Liberals.

The trendlines have stirred hopes among New Democrats of a repeat of the 2011 campaign, when they overtook the Liberals of Michael Ignatieff to become, in a first for them, the Official Opposition.

Are hopes of a repeat misplaced? Yes. Very much so.

To stand a good chance, the New Democrats have to be viable in Quebec. But after winning an astonishing 59 seats there in 2011 they are now nowhere in Quebec. Invisible. One seat. The edifice that Jack Layton built with the help of Montrealer Tom Mulcair has been demolished.

Mr. Layton passed away in 2011. With 16 seats won in Quebec in the 2015 election, the party still had a support base under Mr. Mulcair. But he was the victim of a party mutiny in 2016. That was a rash and foolish move – demonstrated by where the party stands today, not only in Quebec, where leader Jagmeet Singh has no traction, but in its national standing as well. The party won 44 seats in 2015; it won 24 in 2019.

Today’s NDP circumstances are somewhat similar to 1988. That year, under Ed Broadbent, the party was threatening to overtake John Turner’s enfeebled Liberals. But the New Democrats had next to no representation in La Belle Province, and was shut out there on election day.

Mr. Singh’s NDP, with sparse representation across the land, is a throwback to the days of old: a corduroy-pants party, as opposed to a cutting-edge one.

Any appearance of momentum has more to do with Liberal numbers moving down as opposed to New Democrat numbers significantly rising.

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Mr. Singh is in a “narrow band” in terms of support, said Mr. Nanos: “He hasn’t done anything to erode the strength of the New Democratic brand, or to build the strength of the New Democratic brand. It’s almost kind of like a caretaker.”

Duncan Cameron, a former head of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives who has closely followed party fortunes for decades, said Mr. Singh is a good and likeable man but “a threat to no one.” Mr. Layton, he said, was stronger on policy, consulted more often, and worked Quebec tirelessly. “Without Quebec, our ceiling is low,” Mr. Cameron said.

These times should be greatly promising ones for the political left, Mr. Cameron says – and he’s right. Market capitalism is running amok. Hugely powerful Big Tech is unchecked. Artificial intelligence is as transformative a technology as practically anything we’ve seen, and if left uncontrolled, it threatens to become, like climate change, an existential threat. Social media gone wild has undermined societal consensus, and right-side egomaniacs such as Elon Musk have amassed unparalleled individual power.

These new society-shaping forces are hardly an argument for laissez-faire conservatism. They make the case for greater regulation and enlightened state power – if it wasn’t such a contradiction in terms.

Mr. Singh, however, has not proven himself to be a crusading, galvanizing type of leader who can take advantage of the opportunity. To his credit, he is also not a political animal who is consumed every minute by how he can advance his own standing. You get the sense Mr. Singh prioritizes policy goals over political ones; what a welcome change that is.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh criticizes Trudeau, Poilievre at B.C. convention

It’s hardly beneficial for him to be seen propping up the deeply unpopular Justin Trudeau via the NDP and Liberals’ confidence-and-supply arrangement. If the pact endures, the NDP will have effectively turned what Canadians elected as a minority government into one of majority duration.

But in advancing his policy goals in pulling the Liberals leftward, Mr. Singh’s NDP is punching above its fourth-party weight. In the next election, even if it is shut out in Quebec, it could still hold the balance of power, holding Pierre Poilievre in check.

For the foreseeable future, however, the dreams of the party regaining truly national status as it did under Jack Layton are shattered. In the 2015 campaign, Mr. Mulcair’s principled stand in support of a woman’s right to wear a niqab saw his Quebec support numbers plummet.

Were it not for that issue, Mr. Mulcair would have saved enough seats to maintain his leadership. And if that had happened, a solid Quebec base for the NDP would likely still be in place today – with the potential for overtaking the Liberals very much in play.

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