A seat for Singh? Liberal turmoil could help NDP leader in byelection
Published Sunday, February 24, 2019 8:30AM EST
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh leaves an advance poll after casting his ballot for the federal byelection in Burnaby South, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday February 15, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
BURNABY, B.C. -- The stakes are high for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh in a Metro Vancouver byelection race, but an expert says recent Liberal turmoil has been a "gift" to his campaign.
The 40-year-old former Ontario legislator has lacked a voice in Parliament since becoming party leader in the fall of 2017. Now he finally has his chance in Burnaby South as voters in the riding cast their ballots on Monday after a six-week race.
The Liberals got off to a rocky start when their first candidate, Karen Wang, resigned after pointing out Singh's ethnicity online. In recent weeks, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been besieged by allegations his office pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to stop a criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Singh said he's not taking anything for granted but he's confident his hard work to connect with voters will pay off.
"I think people are very disappointed with what's going on with the Liberal government," he said.
"Canadians expect our government works in our interest. It looks more and more like this government and Mr. Trudeau and the Liberal party are working in the interest of a massive multinational corporation."
Trudeau has denied he or his office directed Wilson-Raybould on the matter. Michael Wernick, clerk of the Privy Council, recently said Trudeau repeatedly assured Wilson-Raybould a decision on the prosecution was hers alone to make.
Richard T. Lee, the Liberal candidate who replaced Wang in Burnaby South, said few people are raising the issue on the doorstep.
"I understand some people are concerned about that, but the office of the prime minister and the prime minister himself have made a statement already," he said.
Byelections typically have low turnouts, but there is evidence the results of them are driven by the popularity of the government and its leader, said Richard Johnston, a University of British Columbia political science professor.
"(Singh) may have been handed the gift of some voters as a result of all this," he said. "Although it's just one thing amongst many, boy, he could use a win right now."
Singh has faced criticism for poor fundraising and low poll numbers. Burnaby South occupies historically strong NDP territory, so if Singh can't win in the riding, it adds to the interpretation that he hasn't secured the support of party loyalists, said Johnston.
The NDP beat the Liberals by just over 500 votes in the riding in 2015, but Johnston said he never expected the Liberals to do as well this time in Burnaby South.
"That was kind of a high point and their support might drop even further," he said.
Lee said local issues, especially affordable housing, are more important to Burnaby South voters than the situation in Ottawa.
He has touted the Liberal government's national housing strategy, which promises $40 billion over 10 years, while Conservative candidate Jay Shin has called for lower taxes and job-creation measures to help residents earn and save more money.
Singh has unveiled a plan to build 500,000 affordable homes across Canada. He challenged Trudeau to eliminate the GST for developers building affordable homes, subsidize low-income renters and double the first-time homebuyers' tax credit.
Byelections will also take place in York-Simcoe in Ontario and Outremont in Montreal on Monday. The results might provide insight into whether Quebec MP Maxime Bernier's new right-wing People's Party of Canada can snatch votes from the Conservatives.
A recent debate in Burnaby South became heated when People's Party candidate Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson discussed immigration.
An online video of the debate shows Singh urging audience members to recognize they are all immigrants, unless they are Indigenous.
When Tyler Thompson raises the murder of Burnaby teen Marrisa Shen -- in which a Syrian national has been charged -- to argue for more careful vetting of refugees, an audience member yells: "That is racist! Shame on you!"
"It's not racist to have safety," replies Tyler Thompson.
Shin, the Conservative candidate, recently distributed flyers taking aim at Tyler Thompson, accusing her of supporting supervised injection sites and the legalization of marijuana, which she described as a "smear campaign" based on "lies."
However, Shin said he isn't worried about Tyler Thompson and doesn't think her message is resonating.
"When I speak with voters at the doors, I don't get a sense of that at all," he said.
Tyler Thompson, a former Christian TV show host who opposes abortion and has protested teaching resources that educate kids about gay and transgender identities, said she believes the Conservatives are threatened by the People's Party.
"My message is resonating with Canadians because they like my strong stance for family."