NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won’t have a free pass if he runs in a byelection

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won't have a free pass if he runs in a byelection
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh won't have a free pass if he runs in a byelection

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will have to fight for a seat in Parliament before next year’s federal election.

The Conservatives say they will run a candidate against Singh if he decides to contest in the future byelection, marking a break of sorts with parliamentary convention. The Liberals are noncommittal.

“We’ll be running a candidate,” said Cory Hann, director of communications for the Conservatives, in an email.

The Liberals “would welcome the opportunity to present a candidate in any riding which becomes vacant,” said Marjolaine Provost, manager of media relations with the party, in response to a question about the Liberals’ intentions should Singh seek a seat before the general election.

“The Liberal Party has made no formal decisions on nominations or candidates as the by-elections haven’t been called yet,” the spokesperson added.

In the past, a party leader without a seat in the House of Commons generally has been given a free pass by the other parties when running in a by-election in a riding previously held by that leader’s party. But Singh will not be offered that courtesy if he decides to run in one of the by-elections likely to be held before the end of the year.

Singh’s party has been struggling lately with fundraising and in the polls. The NDP has suffered a series of disappointing by-election results. Moreover, Singh has opted not to take a salary from the party which is a costly proposition for a man who has not received any paycheques since resigning from his seat in the Ontario provincial legislature last year.

At least four by-elections will be held in the coming months. Only one is for a seat that’s actually vacant right now, following the death of Conservative MP Gord Brown in May. A by-election date for Brown’s former eastern Ontario riding of Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes must be set by Oct. 30.

Other seats will become vacant soon. In April, Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio announced he would resign his Montreal seat of St. Léonard–St. Michel over the summer. Brown’s and Di Iorio’s seats are considered safe seats for the incumbent parties, out of which neither are really plausible options for Singh.

The upcoming resignations of two NDP MPs, however, open up better prospects for Singh. The Montreal riding of Outremont will be vacant after former NDP leader Tom Mulcair officially steps aside over the summer, as will Kennedy Stewart’s British Columbia seat of Burnaby South. Stewart is running to be the mayor of Vancouver in this fall’s municipal election.

Neither seat would be a slam-dunk for Singh. Burnaby South was won by a narrow margin in 2015 and the NDP is struggling to hold its support in Quebec, but they are still seats where a New Democrat is the incumbent. If the Liberals or Conservatives decide not to run a candidate in those ridings, they have nothing to lose. But it looks like they won’t be doing that.