On The Line

Jagmeet Singh’s future is on the line today. The leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party is contesting a by-election. If he loses he will be expected to step down as party leader.
Singh’s strategy since winning the party leadership in October 2017 has been to travel the country meeting Canadians. He passed up on the opportunity to run in several by-elections. Now though, with a general election in October, he has to show how he performs in the House of Commons.

There used to be a convention that other parties wouldn’t run candidates against a leader in a by-election. That is no longer the case.

The Conservatives need to gauge their strength and the popularity of their leader, Andrew Scheer. The Liberals would benefit from any disarray in the only party to their left. Conventional wisdom says the Liberals are an NDP voter’s second choice.

By-elections are frequently boring. Local issues are more important than national ones. This one has seen a fair amount of negative publicity, thanks to the previous Liberal candidate, who made the mistake of honesty.

Canadian politics has become increasingly polarized. I suppose that’s true of politics in many places. Ethnic communities and their support are important to all political parties. But you aren’t supposed to talk about that. We are an inclusive society, and of course no-one would ever vote for someone based on their race or religion.

The Liberals replaced their by-election candidate because she encouraged Chinese voters in an online forum to vote for her as the only Chinese  candidate. For saying that, her candidacy was revoked.

Certainly it was a politically incorrect statement – but it was a factually correct one. People tend to vote for those who look like them. That may be why Barack Obama won 97 per cent of the African-American vote. In Canada though, we don’t practice those sorts of identity politics. It is just a coincidence that in areas with significant ethnic populations you will find Asians running against Asians, Sikhs against Sikhs and Ukrainians against Ukrainians. No-one is trying to appeal to a specific segment of the population that just happens to be the majority in the riding. That would be un-Canadian.

I felt some degree of sympathy for the Liberal candidate when she was turfed. She only repeated what everybody knew. That Singh is running in this particular area rather than his home province of Ontario is because he wouldn’t have won in the available seats there. Given its ethnic makeup, this one in British Columbia might elect him. Before the latest Liberal scandal I would have said it would be close. Now he should win easily – but I have been wrong before.

Eight months from now it will all be over, except for some possible recounts in close ridings. I’m rather curious as to tonight’s outcome. Singh should win, but should doesn’t always mean that much in politics.

If it is close, and the Liberals almost make it, they will have to question if changing candidates was the right thing to do.

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