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For all the talk about the Conservative Party of Canada’s campaign launch this week, it’s the NDP that has emerged as the biggest story so far. After all, while Erin O’Toole may be the person most likely to end up with Justin Trudeau’s job, Jagmeet Singh is clearly the one who is the bigger threat to the Liberal leader right now.
That’s because multiple polls have now shown the federal NDP cresting the 20 per cent threshold, with its support concentrated in most of the places the Liberals need to win their majority. In urban and suburban ridings throughout Ontario and British Columbia, the NDP is a threat to either win outright or split the progressive vote enough to allow the Conservative candidate to squeak by.
Singh’s NDP is particularly popular among younger voters, the same demographic that helped propel the Trudeau Liberals to their first majority in 2015. After winning nearly half of the votes among Canadians aged 18 to 34, the Liberals have slipped under 30 per cent, according to recent Leger polling. That same polling has Singh and the NDP leading among younger Canadians with 33 per cent support.
Their standing among millennials should have Liberals worried, given young people now comprise one-third of the electorate. That makes them by far the biggest demographic, one that’s much more powerful than the Boomers or gen-Xers.
It’s not hard to figure out why the shine is off Trudeau’s Liberals for younger Canadians. It has been six years since he won an election with his positivity and “sunny ways,” and he has had to deal with the reality of governing ever since. Those realities have included the failure to follow through on the promise of electoral reform, the SNC-Lavalin scandal, and the fallout from Jody Wilson-Raybould’s departure from cabinet and caucus. The recent decision to send $500 cheques to everyone over the age of 75 surely won’t help Trudeau’s popularity among younger Canadians.
Singh’s NDP, meanwhile, is offering up policies that are particularly popular among younger people, whether it’s universal pharmacare or wealth taxes on the rich. His TikTok game remains unparalleled in Canadian politics, and he knows how to reach younger people in a way that mostly eludes the two other major parties.
If you’re the NDP, though, this isn’t all good news. For one thing, younger voters are notoriously fickle about actually turning out and voting. While 57.1 per cent of them turned out in 2015, that dipped to 53.9 per cent in 2019 — and was close to 50 per cent among those under 25, where Singh and the NDP are most popular. In an election where the risk of COVID-19 remains ever present, and where young people are now most likely to get infected and sick from it, those turnout numbers could get even lower.
There’s also the risk of peaking in a campaign. Singh is undeniably popular among Canadians, but he’s also still something of a mystery to many of them. While 39 per cent of respondents told Abacus Data they had a positive impression of the NDP leader, nearly as many (37 per cent) said they “didn’t know.” For the Liberals, that’s a golden opportunity to fill that void with something other than TikTok videos and aspirational policy statements — one they will surely take.
The NDP can be even more sure its Liberal opponents will raise the issue of strategic voting, one that has bedeviled the federal NDP for years. As the Angus Reid Institute’s data shows, five in six NDP voters would prefer the Liberals to win — something the Liberals will surely weaponize in the weeks to come.
But the battle between these two parties will be fought on the political landscape of millennial Canadians, and both should remember these aren’t the same people they were in 2015. Cost of living concerns, not climate change, are the top of their collective agenda now. In fact, according to Abacus Data’s research, it’s not really that close. Among “older millennials” — the ones who voted en masse for Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015 — 73 per cent said it was one of their top five issues. The next highest was climate change and environment at 44 per cent.
Jagmeet Singh and the NDP's standing among millennials should have Liberals worried, given young people now comprise one-third of the electorate, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #Election2021
On the cost of living, the Liberals have a trump card the other parties can’t compete with: child care. According to David Macdonald, a senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, their $10-per-day plan could save parents as much as $10,000 per child by 2022, and nearly $20,000 by 2026.
Yes, the NDP supports this plan, but with the government having already signed deals with eight jurisdictions (and apparently on the doorstep of one with Ontario) it isn’t just theoretical. With the Conservatives promising to scrap the Liberal plan and replace it with a familiar bevy of tax credits, child care could be the perfect closing argument for those making a strategic voting pitch to NDP voters.
Time will tell whether they can resist that pitch and what might happen if they do. But one thing is already clear: while Erin O’Toole entered this race as the leader of the official Opposition, Jagmeet Singh is now Justin Trudeau’s most dangerous opponent.