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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh speaks to reporters before attending Question Period on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Dec. 10, 2020.

Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

The federal NDP has informed lenders that it will pay off its last tranche of debt on Dec. 31. The party is performing respectably in the polls. If it’s too soon to call Jagmeet Singh “veteran,” the New Democrat Leader has grown in the job, comfortable in front of a camera as well as a crowd.

A few months before what will likely be a spring election, the NDP has a decent shot at making modest gains. If the dream of forming government has evaporated, extinction is also off the table.

And though it seems strange to hear, a strong performance by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole could be good news for Mr. Singh.

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The NDP raised $1.3-million from almost 17,000 donors in the quarter ending Sept. 30, about a third of the Liberal total in funds, with half the number of donors.

The polling aggregator has the party at 18 per cent, two points above its 2019 election result.

Mr. Singh navigated an uncomfortable situation in October, when he was forced to prop up the Liberals on a confidence vote connected to the WE affair, even though Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered no concessions in return, in part because the NDP wasn’t ready for an election. Party insiders insist the New Democrats are ready now.

Expectations are modest. The Liberals are ahead in the polls, and Mr. Trudeau enjoys a strong approval rating. That could all change if the vaccine rollout goes off the rails, but otherwise both the NDP and the Conservatives should be satisfied holding the Liberals to another minority government.

A good result would see the NDP caucus of 24 MPs increase by six to 10. It hopes to pick up Coquitlam–Port Coquitlam in B.C., another seat in Edmonton and Saskatoon West. The party has its eyes on the Northern Ontario riding of Nickel Belt, as well as Davenport in Toronto. There’s also Montreal’s Laurier–St. Marie, maybe Halifax, maybe a few others here and there.

A strong showing by the Conservatives would help. Everyone knows that the Tories need the New Democrats to do reasonably well in suburban ridings outside Toronto, which splits the progressive vote, allowing the Conservatives to come up the middle.

But it’s equally true that when Conservatives do reasonably well in downtown ridings, they can split the centrist vote, allowing the NDP to squeeze through. In Davenport, which the NDP lost by fewer than 1,500 votes in 2019, the Conservatives polled less than 10 per cent. When the NDP won it in 2011, the Tories were at 14 per cent.

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That’s why the NDP hopes Mr. O’Toole will appeal to city-centre voters more than his predecessor, Andrew Scheer.

That said, the party has a real problem with triangulation. Mr. O’Toole seeks to take working-class voters away from the NDP, just as Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson took them from Labour in Britain.

The Liberals have spent hundreds of billions combatting the economic impact of the pandemic, and last week put forward an ambitious plan to combat climate change, while Annamie Paul seeks to revitalize the Green Party.

“It’s not unfamiliar” territory for the NDP, said national director Anne McGrath. “Getting squeezed is part of every election campaign.”

But she points out that, while Mr. O’Toole may talk a good I’m-for-the-little-guy game, that’s not how most people see the Conservative Party. The Liberals promise to get serious about global warming, just as they promise national pharmacare and child care programs, but how much have they concretely achieved?

The Canada Revenue Agency is demanding clawbacks from some self-employed workers on CERB, even as corporations funnel government wage subsidies to their shareholders. Stories are starting to leak out of fraud and abuse. The Liberals lose when voters get sick of their high-handedness and alleged corruption.

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Today, in the grip of the second wave, we can think about little else but the pandemic. But as vaccines arrive and the weather improves fears will ease, just as they eased last summer, when the WE controversy overtook COVID-19 as the top story while temperatures rose and people started going back outdoors.

The NDP will need to perform well to improve its standing in the next election. But the party is reasonably healthy financially, Jagmeet Singh is now an experienced leader, and the situation today will not be the situation in the spring – something pundits often fail to keep in mind.

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