NDP bleeds seats in Quebec as party sinks to fourth place
TORONTO -- Hopes of a “Singh surge” failed to materialize as the NDP dropped to its lowest seat count in more than a decade, but the party could still hold major voting power under the new Liberal minority government.
The NDP won 24 seats on Monday night, down from 44 in the 2015 election.
It was a disappointing result for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who saw a bump in the polls following the leaders’ debates two weeks ago but did not see that momentum translate into party growth.
But Singh gave no indication of disappointment. Following the results, he danced into his headquarters in Burnaby, B.C. alongside his wife, high-fiving and hugging supporters.
“We are going to make sure that the energy that we built over this campaign, the excitement that we built, and the focus that we put on people – on people’s struggles – continues so that we can play a constructive and positive role in the new parliament that Canadians have chosen,” Singh said.
The results mean that the NDP could potentially hold the balance of power in the House of Commons. The NDP has enough seats to either prop up or shoot down votes put forward by the Liberals, who ended up with 157 seats – just 13 short of the 170 they needed for a majority.
On Tuesday, Singh framed the situation as a “historic opportunity” for the NDP.
A significant portion of the NDP’s 20 lost seats came from Quebec, where the party was strongest in 2015 with 16 seats and won 59 in 2011’s so-called “orange crush.” The NDP now holds just one seat in Quebec.
The Bloc Quebecois, which capitalized on a message of Quebec values and secularism, scooped up almost all of those NDP seats and won 32 seats overall, rising to third-party status and bumping the NDP to fourth.
It was the lowest seat count for the NDP since 2004, when they won 19 seats.
Speaking in French, Singh admitted that the results in Quebec were not what he had hoped, but that the party will not abandon the province.
“We will not drop Quebec. We will not let it go,” he said.
Singh visited Toronto five times in the final three weeks of the campaign, but the NDP failed to make a dent in Canada’s biggest city as it was swept by the Liberals. The party was completely shut out of the region.
Asked about those results on Tuesday, Singh said he’s going to have to work harder to win over voters in the Greater Toronto Area, where he began his political career in 2011 as an Ontario MPP.
“I know we can make those breakthroughs, and we’re going to continue working to make them happen,” Singh said.
The NDP also failed to make inroads in Atlantic Canada, picking up just a single seat in the Newfoundland riding of St. John’s East.
The NDP’s current standing is a steep drop from two elections ago, under Jack Layton, when the party netted 103 seats and catapulted the NDP to Official Opposition status.
One of the party’s biggest losses of the night was Guy Caron, who ran for the party’s leadership in 2017 but lost to Singh. Caron lost in the Quebec riding of Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques, which he first won in 2011.
Ruth Ellen Brosseau, who made headlines in 2011 after being elected in Berthier-Maskinonge despite never living there but became a popular MP, also failed to hold onto her seat.
Veteran New Democrat Svend Robinson was unable to turn his hopes of a political comeback into reality in Burnaby North-Seymour, where he lost to Liberal incumbent Terry Beech.
The silver lining for the NDP may be in B.C., where they ended up with 11 seats, shedding only two from the last election. It was a similar story in Ontario, where the NDP won six seats, down two from 2015.
A surprise win for the party came from Nunavut. Activist Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, 25, ran on a personal campaign that spoke to issues such as high suicide rates among Indigenous youth. She ended up winning 41 per cent of the vote, beating out former Conservative health minister Leona Aglukkaq.
THE ‘SINGH SURGE’
Singh’s breakout moment of the campaign may have been two weeks ago in the English-language debate. The NDP leader was praised by pundits for a confident, conversational approach that landed serious punches against his opponents and stood out for flashes of personality.
In the five days following the debates, national support for the NDP climbed from 13.5 per cent to 19.6 per cent. By election day, the NDP’s national polling hovered around 20.8 per cent.
The party ended up winning 15.9 per cent of the vote share at more than 2.8 million votes. That’s significantly more than the Bloc Quebecois, which took in more than 1.3 million votes. But, thanks to concentrated support in Quebec, the Bloc won eight more seats than the NDP.
The Liberals won 157 seats with 5.9 million votes. The Conservatives won the popular vote with 6.1 million votes but ended up with 121 seats.
The NDP campaign leaned heavily on ambitious and costly promises often geared toward young people, city dwellers and low-income earners. To pay for that plan, the NDP vowed to raise taxes on businesses and the richest Canadians.
Among those big-budget promises were billions to build 500,000 new affordable homes, $43.1 billion for a national pharmacare program, and free dental coverage for families who make $70,000 or less.
Questions about Bill 21 dogged Singh this election. The law, which bans public workers in positions of power from wearing religious symbols such as turbans or hijabs, passed in Quebec with overwhelming public support.
Singh, who is a practicing Sikh, repeatedly said he was “saddened” by the law but would not take steps to challenge it federally. Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau was the only federal leader who kept the door open to a possible federal challenge, but never went so far as to commit to taking steps to overturn it.
Singh made history as the first person of colour to run for a major federal party. He also faced high-profile instances of racism along the campaign trail.
During a campaign stop in Montreal, Singh was confronted by a man who told him to “cut off” his turban to “look like a Canadian.”
Singh responded politely with a smile: “Oh, I think Canadians look like all sorts of people. That’s the beauty of Canada.”
After photos emerged of Trudeau in brownface and blackface, Singh was repeatedly asked to respond to the images.
When Trudeau expressed a desire to talk with Singh about the incident, Singh said it would be on the condition that the meeting be held privately because he did not want to be used “as a tool in his exoneration.”
The two leaders eventually discussed the incident privately over the phone.
THE MILLENNIAL VOTE
A big part of Singh’s campaign happened on social media. He regularly posted Instagram stories of him biking, cooking and campaigning across Canada. A video of him making “Punjabi poutine” on Thanksgiving earned more than 1,000 retweets, and a TikTok video of him singing earned more than 100,000 likes.
Before election day, Singh made headlines for two high-profile Instagram followers: rapper Drake and singer Rihanna.
Singh, 40, hoped to fire up millennials to vote NDP – a strategic move that would undercut the Liberals. Millennials now make up a major part of the electorate, and young voters largely helped elect Trudeau in 2015.
It’s too early to say whether or not young people came out en masse to support the NDP. Elections Canada is expected to release details of voter demographics at a later time.
Advance polls showed that more on-campus electors turned up in this election, with 111,300 electors taking part in advance voting – a significant jump from 2015.
Turnout among Canadians aged 18 to 24 surged in 2015. Turnout jumped 18.3 points to 57.1 per cent compared to 38.8 per cent in 2011.
In 2015, the NDP won 44 seats with 19.7 per cent of the vote. It was considered a major loss for the party that, under Jack Layton, won 103 seats in 2011.
By 2019, the NDP held 39 seats in the House of Commons by the time Parliament was dissolved in September. The majority of that support came from Quebec, with 14 seats, and British Columbia, with 12 seats. Another eight seats were from Ontario, two in Manitoba, two in Saskatchewan and one in Alberta.
The party lost five seats from 2015 to 2019 due to retirements, including former NDP leader Tom Mulcair.
The NDP was plagued by dismal polling all summer, which triggered deeper questions about the party’s future. Singh was asked about those numbers in a July interview with CTVNews.ca, and he insisted he wasn’t worried.
“It’s during the campaign that people are going to see us more, and for me the final poll that really counts is going to be on Oct. 21,” he said.