Of all the criticisms levelled at Jagmeet Singh since he assumed the leadership of the NDP, the censure he’s received for saying his party would never prop up a Conservative government after the fall election seems a little unjust and off the mark.
By way of background, Mr. Singh was asked for comment last week about a video being circulated by the Liberal Party of Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. In that clip, Mr. Scheer spoke in the House of Commons about his opposition to same-sex marriage, channelling the tail-is-not-a-leg aphorism attributed to Abraham Lincoln: Just because you say same-sex marriages are as legitimate as unions involving heterosexual couples, it doesn’t make them so. Which is to say: you can call a dog’s tail a leg if you wish, but it still has four legs.
For what it’s worth, Mr. Scheer says his thinking has evolved since that 2005 speech and he now supports LGBTQ rights, including same-sex marriage, “as defined by law.” (It should be noted that Mr. Scheer has not marched in any Pride parades, despite numerous invitations to do so.)
Anyway, back to Mr. Singh. He was asked to respond to the video and said he would never support a Scheer government in the event of a hung Parliament because the Conservatives could not be trusted to uphold the fundamental rights of Canadians. This was interpreted by some as a concession speech of sorts, an admission he was not expecting to be prime minister, and the NDP is not running to form government. Rather, it inferred the party was preparing to be someone’s handmaiden.
“You don’t campaign to finish third,” said former NDP MP Françoise Boivin when asked about Mr. Singh’s remarks. “You present yourself as the future leader with the best platform.”
Yes, it’s certainly a noble sentiment, but there may not be a single person in the country who honestly believes the NDP has anything resembling a realistic shot of forming government. You don’t campaign to finish third? The NDP might be lucky to finish third, the way things have gone for the party since Mr. Singh assumed the leadership in 2017.
Saying the NDP would never prop up a Conservative government in the event of a hung Parliament is the most blindingly obvious statement uttered in recent weeks. The NDP leader was simply assuring his supporters that under no circumstances would the party cut a deal with the Tories for some slice of power. I’m not sure how strategic his comments were; it’s been suggested elsewhere that they were designed to differentiate the party’s position from that of the Greens’ Elizabeth May, who hasn’t ruled out a possible partnership with the Conservatives. I think Mr. Singh spoke from the heart in a moment of candour; he couldn’t have known he was going to get that question.
Ms. May can remain coy about her plans in the event of a minority government situation, but we all know – or certainly, all of her supporters know – that the Greens could never enter any type of partnership with a party that has no credible climate strategy. And right now, the Conservative Party’s plan to reduce CO2 emissions is based mostly on magical thinking. People can say that Ms. May is being strategically smart by not showing her cards ahead of the election-day result, but what does it matter when you already know the outcome of her decision?
No, the fact Mr. Singh spoke honestly about his possible allegiances after Oct. 21 is far from a crime – and far from the NDP’s biggest problem. The party’s biggest challenge is being taken seriously, being seen as somehow relevant and worthy of your vote. The party is in danger of posting one of its worst performances ever.
Suddenly, 2011 seems like a long, long time ago. That’s when Jack Layton helped to lead the NDP to a record 103 seats and official Opposition status. There was great hope for 2015 under Thomas Mulcair, but that was crushed by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. When the smoke cleared, the New Democrats were reduced to 44 seats. Since Mr. Singh took over, it seems like the party has attracted one unfortunate headline after another. Many long-time NDP MPs have announced they will not be running again – a reflection of their leader’s troubled tenure.
Barring a campaign performance that comes out of nowhere and is shockingly good, Mr. Singh’s time as leader will be over almost before it began. And when the fall comes, as most expect it will, declaring that he wouldn’t prop up a Conservative minority government won’t even rate as a discussion point.
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