At some point, enough has to be enough. New Democrats have tended to show more patience with underperforming leaders than either Liberals or Conservatives — witness Andrea Horwath’s string of underwhelming election results as leader of the Ontario provincial party — but even the most stalwart loyalist has to be wondering if Jagmeet Singh’s time as their federal leader is running out.
Yes, the confidence-and-supply agreement he struck with Justin Trudeau bought the NDP precious time to rebuild its finances and shore up its support, but instead he’s spent it vacillating between criticizing and coddling the Liberal government. In the process, he’s managed to combine the worst aspects of his two primary competitors, blending Pierre Poilievre’s know-nothing populism with Trudeau’s irrepressible attraction to performative symbolism.
He’s also scored a bunch of policy goals on his own net, ones that undermine his party’s appeal with the voters — young, urban and working class — he needs to attract and retain. His latest was a suggestion that homeowners facing rising mortgage payments need some sort of federal support or subsidy, an idea that was pilloried by some of Canada’s biggest housing policy wonks on both the left and the right. “We’re talking about what we can do right now to give people relief,” Singh said in a press conference. “There’s a lot of countries that are looking into real solutions to give people a bit of a break who are struggling with the cost of a mortgage. We wanna see those aggressive steps be taken here in Canada.”
Giving taxpayer money to homeowners who have benefited from the sharp increase in prices of late is definitely an aggressive step. But it’s one that’s pretty obviously going in the wrong direction, given the sort of behaviour it would reward and the moral hazard it could create. It would be a bad idea coming from the Conservative Party of Canada. But coming from the leader of the country’s supposed social democratic party, one that depends vitally on support from renters, new Canadians and non-homeowners, it’s the public policy equivalent of a cry for help — or a slap in the face.
It’s not the only one Singh has delivered of late. In another interview with Politico, he talked about how young lawyers like him could no longer afford to buy houses in Mississauga, as though the NDP’s stronghold was somehow rooted in the legal community. This is of a piece for the current iteration of the NDP in Ontario, whose leaders seem to think his party’s electoral strength lies among the urban professional crowd rather than the more traditional blue-collar and union member NDP base. It helps explain how Doug Ford ate Horwath’s lunch with those same voters in the last two provincial elections, and why Poilievre is so clearly targeting them right now.
If Singh was trying to shift his party’s support towards younger urban voters, his latest policy brainfart isn’t going to help. But then again, neither did his fascination with TikTok, where his now-suspended account seemed to form the basis for his youth outreach efforts in the 2021 election. The party’s own debrief of that campaign noted: “There was suggestion that Jagmeet’s notoriety on TikTok makes him appear ‘less serious,’ which needs to be addressed.”
At this point, letting him lead the party into the next election could be a suicide mission. Some models have the NDP winning fewer than 20 seats, and Singh’s ongoing play for more urban votes seems especially risky in an environment where the next election will be framed as an existential battle between Poilievre and Trudeau. With almost no seats left in Quebec and the possibility of losing even more in rural Ontario and B.C., the NDP might want to consider replacing its leader before the country does it for them.
No, Singh wouldn’t go without a fight. As he said in the Politico interview, “I've got lots of energy,” he said. “And I'm just getting better with time.” But time is something the federal NDP doesn’t have a lot of to spare, and his recent comments don’t exactly prove his point for him. Canada desperately needs a progressive party that speaks clearly and unapologetically to the interests of marginalized populations and the less fortunate, not one that tries to bail out indebted middle-class homeowners who have seen the value of their houses skyrocket in recent years. If Singh can’t see the problem here, maybe it’s time he made way for someone who can.