With the next Parliament looking like a mirror image of the last one, pundits and politicians from across the partisan spectrum have taken to calling the recent federal election a waste of money. But if you think the $600 million taxpayers spent on it was bad, wait until you find out how much it cost the NDP to end up back where it started.

After spending upwards of $10 million in 2019 to win 24 seats and 16 per cent of the national vote, Jagmeet Singh’s party more than doubled its campaign budget this time around to a reported $24 million. As NDP national director Anne McGrath told the Toronto Star, “We are spending more on advertising in this campaign than we spent on the entire campaign last time — so that’s pretty significant.”

But those extra millions only resulted in one additional seat and an extra 1.7 per cent of the national vote, with both totals coming in well short of what Thomas Mulcair managed in 2015. TikTok ads aren’t cheap, apparently.

This was the second straight campaign where Singh rated as the most popular leader in Canada, only to wind up leading his party to a fourth-place finish. But despite this underwhelming track record and his predecessor getting the boot after just one (vastly more successful) election, Singh’s position at the top of the federal NDP’s pecking order seems safe for now.

That doesn’t add up for David Herle, a former Liberal strategist and the host of The Herle Burly. “If this party had a winning instinct in it,” he said on his Curse of Politics podcast, “they would be crushed by this result, because this should have been a realignment election for them — or at least the possibility of it. They have a super popular leader, they’ve got a fully funded campaign, and their progressive opposition is vulnerable.”

It’s not just Liberals who are critical of Singh’s performance, either. As political analyst (and NDP supporter) Evan Scrimshaw wrote in his recap of the election, “My real ire is for Jagmeet Singh, who has run a deeply unserious campaign and blew a genuinely good chance at making advances. The party’s seat haul is deeply disappointing, and even if it improves slightly, to be as low as they are, after being told the NDP were a serious party, is pathetic. Jagmeet should resign for the good of the party, because it is clear he cannot run a campaign good enough to convert good vibes into seats.”

And for all the money spent on the leader’s tour, which saw the party charter a plane and send Singh to 51 ridings, it doesn’t seem to have delivered much in the way of ROI. As former NDP candidate for York-Simcoe Jessa McLean tweeted, “NDP federal council took the rebates from the local ridings and poured it all into @theJagmeetSingh’s image and campaign… We’re not a movement. We’re an ad campaign.”

The question the federal NDP faces now is the same one it has struggled to answer ever since the passing of Jack Layton: What, exactly, does it want to accomplish? Is it a movement that seeks to move the Overton window on key public policy issues, or does it want to win elections, form a national government and implement change? If it’s the latter, it needs to lean far more heavily on the experience of its provincial wings in Alberta and British Columbia, where the combination of a personable leader and more pragmatic policies has proven a winning combination. If it’s the former, it needs to do better on defining issues like climate change, where its plan was widely panned by both economists and climate scientists as being aggressively unserious.

It also needs to decide whether it’s going to start heeding its former leader’s call to be “loving, hopeful and optimistic.”

In the recent election, Singh campaigned far more like Stephen Harper than Layton, attacking Justin Trudeau at every available opportunity and trading in misinformation about everything from student loan interest payments to the eight child-care deals with the provinces and territories that had already been struck. Avi Lewis, his star candidate in West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, launched a personal attack on University of Calgary professor Jennifer Winter — one that was reminiscent of his 2018 broadside against then-premier Rachel Notley when he described her as “the new patron saint of the corporate welfare bums.”

Based on his first post-election press conference, where he effectively blamed the prime minister for low voter turnout, that seems unlikely to change any time soon. “I think there’s a lot of cynicism,” Singh told reporters. “And I think that cynicism has been fed by people like Mr. Trudeau.”

Opinion: This was the second straight campaign where Jagmeet Singh rated as the most popular leader in Canada, only to wind up leading his party to a fourth-place finish, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver. #elxn44 #NDP #cdnpoli

At some point, the NDP faithful are going to have to decide if this approach deserves a third kick at the electoral can, or whether it’s time for a new leader who can actually give voice to Layton’s spirit of optimism and hope. At the very least, they might want to find one who can deliver a better return on their investment.

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A very good opinion piece, but here is another option: given the similarities in their respective platforms, why not merge with the Liberals to form a new Progressive Party? That way, they would stop the annoying and potentially dangerous trend of splitting the vote amongst centre-left parties. The Greens can along, too, just for laughs.

I am loathe to call a government that pushed through strikebreaking legislation against at least two major labour actions "centre-left".

Depends what your objective is. If the objective is for a few top NDP personalities to get a chance at cabinet seats, then sure, why not? If the objective is a better Canada, then terrible idea. Such a merger wouldn't be something in between the Liberals and the NDP, it would be the Liberals. But fairly soon it would be to the right of the current Liberals, because the only thing that stops the Liberals from betraying everyone even harder than they do is the fear that if they go too totally obviously corporate and don't deliver anything to their voters, the NDP could finally break through.

The existence of the NDP is the main thing that stops Canadian politics from being identical to US politics. That would be worth the whole thing even if they never form government, even if they never again have a chance to influence policy in a minority government. Which, while we're on the subject, they have been doing and will now get the opportunity to do again. Lest we forget (or never heard about it because the media doesn't say such things very much), the CERB as we know it was an NDP demand pushed on the reluctant Liberals, as were most of the good policies that helped real people during the pandemic. Under a majority government of (Liberal party that absorbed the NDP) masses of people who managed to get through would instead have been homeless.

. . . Similarities in their respective platforms, you say? Well, no doubt. For the Liberals, election platforms are always an exercise in "Let's pretend for the voters, once again, that we're the NDP, and once again marvel that they buy it when we never actually do any of that stuff because if we did, our corporate sponsors would cut us off".

Well said, Rufus. When I was out and about, all I heard was how nice Jagmeet was but how bad the NDP party was. What really amazes me is how many, through the last 6 years, have said how much they dislike the Liberal party and Justin's doings, how they did not really know O'Toole but were bitter at the parties policies flip flops, yet the problem I saw over all..Canadians wearing blinders who only saw the 2 parties and cast the 3rd under the table. They never realized how much work the NDP did behind the scenes, pushing and kicking the Liberal party to do what was right during the past 2 years. CERB was just 1 instance. The Conservatives basically just sat there, calling for investigations etc into Liberal doings. You DO NOT do that type of garbage when the country needs help, in this case from the ravages of the pandemic.
The BQ did well in Quebec, so it saw it's seat count increase slightly. The NDP may have only spent $24M to campaign across the country, but I'm betting BQ, Liberals and Conservatives made that figure look like pennies in a bank compared to their campaigns..yet here we are paying $600M+ for an election and getting no where fast.
Congratulations Justin..more taxpayer money well spent..NOT!

This is similar to my belief that a minority government is our best option because both parties sing in harmony or they both fall.

Germany has coalition governments, not merged parties, the difference being that all parties holding cabinet positions keep their identities and core policy platforms but take advantage of the overlap. They are also on better behaviour than in minority parliaments because they share governorship roles and the same cabinet room coffee machine and washrooms rather than the far simpler function of a few policy agreements by independent parties occupying different buildings.

A minority government is as strong or as weak as its energy and motivation level to enact really good ideas rather than just play strategic games. It is plain to see that this piece is all about gamesmanship, not ideals and principles. Jagmeet Singh holds the balance of power. Let's hope he uses it wisely and boldly and doesn't cave to the fear of failure and weak performance, or worse -- paralysis.

Well argued. And while I too was disappointed in Singh's stump speeches.......(less 'we'll fight for you' bellicose talk and more policy substance please.) and repetitious platitudes, I know that a great deal of our current progressive wins have been pushed through by the presence of the ndp.

To some extent, I blame Canadians for wanting it all, but only having the courage or foresight to vote Progressive lite.........which inevitably leads to Liberal governments. Still, this author is right when he calls for a bolder, more substantive approach. Less advertisements; more policy discussions might actually educate voters into what we need to vote for.

I was just wondering when the Liberals moved from centre-right to centre-left?
Liberal Inc., is there to serve the corporations, not the people. The natural merger is with the Conservative Party, not with the (sometimes not so) progressive parties.

I would like to know how much the Liberals and Conservatives spent on their election campaigns. I suspect they spent far more and got little for their money either.

Exactly. This crass ROI (return on investment) approach targeting the NDP but NOT targeting the Liberal and Conservatives is unfair, and part of a tired "the left will spend too much" stereotype. If applied across the board, this money-centred attitude should at least put the main blame on the sitting gov't for wasting the better part of a billion $ on the election itself. Campaign spending comes from people interesting in their party's success. Elections are funded by the people, whether they want an election or not. As for Mr. Fawcett's attitude to Mr. Singh, well, it seems he wants him out. For what? Not being enough like Layton? Not being enough like Mulcair? Being too well liked? Feels more like a centrist hit piece, this "opinion."

And not even a mention at how the lack of polling stations at college and university campuses this election might have affected turnout with a key NDP demographic? Seems like a curious oversight.

Good point! But to go there the author would have to be actually hoping for NDP success and alert to the real obstacles in their way, instead of suggesting they’re “just done.”

Queen's had one polling station on campus. But while we're on the subject of a key NDP demographic. How fair is it to allow university students to vote in their university 'communities' like Kingston when the 22,000 students can adversely affect the outcome of an election and force permanent residents to live with a candidate they didn't elect for 4 years, long after the students have gone back 'home'? Students should vote in the ridings where their provincial health cards are domiciled and not as 'blocks' to be used by the NDP, especially, when, as in the case of Queen's students, their total irresponsibility both pre-pandemic and during the pandemic in hosting massive street/house parties shows absolute disrespect for the permanent residents who have to suffer the consequences of their behaviour? Breakwater Beach has been fenced off because students won't obey health regulations and police are constantly at risk trying to keep the peace. Elections Canada needs to change this dynamic. Let students vote and party where they live!

You make a good point, but students have the option of voting on campus for either the local candidate or the candidate in their home riding (i.e. where their parents live). First- and second-year students would likely vote for candidates in their home ridings. Moreover, while the NDP and Greens are preferred by younger people, some also vote Lib and Con.
And you are painting all students across the country with the same brush based on Queens.

If I am not mistaken, campus votes are reflective of their home ridings, not the school's riding. When your ID is presented at the voting station, a "candidate response list" is given to each person based on where they consider actual home "Voting is by special ballot, and you cast your ballot for wherever you consider your home riding to be. So, if your home is in Alberta's Red Deer-Lacombe riding but you are going to school at Holland College in Charlottetown, you would write in the first and last name of your preferred candidate for your riding back home in Alberta."
As for those little vacuum heads partying like there is nothing wrong, it isn't just at Queen's and not just during the elections. They all need a swift kick in the backside, a slap upside the head and if it continues, perhaps a toe out the door for spell.

Instead of all this arguing about where to vote, lets have proportional representation (PR). That way every vote would count, no matter where it was cast. Under PR, Parliament would look like this: CONS, 114 seats; LIBS, 110 seats; NDP, 60; BQ, 26; PPC, 17; GRN 8). No more less than 40% of the vote giving someone a 'majority" government. See how the system skews reality?

Yeah, I was wondering about that. I hate pieces that leave out the most relevant context. On a quick google, I'm surprised that I'm not seeing anything at all about Liberal or Conservative campaign spending in 2021.

The tactical error the NDP made was assuming that increasing its advertising budget would produce more votes. "As NDP national director Anne McGrath told the Toronto Star, 'We are spending more on advertising in this campaign than we spent on the entire campaign last time — so that’s pretty significant.'"

Increasing advertising--e.g. the 'air war'--comes with exponentially diminishing returns. It's the messaging darling because it's so easy to do, and it's pitched to them by advertising and PR agencies that take a cut of the buy.

The proven way to increase the vote is to increase the 'ground war:' knocking on doors, meeting voters face-to-face. Usually, ceteris paribus, the politician who meets the most voters face-to-face wins.

Sometimes the shiny new 'thing' (in politics today, it's social media) is not an improvement on proven methods.

Political parties that put too many of their campaign eggs in social and earned media are always disappointed. They're easily bamboozled by the hype fed to them by agencies, social media acolytes, and journalists.

In politics, the most effective campaign medium is still directly talking to a voter, as inconvenient, difficult, and unflashy as that might be.

In the next election, the NDP should consider using its money to materially reward as many of its supporters as it can to canvas the electoral districts where polling suggests it has a reasonable probability of winning.

In my riding, as it sounds like it was in others, there appears to have been no ground game.

I've voiced my opinion to the party that a leadership cult approach doesn't translate into votes. Especially if, as it seems, all the funding oxygen went straight to the top.

I couldn't agree more. When those of us on the left actually want the government we've been imagining, we'll all be out there, talking to our neighbours, putting up signs, delivering leaflets, attending town hall meetings. Turning things over to the big money, whether through advertising or relying on central party apparatchiks is not the road to victory..........it's an easy down hill ride however, and in recent years, most of us have been on it.

In this riding, often held by the NDP, I didn't see a single election sign for them. Their candidate had not thought much beyond how Ottawa could make her own job easier for those still in it. She had not even worked with a good photographer.
The Conservatives are so slick at PR that it does not arouse much suspicion. Where the NDP seems really slick is when certain parties don't like a membership vote, and it vanishes.

The NDP doesn't need a new leader. As you've pointed out in this article, Singh is the most popular of the party leaders. (It's worth pointing out that Jack Layton was leader for 8 years before he succeeded in making the NDP the official opposition. Singh has only been leader 4 years.)

For the NDP's popularity to translate into more seats, what is needed is voting reform. The same applies to the Greens.

As a Green voter (who decided to support the NDP's Avi Lewis in this election) I talk to people during campaigns. Time and again, people in my community tell me they "cannot" vote NDP or Green in case they "split the vote and the Conservative gets in". Strategic voting CANNOT be left out of any analysis of election results.

Without voting reform, we'll never see how much support the smaller parties truly have. Even tweaking our current system to include ranked ballots would be better than the system that we have now. At least then ballots would show the real levels of support. But personally, I'd like to see us move to proportional representation. (According to fairvote.ca, "Over 90 countries use a proportional voting system, including over 80 per cent of OECD countries, such as Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, and Denmark. The US, the UK and Canada are the main outliers.")

However, I do agree that the NDP "needs to do better on defining issues like climate change".

Exactly. I'm more in favour of a ranked ballot or an STV, but hey, anything to discourage wedge politics and force folks to work together more than they currently do would be an improvement. And having an effective vote while voting for the best candidate instead of against the worst one would guarantee, if there is such a thing in life, more good ones get elected and we are governed better as a result. Better politicians? Incented to work together instead of to drive political wedges? No more regional parties like the Bloc Quebecois, punching well above they're weight? I could go on and on because the flaws of FPTP are so well known and so well discussed amongst the readership here.

I'm sure that by ditching FPTP we'd be trading a basket of issues we know for a new basket ones that may surprise, but something has to give, because we're not getting the governance we need to properly look out for the common good; tackling the climate catastrophe instead of denying, delaying or betting on ineffective strategies: future technologies, which may one day provide magic, for instance, instead of doing the hard work now. If anything doing the hard work now will give resources to and motivate those who work on the magic.

We're all collectively bobbing out on the ocean in a dinghy that's filling up with water. We need politicians who will frantically start to bail out that water, even by cupped hand, instead of just sitting, arms folded, some denying that there's even a problem (a full-half is dinghy is the new normal don'tcha know?) while others just focus on corralling their floating (and sinking) toys while they wait for someone or something to drop out of the sky with a bigger bucket.

Well, we do need proportional representation. But Layton showed breakthroughs can be done without it. And on the other hand, even with proportional representation, plenty of barriers against left-of-centre parties would remain, with the media being the biggest. Most Canadian media is concentrated in the ownership of a few very rich people and dependent on ads from very rich corporations. Any political party or movement backing interests other than the moneyed few is going to get portrayed poorly (or simply given as little coverage as they can get away with) in such a media environment.

Agreed, there are layers of problems. But our current Rome wasn't built in a day. :) Get more of the best candidates elected (candidates that people vote for). Work together. Ask better questions. Make better decisions. Fix policy.

I'd just add...........get off these devices next time around and talk your values and principles to the street. Door knocking isn't as hard as we imagine, nor as boring. If we want a better Canada many more of us need to show up. That is also the answer to educating the central party operatives who think they know what people want and how little people have to contribute. It's called Activism, and its the best learning curve I know of.

I'd just add...........get off these devices next time around and talk your values and principles to the street. Door knocking isn't as hard as we imagine, nor as boring. If we want a better Canada many more of us need to show up. That is also the answer to educating the central party operatives who think they know what people want and how little people have to contribute. It's called Activism, and its the best learning curve I know of.

Who made the decisions as to funding to the leader's photo ops as opposed to funding to the ridings?
I'm still not sure my donation went to the candidate, as it had to be made through the Ottawa office.

Agreed on voting reform. But the NDP still rang in a little less than 20% in the final count. Way back when the party spiked to 42% for a week or two under Ed Broadbent. Jack Layton also had a temporary bump which he quickly used to collapse the government he was the minority partner in, dreaming that he could be PM. Well, Stephen Harper came waltzing up the aisle and remained on the stage for a very dark decade.

This is to say that the NDP are as certain to place political strategizing, reading daily polls and stupid sports analogies above principles as any other party. At this point in time they really need to regroup, embrace their powerful role as a minority partner in a genuine, legit government, and enjoy the fact that they got to be part of it with less than 1/5th of the popular vote. And drive home their best and most accountable policies with more force this time.

Waiting for the NDP to form a majority government is like waiting for the second coming. It's always around the next corner. Instead, the NDP needs to be comfortable as the social conscience of the nation and as a party with negotiating power with a Liberal Party and leader that are one term away from being spent out.

Trudeau seems to be more open now to ranked ballots, which he differentiated from proportional voting. Well, what's the difference when anything is better than majoritarian systems that allow false majority governments to seize the reins of power? Is he blustering or serious this time, knowing that dropping PR was one of the first Big Promises he broke?

Hi Alison,
Don't buy the ranked ballot system, that's what Trudeau wanted. Proportional Representation (PR) is the only way to go. But as many veterans of the PR campaigns in BC will tell you, you have a huge fight on your hands.

Hard not to agree. I was an early supporter of Singh but have to agree he comes across as lightweight in ads. And call me sexist if you like, but I don't find a pink turban a good look for a national leader. None of their criticisms of the Liberals stuck. I was also disappointed to see the NDP "punching down" at the Greens last week. A pretty desperate move when the Greens are already so low in the polls.