The good news for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, as he’s consigned to live day after day on the by-election campaign trail, is that at least he’s doing it in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, where the weather will be less bitter and brutal than just about anywhere else in Confederation.
The bad news is that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Machiavellian schemes still condemn him to a chilly political Groundhog Day, where he can’t afford to be distracted from the local affairs of Burnaby-South until after, well, Groundhog Day.
That’s because Mr. Trudeau has decided that the by-election in which Mr. Singh is committed to run won’t be held until February, months and months and months after everyone in the country knew a by-election would be needed in the riding.
To put this in perspective, it’s worth noting that Burnaby-South’s former MP, Kennedy Stewart, has run an entire municipal campaign, been elected mayor of Vancouver, set up his administration, and – by the time a by-election is held to replace him – he will already have either fulfilled or broken the half-dozen promises he made for his first 100 days in office.
Mr. Stewart, in fact, actually dragged his heels on resigning, waiting till Sept. 17, but he told the world he was running for Vancouver mayor back in May. So Mr. Trudeau knew it was coming for months. Yet, when he was forced to call a by-election in October for the riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes, he didn’t bother to call the one in Burnaby-South, or those for two other vacant seats.
After all this time, it seems Mr. Trudeau can’t pull himself together to call these by-elections. A government source, who spoke on condition he not be named because the by-elections have not been formally announced, said the by-elections will be called in early January, with the actual votes in February.
In truth, there’s a whole whack of cynicism at play.
Delaying that by-election means keeping Mr. Singh tied up in a local campaign on the West Coast, rather than leading the NDP on national issues. And if Mr. Singh loses a by-election in February – and that’s a real possibility – the NDP will be scrambling: Their leader will be wounded, and there won’t be much time to replace him.
The whole thing is enough to have Liberal strategists cackling.
Add a strange twist: the Liberal MP for Brampton East, Raj Grewal, announced on Thursday that he will be resigning for “personal and medical reasons.” As it happens, that’s Mr. Singh’s home turf; he represented part of Brampton East as a provincial MPP. So while the NDP Leader is out in B.C. risking his political career on a seemingly endless by-election campaign, a more natural riding is coming vacant. But who knows when Mr. Trudeau will call that by-election?
Of course, there’s no reason for Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals to help Mr. Singh into a Commons seat.
They have decided to run a candidate in Burnaby-South, even though there was some musing about whether they would invoke – try not to laugh – “leader’s courtesy” to decline to field a candidate. That’s all well and good. Democracy is about letting the people choose.
Mr. Singh is, by any account, in deep. One poll places him in third, and though it is hardly reliable proof, even NDP figures concede he is in a tight three-way race. The Liberals, who have been trying to find a strong candidate to face him, now expect a contested nomination. It’s a race where the NDP’s big national issue, the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, with its terminus just outside the riding, may well take a back seat to concerns about affordable housing.
The problem is that Mr. Trudeau is playing fast-and-loose with the timing in an apparent attempt to control the national political implications.
“He came in saying he would be different,” said New Democrat MP Peter Julian, who represents the neighbouring riding of New Westminister-Burnaby. “It’s very manipulative.”
That alone might sway some voters in the riding, he said. Maybe. But in the age of fixed dates for general elections, Mr. Trudeau should be reminded that jiggery-pokery with by-election dates shouldn’t be a breezy prime ministerial prerogative.