BURNABY, B.C. — Jagmeet Singh won’t be the Canada’s next prime minister, but he may have earned himself and his fellow New Democrats the next best thing: a key role in helping to shape the direction of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal minority.
The NDP leader led a loose, largely error-free campaign that received a surge of momentum late in the 41-day race, although early results suggested the party wouldn’t be able to turn it into significant seat gains.
The mood at the NDP’s results-watching party was tense early in the evening, with supporters trickling in and staying anxiously silent as television screens declared a Liberal minority.
Before long, people opted to line up at tables laden with food rather than watch the election results roll in.
There were a few boos in the room when the networks declared a win for Catherine McKenna, the incumbent Liberal candidate in the riding of Ottawa Centre and environment minister during Trudeau’s first mandate.
But things became more celebratory when B.C. candidate Jenny Kwan took to the stage after she was declared re-elected.
Singh — who took over the party in 2017 after a devastating defeat two years earlier, its fortunes looking as grim as they ever have — has given the party a base from which to grow, Kwan said to cheers.
“He has laid a fresh foundation for the NDP, and that foundation is young and engaged.”
Singh began the day in high spirits, visiting his Burnaby campaign office early in the day to thank volunteers and deliver boxes of donuts and a bag of oranges — a nod to the party’s team colours.
Later, while watching results with campaign organizers and his wife, Gurkiran Kaur, Singh was still in a jovial mood, laughing and making jokes.
He said he has no regrets about the race because he feels he ran a campaign that was true to who he is as a person, one that relayed a message of hope.
The NDP began the race in a distant third place, but began gaining traction as the campaign unfolded, drawing crowds of more than 1,500 people to Singh’s rallies in the final days of the race.
The party went into the election with 39 seats in the House of Commons, but was only elected or leading in 24 ridings after polls closed Monday.
Nonetheless, organizers were still claiming victory, celebrating Singh’s emergence as a popular leader who was able to draw huge crowds by the end of the campaign.
“The reason why a lot of people have been saying this is an exciting campaign is because it’s been about the people,” he told supporters earlier in the day during a visit to his campaign office.
“We’re fighting for them … we outwork and we out-heart everybody. And it’s because we believe in who we’re fighting for.”
The NDP leader spent the week leading up to election night focused on trying to shore up votes in three provinces the party believed would offer the best potential for a breakthrough: Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.
As a result, he had to fend off questions about whether he was ignoring parts of the country.
Singh said he was sorry he couldn’t visit all parts of the country — notably Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I. and the Northwest Territories. He tried to make the argument he would represent all voters in Canada, no matter where they live, even if he didn’t have a chance to shake hands with them or pose for photos.
It didn’t appear to have hurt the party’s fortunes in Newfoundland, where Jack Harris, who held the seat of St. John’s East for the NDP from 2008 to 2015, made a comeback Monday, winning over Liberal incumbent Nick Whalen.
Marie Della Mattia, Singh’s campaign co-chair and top political adviser on the tour, said the party’s strategy was simple: build on strengths like incumbent candidates and the NDP brand, then identify and appeal to people open to voting NDP.
Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press