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Former NDP stalwart Svend Robinson called the by-election a 'wake-up call.'

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

It’s a good thing for the NDP that they didn’t win their campaign to change the electoral system to proportional representation or they’d be in danger of splitting into pieces now.

The Green Party has wind in its sails, most recently from winning a second seat in the British Columbia riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and some New Democrats see that as a sign their party isn’t woke enough on the crisis of climate change.

Svend Robinson, a former NDP stalwart attempting a comeback in the riding of Burnaby-North, tweeted that the by-election is a “wake-up call.” Even more rousing is his crystal clear proposal for the policy the party should adopt for Canada’s oil-and-gas industry in Canada: no more. No more pipelines, no more oil sands developments, no massive liquid-natural-gas projects in B.C.

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What New Democrats need to hear from their leader, Jagmeet Singh, is “that we cannot support any new oil-and-gas infrastructure, and that includes LNG,” Mr. Robinson said in an interview.

But surely Mr. Singh won’t say that. The NDP Leader supported the major LNG project that will include a gas pipeline to a processing facility in Kitimat, B.C.

Far more fundamentally, the NDP includes different constituencies, including unions, and they would not all be on board for slamming the brakes on the oil-and-gas sector. Mr. Singh was already having trouble holding them together.

Alberta’s former NDP premier, Rachel Notley, used a 10-foot-pole in dealing with the federal leader because he opposed the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline. B.C. Premier John Horgan and his NDP government back the LNG project. Mr. Singh would have to offend a big chunk of the NDP to satisfy Mr. Robinson.

That would be dangerous. Just ask Tom Mulcair, Mr. Singh’s predecessor.

Mr. Mulcair was facing a leadership review in 2016, just as something called the Leap Manifesto caught a wave within the party. The Leap, promoted notably by documentary filmmaker Avi Lewis, the son of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis and grandson of former NDP leader David Lewis, also called for no new fossil-fuel development.

Mr. Mulcair, trying to stay abreast of the trend, mouthed some receptive words about the Leap Manifesto, and angered Ms. Notley’s Alberta NDP, who showed up in numbers to vote against his leadership at a convention in Edmonton.

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Three years later, Mr. Singh’s NDP still has not solved the conundrum. Ms. Notley never wanted to go near him. But Mr. Robinson believes the folks behind the Leap Manifesto were ahead of their time. He’s telling the NDP leadership that many of their supporters want them to be boldly green and reject new oil-and-gas infrastructure.

“Is it radical? Is it transformative? Is it bold? It is all of those things,” he said.

It would also put the federal party into conflict with its provincial iterations and presumably divide supporters along the lines of what B.C. New Democrats have long referred to as browns and greens. But will some of those supporters look to the Greens if they do not take a bold stand?

The NDP likes to think of themselves as the genuine left, compared to Liberal pretenders. But the Greens now sometimes look at the NDP the same way on environmental issues.

Some New Democrats argue the Green Party doesn’t take their progressive stances on labour and the economy. Andrew Thomson, a former Saskatchewan NDP cabinet minister, dismissed the Greens during a TV appearance as “Conservatives with composters.” He said he’s not convinced the 2019 election with be a referendum-style campaign that revolves around climate change.

Probably not, but it now motivates a chunk of “progressive voters,” and the Greens seem to have momentum. The NDP might have to wonder about the strength of the forces that hold them together.

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It was once the party’s social mission, in the same way Conservatives are now held together by skepticism of government and spending, and a few social/cultural issues such as law and order. But the NDP mission is not as easy to call to mind now.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals are trying to compete in some of that space, and are, for example expected to propose a national pharmacare program, leaving the NDP to argue theirs would be more comprehensive.

In 2015, Mr. Mulcair started the election campaign with many believing he could win power. Mr. Singh doesn’t have that. And it’s getting harder to hold NDP constituencies together.

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