Analysis

Stormy weather just latest bad news for NDP in Quebec

A winter storm kept the NDP out of Quebec this week, but the party still needs to face its problems in the province under new leader Jagmeet Singh.

NDP can't catch a break in Quebec as polls show no growth and winter storm blocks caucus retreat in Saguenay

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has not increased his party's support in Quebec since becoming leader in October. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Storm clouds were gathering over the New Democrats in Quebec long before a winter storm forced the party to cancel its three-day caucus retreat in the province.

Ever since the party's defeat in 2015, the ejection of Tom Mulcair as leader and the selection of Jagmeet Singh as his replacement, the NDP has struggled to reconnect with Quebecers, the voters who propelled the party to historic highs and official opposition status less than seven years ago.

A winter storm that cancelled flights throughout Quebec on Monday and Tuesday forced the NDP to cancel its planned "national strategy session" in Jonquière. Located in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region of Quebec, it's an area where the NDP holds one seat and a byelection must be called within the next five months.

An overwhelmingly francophone and traditionally nationalist part of the province, it was perhaps not the most obvious place for Singh to mount an NDP comeback in Quebec. His itinerary did include a ride on a snowmobile, however, just the kind of thing that might have endeared the former Ontario MPP from Brampton to voters in this cold and snowy corner of the province, some 200 kilometres north of Quebec City.

Alas, the weather did not co-operate, and Singh's snowmobile adventure will have to wait.

In the meantime, the NDP will face at least two stiff electoral challenges in Quebec before the year is up. After the resignation of Liberal MP Denis Lemieux in November, a byelection must be called in the riding of Chicoutimi–Le Fjord, which neighbours the NDP's Jonquière seat, before June 2.

Mulcair has signalled he will resign his Montreal-area riding of Outremont this summer, putting his coveted seat up for grabs likely in the fall.

But Singh's difficulties in Quebec go well beyond his party's chances of winning Outremont and in the Saguenay.

NDP support in Quebec still flat under Singh

According to the CBC's Poll Tracker, a weighted aggregation of all publicly available polls, the NDP stands at just 15.5 per cent support in Quebec. That puts the party narrowly behind the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois and in fourth place in the province.

In 2015, the NDP captured 25 per cent of the vote and 16 seats — and even that was down from the party's best result in 2011, when it won 43 per cent of the vote and 59 seats.

But the New Democrats were struggling in Quebec before Singh was named leader in October. The party had averaged 21 per cent support or less in every month since the 2015 federal election.

Despite concerns — voiced from within the party during the leadership campaign — over Singh's potential appeal in Quebec, there is no indication that Singh's leadership victory has had a negative impact on the NDP's popularity in the province. On the Oct. 2 update of the Poll Tracker, the day after Singh took over, the NDP was at 16.3 per cent support — effectively no different from where it is today.

But the status quo is a problem for the New Democrats as the party would struggle to win more than one or two seats in Quebec at this level of support. With the Liberals soaring more than 20 percentage points above its rivals in Quebec, they are poised to win anywhere from 50 to 70 seats in the province. The party captured 40 in 2015.

While he might not have hurt the NDP in Quebec, Singh is certainly not helping. At the end of September, when Mulcair was still officially leader, 17 per cent of Quebecers thought he would make the best prime minister in a Nanos Research poll. The most recent Nanos survey found that just six per cent of Quebecers said the same about Singh.​

NDP struggling outside of Quebec, too

But Quebec is not the only place where the NDP is having trouble.

Part of the gamble in selecting Singh as NDP leader was that he could deliver new voters in the Greater Toronto Area and in B.C.'s Lower Mainland to make up for any potential losses the NDP might suffer in Quebec. But that hasn't happened — at least not yet.

Canada-wide, the party is polling at just 15.6 per cent, well below its 19.7 per cent result in 2015.

The party is struggling even in the regions of the country Singh himself has identified as areas for growth. A Campaign Research poll pegged the NDP's support at just 19 per cent in Toronto — 30 points behind the Liberals — and 13 per cent in the GTA. A Mainstreet Research poll had worse numbers for the NDP in and around Toronto and put the party at just 17 per cent in the Lower Mainland.

These numbers indicate that the party's poor byelection showings in the Toronto suburban riding of Scarborough–Agincourt and the B.C. Lower Mainland riding of South Surrey–White Rock in December were not entirely localized phenomena.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has said he hopes to make inroads for the party in the Greater Toronto Area and B.C.'s Lower Mainland. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

The party's rise to official opposition status in 2011 hinged on the NDP's surge in Quebec, which helped communicate to the rest of the country that the party was a serious contender.

That the NDP had intended to hold its caucus retreat in Jonquière signals that the party isn't giving up on the province. But if Singh wants to avoid being stormed out of Quebec again he might need to start showing brighter results in the rest of the country first.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

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