The NDP is trying to boost the profile of its new leader Jagmeet Singh, launching an introductory tour in Ottawa on Sunday that is expected to take the party’s new leader into every province and territory before a policy convention in February.
One of Singh’s main goals is to unlock the party’s potential in suburban ridings around Toronto and Vancouver — a growth plan that could represent a significant shift for the party that has not been witnessed since it made a historic breakthrough in Quebec, said former NDP national director Karl Belanger.
“I am talking about a geopolitical shift in the NDP universe on a scale that was seen in 2011 when the Orange Wave was created by Jack Layton and the NDP,” he said in an interview.
“Those areas are, in this country, key to form government and that’s what Jagmeet’s leadership brings to the table and it does have some Liberal organizers worried.”
There are no guarantees, however, that Singh can deliver in competitive suburban ridings, noting the party must also stay connected with supporters in Quebec, where it has 16 seats.
“The realities of these voters are quite different than those from the 905 and the greater Vancouver area,” he said.
“In that sense, it will be a challenge for the NDP to be able to connect with both pools of voters. That’s a big challenge. If you are unable to make the inroads in the region you are seeking as growth … but at the same time you lose the base that you have, you don’t end up with very much at the end.”
NDP strategist Robin MacLachlan, also the vice-president of the public affairs firm Summa Strategies, said it will be key for Singh and the party to visit the province early and often.
Singh and his parliamentary leader Guy Caron recently paid a visit to the Quebec riding of Lac-Saint-Jean, where a byelection will be held on Oct. 23 — a competition sparked by the departure of Conservative MP Denis Lebel.
MacLachlan said the campaign-style national leader’s tour in the weeks ahead will allow the party to tap into Singh’s strengths.
“Jagmeet’s greatest challenge is of course his greatest opportunity: a great many Canadians haven’t had the chance to get to know him yet,” he said.
“That’s not surprising for a new federal leader but it is an incredible opportunity.”
The more people get to know Singh, the more they like him, MacLachlan said, noting this was evident throughout the NDP leadership race and in the recent stop in Lac-Saint-Jean.
Singh is not a “quick fix” leader, he added, pointing to the organizational abilities that his team demonstrated during his leadership campaign through fundraising and signing up new members to the party.
“You are going to see him and his team bring that same energy to the NDP,” he said.
“It is badly needed. The organization has been in a rut since the last election … it needs that rejuvenation, it needs the new tools and energy that comes from a team like Jagmeet’s.”
Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press