What do you think Jagmeet Singh’s priorities for 2018 should be? And, how do you think his leadership will impact the political landscape going forward?

VIEWS FROM OUR POLITICAL COMMENTATORS: NDP, CONSERVATIVE AND LIBERAL

BY TIM POWERS

BY TIM POWERS

The federal political leaders who will contest the 2019 election are now in place. The latest member of the permanents is Jagmeet Singh who won the leadership of the New Democratic Party in October. He joins Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer in the quest to be Prime Minister.

Signh arguably has a more challenging job than Andrew Scheer in carving out an NDP identity heading into the next federal vote. While the NDP are always leery of losing left wing progressives to the Liberals in campaigns, so far half-way through his government Trudeau hasn’t given the left, a large portion of Mr. Singh’s accessible pool, too much to be upset with. Trudeau’s government is one of the most interventionist in ages and he is exceedingly popular across different cohorts of voters so Singh starts with an uphill battle.

Jagmeet Singh

It is hard to envision Jagmeet Singh doing what Tom Mulcair did in the 2015 election espousing fiscal rectitude and the importance of balanced budgets. So he is going to have to find some way to differentiate from the Prime Minister without finding himself so far outside the mainstream that he takes the NDP out of the game. He needs to clearly understand where his accessible voters are, what motivates them and determine how, if possible, he can break them away from other camps. He should, as he is doing right now, take his time with that. Now he can trade on his newness and own likeability without getting boxed into positions that may hamper his 2019 prospects.

CanadaDespite not winning any seats in the four by-elections that have been held under his brief tenure and seeing NDP support drop in all the ridings where contests took place, there is no reason yet for Singh to push any panic buttons. He should stay the course he has set: tour the country, meet supporters and voters in smaller settings, listen, do local media, go about getting his feet wet while seeing if he can unearth Liberal vulnerabilities. As Tom Mulcair had proven, being a strong performer in the House of Commons gives you no lock on political success.

Singh needs to take the time to build an organization that he is comfortable with that can perform. He needs to be ready to roll out some differentiating ideas. He’ll need to show his party then that he has some semblance of a strategy through until the next election. When you are in opposition in between elections, keeping your own team united, focused, and positive is a tough enough job. The policy showcase will provide a useful barometer on how Singh is doing on that front.

Being an opposition leader is an unglamorous job. The true effectiveness of how you have performed is not really revealed until the next election. That proposition holds true with Jagmeet Singh right now.

Tim Powers, is the Vice-Chairman of Summa Strategies Canada and the managing partner of Abacus Data, both headquarters are in Ottawa. Mr. Powers appears regularly on CBC’s Power and Politics program as well as on VOCM in his home province of Newfoundland and Labrador.


Gabriela Gonzalez

BY GABRIELA GONZALEZ

2018 is not just any year in government or political terms, it is the year before an election and the year before Jagmeet Singh’s first federal election campaign as leader of the NDP. 2018 and 2019 are critical years for Singh, the well-dressed, charismatic, youthful new leader of the New Democrats.

We can’t think of 2018 in isolation, we need to think about what came before and what is coming afterwards.

The road to 2018: Singh’s leadership campaign was run by people younger than him, not necessarily an exception to many political campaigns in Canada where young staffers and volunteers work day and night to support their vision for the country. Along the way, Singh and his team signed up a very diverse and young base – the group of people that one could argue represents Canada’s future. At the same time, he managed to reenergize a party that was demoralized and without a clear sense of purpose since Prime Minister Trudeau’s progressive agenda takes up most of the oxygen from the left and centre.

2018 is a decisive year for Singh and the NDP knows it.

If I were advising the NDP, which I am not, I see two major priorities for 2018.

Continue talking to Canadians

Without a seat in the House of Commons and without a clear opening to secure a seat, talking to, but more importantly, listening to Canadians from coast to coast to coast should become Singh’s number one job. He needs to connect with Canadians in the same way that Jack Layton did – in an authentic, I’m your next-door-neighbour-and-I-understand-your-struggle type of way. He also needs to be aspirational; Trudeau’s sunny ways from 2015 clearly resonated with Canadians and Singh may try a similar approach. But he needs to be strategic about those conversations. What kind of follow ups will the NDP have? Are they building a database that will allow them to capture those thousands and thousands of conversations and then gently target those folks during the campaign? This is the kind of strategic thinking that the NDP needs.

But at some point, you run out of things to say and people want to see substance and policy. Singh will need to develop policies and a platform. These policies need to not only be accepted by progressives in Ontario, but they need to actually get him support from coast to coast to coast. An energy policy that is anti-energy development may be well received in Ontario, but definitely not in Alberta. How can he possibly gain the support of Alberta’s NDPs if his energy policy is questionable? Much like Trudeau surrounded himself with policy and data wonks, economists, youth leaders, and activists from the moment he became the Liberal leader, Singh will need to have a solid team that can help him develop credible policies that will appeal to Canadians across the country.

Leadership impact on political landscape

Trudeau’s campaign started a wave of political and civic involvement by young Canadians and Singh is poised to continue that wave. Diverse voices will have an expanded platform at the national level and ultimately, Canada will be better off because of it.

If 2017 was the big splashy year for Jagmeet Singh (think of the GQ magazine cover and hundreds of articles praising his leadership campaign), 2018 is the year when Singh and the NDPs do the grunt work that actually is needed to develop a platform, build a support base and get ready for 2019. These are no small tasks and by the end of 2018 we’ll see if Jagmeet Singh can deliver.

Gabriela Gonzalez is Consultant at Crestview Strategy. Prior to joining the Crestview team, Gabriela worked at Queen’s Park for four years and is a long-time Liberal organizer. Most recently, she worked as a Senior Communications and Operations Advisor to Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Growth. Gabriela holds an Honours Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Psychology from York University and a bilingual (English/French) Master’s degree from the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs.


BY KATHLEEN MONK

BY KATHLEEN MONK

In February, more than four months into his election as leader of the NDP, Jagmeet Singh faced his first real test. Forget about all the early speculation on poll numbers and the dismal results from the late fall by-elections, the first test of Singh’s mettle came when he faced hundreds of New Democrats in an Ottawa convention hall for the party’s first convention since his election last October.

The party has been mired in an existential crisis since the October 2015 federal election when the NDP lost over 50 seats. The February 2018 convention is an opportunity for the party to get noticed and for its new leader to introduce himself and party policies to Canadians. It is also the party’s first policy conference since the calamity in Edmonton which saw a majority of members vote in favour of a leadership review, launching a leadership contest that took 16 months to complete.

If Singh and the NDP hope to see success in the next federal election they must overcome many challenges. But first the party needs to get over its soul-searching and get back to working on policy, targeting and persuasion if it wants to win in 2019.

Federally, with the Liberals tacking left in key policy areas, New Democrats need to differentiate themselves on policy and on political approach. A deliberate and dogged focus on rebalancing taxation in Canada is long over due. According to a recent Environics poll, an overwhelming majority, 87 per cent of Canadians, think laws should be changed to ban the use of tax havens. Therefore this is a no-brainer politically, and that’s why New Democrats should return to their past policy positioning and lead the charge on tackling tax havens and on closing loopholes on stock options and capital gains.

“New Democrats should return to their past policy positioning and lead the charge on tackling tax havens and on closing loopholes on stock options and capital gains.”

This will help generate much needed revenue for social programs like pharma-care, childcare and long-term infrastructure investments. The debate on taxation that took place in the latter half of 2017 ended with the federal government lowering the small business tax to 9 per cent, resulting in a revenue loss of close to $3 billion over five years. That is revenue lost to federal coffers that could have funded post-secondary education, investments in healthcare, and expanded homecare services. New Democrats must lead the charge in 2018 on rebalancing federal taxation, and more importantly, explain to Canadians persuasively why it is so important to do so.

In Quebec, as in the rest of Canada, the party needs to identify key ridings and build a strategy to win them. Party activists want to see a growth campaign in 2019 and that means the party must find talent, build skills and raise the resources to run fully funded campaigns.

Most of all the party needs to find its groove. It needs to fire up its ground game, inspire activists and remember who and what it is fighting for. With less than two years before the next election the time is now and the February convention is where it all gets started.

Kathleen Monk is a Principal at Earnscliffe, where she is trusted by Canadian leaders to navigate complex public strategy issues, design strategy and bring together diverse stakeholders to tell authentic stories that deliver results. She appears regularly on CBC The National’s preeminent political panel, The Insiders, and provides analysis for CBC News Network’s Power and Politics.