Politics

3rd-place NDP ready to 'prove a lot of people wrong'

For those eager to count the New Democrats out this October, the party's campaign director has a warning: "we're not going anywhere."

According to the CBC's poll tracker, the NDP is polling below 14 per cent

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh answeres media questions as his wife Gurkiran Kaur Sidhu looks on at his campaign launch in London, Ont., today. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

For those eager to count the New Democrats out this election, the party's campaign director has a warning: "We're not going anywhere."

"It's not unusual for us to be underestimated and I think we're going to prove a lot of people wrong," Jennifer Howard said in an interview with CBC last week.

"I think we're a strong party, I think we're a party that's been around now for a few generations and we're not going anywhere." 

Today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau asked Gov. Gen. Julie Payette to dissolve Parliament for a general election on Oct. 21, officially launching the campaign.

This time around, the New Democrats will be trying to woo progressive voters disillusioned by the last four years under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, while staving off a strengthening Green Party.

'We are going to bring a hopeful message to Canadians that we can build the country of our dreams," says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. 0:44

According to the CBC's Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the NDP is polling at around 13 per cent. The party trails the Greens in both Atlantic Canada and Quebec, signalling what could be battle for third place.

The New Democrats head into this election with 39 seats, and with a number of incumbents having opted not to run again. As of today, the Poll Tracker predicts the NDP will win 16 seats — a far cry from 2011, when the party formed the Official Opposition.

But Howard isn't buying into the doom and gloom.

"I think we're going to grow in some parts of the country and we're going to run a campaign New Democrats will be proud of, and that Canadians will connect to," she said.

"We are going to run campaigns across the country to elect as many MPs as possible, to make sure we're in a position to do the things we're promising Canadians. That's what we're going for in this campaign."

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh kicked off his first campaign as party leader today in London, Ont., where he ran through that list of promises — including reforming the health care system to include first universal pharmacare and then free dental, vision care and hearing care within ten years.

"I'm confident people will see in us champions who want to put them at the centre and heart of everything we do," he said.

Progressive platform push

Social programs are key to the party's policy platform, called A New Deal for People, released earlier this summer.

Beyond health care, it promises to create 500,000 more affordable housing units and improve child care, and proposes a new one per cent wealth tax on those with a net worth of more than $20 million — pledges Singh cited during his Day One stop in southwestern Ontario.

But the Q&A portion of his campaign launch — in what could be seen as a sign of things to come — focused on the party's struggles to get ready for the campaign. On election kickoff day, the party said it it had nominated just 235 candidates for the 338 ridings across Canada.

"We've had some challenges but we're ready to solve that and we will absolutely have candidates in every riding," said Singh.

While in Ottawa circles there's buzz about whether the NDP can hold on to official party status — which requires 12 seats — Robin MacLachlan, an NDP commentator and vice-president at Summa Strategies, argues there are places where the NDP can make inroads. 

"There's no doubt that there are breakthroughs that we had under Jack [Layton] and held under Tom Mulcair that we need to hold, in particular in Quebec, but there are places in lower mainland British Columbia and the 905 region around Toronto that are in play for Jagmeet Singh that weren't in play before," he said.

"There's a magnetism, a personal magnetism that that he has as a political leader and the campaign is the only opportunity where you can truly move those numbers."

Jennifer Howard is the NDP's campaign director. (CBC)

Financial woes

MacLachlan said voters can expect to see Singh spending a lot of time in B.C and Ontario, while also making a play to reclaim seats in Halifax and St. John's.

Still, the party's financial struggles promise to make the campaign more challenging for New Democrats. Elections Canada posted the party's annual financial return online last week, showing the NDP finished last year with assets worth $4.7 million and liabilities totalling $9.2 million, leaving the party with a $4.5 million negative balance.

"I think we have to be more focused and more strategic about how we use our resources and those are the things that we'll be doing," said Howard.

The party does plan to charter a campaign plane — but to cut costs it won't label it with the NDP logo. And Canadians can expect to see more digital ads from the party.

"We'll still be on television, but we'll also be looking at the most cost-effective ways to get our message to people," said Howard.

The party starts the campaign at a disadvantage, MacLachlan said — but not one it can't overcome.

"This is not where you would want to be. The NDP wants to be a party that can run a full-fledged campaign ... it always wants to be able to compete on the same footing as the Conservatives and the Liberals," he said. "But we're used to running campaigns that have to be have to be edgier, that have to be more strategically focused in terms of resources.

"I would suggest that the NDP is actually in a better position than most people would suggest. It's going to run a very focused and targeted campaign in the places where we have opportunity to pick up new seats."

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