VANCOUVER—Jagmeet Singh just can’t catch a break.
With the call of a byelection in the Vancouver-area riding the rookie NDP leader is hoping to soon represent in Parliament only days away, he is losing yet another MP — in this instance to British Columbia’s provincial arena.
At the same time, he may have more of a fight on his hands to secure a ticket to the House of Commons than he would have liked.
On Wednesday, B.C. premier John Horgan announced that Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Sheila Malcolmson will be running under the provincial NDP banner in a byelection soon to be held on Vancouver Island.
Freshly elected as mayor of Nanaimo last weekend, New Democrat MLA Leonard Krog is leaving the provincial legislature.
Horgan’s minority government already hangs by little more than a thread. He needs to fill the vacancy in time for B.C.’s February budget and the confidence vote that will attend its presentation or else possibly face a general election.
Horgan’s gain is Singh’s loss. Malcolmson — who has only been in the Commons since 2015 — is the second B.C. New Democrat to leave the federal caucus to pursue more promising political opportunities. Former MP Kennedy Stewart whose Burnaby South seat Singh is vying for was elected mayor of Vancouver last weekend.
A date to fill the Ontario seat left vacant by the sudden death of Conservative MP Gordon Brown last spring must be set by next Tuesday. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to call the Burnaby South vote at the same time.
The timing of Malcolmson’s departure is less than perfect for momentum-deprived Singh.
Her decision to switch to provincial politics, coming as it does on the heels of Stewart’s successful entry in the mayoral arena, highlights the fact that while the NDP brand is in good shape at the provincial and municipal levels in B.C., Singh’s personal brand is not.
He has yet to become a household name in the Vancouver-area riding he has elected to make his permanent federal home base and he is hobbled by the lacklustre performance of the federal NDP in the polls.
Anecdotal evidence suggests there may by now be more Liberals wishing Singh well in his bid to enter the Commons than New Democrats. It is certainly not difficult on a visit to Vancouver to find party sympathizers who celebrated his first ballot victory a year ago and who now wish him gone.
Even if Singh does make it to the floor of the Commons via Burnaby South later this fall, he will have a hard time retooling for next year’s general election with recruits of the same high calibre as that of the MPs who are electing to leave.
The list of the latter already includes the NDP’s lone Alberta MP Linda Duncan as well as Quebec MPs Hélène Laverdière and Roméo Saganash and it could get longer.
The NDP won the Burnaby South seat in 2015 by less than 1,000 votes; a score that suggests Singh cannot take victory for granted.
There had been talk of the Liberals taking a pass on running a candidate — a courtesy to an incoming leader that would have had the advantage, from Trudeau’s perspective, of sparing his own party an early test in a riding that is at ground zero of the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
But the idea elicited push back from local Liberals and the expectation is that Trudeau’s party is more likely to be on the byelection ballot than not.
Singh may be spared another potentially morale-depleting test this fall for Trudeau could wait until after the New Year to call a vote in Outremont, the Montreal seat left vacant by Thomas Mulcair.
The Liberals have a good shot at winning back Outremont from the NDP whether the byelection takes place this fall or next winter. But they could see some side benefits to waiting a while longer to call the vote.
Beauce MP Maxime Bernier has just applied to register his People’s Party with Elections Canada. He has to wait 60 days from that application to run a candidate in a byelection. If Trudeau were to hold off until next year to call the Outremont vote, it would pave the way for Bernier’s party to make the riding the scene of its Quebec maiden run.
One does not need to have a particularly devious mind to think the Liberals would love to start the election year by scoring a hit on the NDP in Outremont and watching Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives scramble to make it to the finish line ahead of Bernier’s candidate.
Politics is a blood sport.
Chantal Hébert is a columnist based in Ottawa covering politics. Follow her on Twitter: @ChantalHbert