There was a crucial moment in the 2015 prime minister debates. The candidates were asked about their respective stances on the budget and deficits. Harper and Mulcair both went with the safe answer – balance the budget. Justin Trudeau proclaimed that he was going to run a deficit for the first three years, and then balance the budget. Whether it was Trudeau putting his own progressive touch on a traditionally moderate party, or Gerald Butts’ master plan, regardless of the reasoning, it worked. He was seen as the progressive alternative to a centre-right Harper and a centre-left Mulcair.
How Jagmeet Singh can emulate that success in 2019:
Channel your inner-Pelosi:
Let’s make one thing clear, Jagmeet Singh is no Jack Layton. Singh needs to be more vocal in his opposition by staying on message. If the 2018 Midterm elections in the U.S taught us anything it’s that sticking to your platform and message, and not worrying about what the other side are doing can work. Nancy Pelosi was one of the architects behind the Democrat’s Midterm strategy that saw an inarguable blue wave take the House of Representatives. The strategy was twofold – stay on message, and champion the inside outside strategy.
Staying on message:
There was no shortage of noise coming from the Trump White House prior to the 2018 election. An invasion of migrants on the southern border, Robert Mueller’s witch hunt, telling his supporters that he was on the ballot (only to retract in a later interview with Fox News). Democrats didn’t bother going head to head with republicans on any of those issues. Instead they chose where the fight was going to be fought – and they chose healthcare. Every time republicans took a hit at their counterparts for being weak on immigration, the democrats responded by saying they want to take away your healthcare. It was a strategy that they didn’t implement in 2016 – they failed to stay on message then. But in 2018 they got it right; when they hit low, we hit back with health care. Jagmeet Singh has already shown that he can respond with love and courage. Now he needs to show that he can stay on point and never lose sight of the ball.
The 2018 Midterms saw a wave of racially diverse, young, democratic candidates get elected to congress. They knocked on as many doors as they could and they made the election about the people not the special interests. We’ve heard Beto O’Rourke repeatedly say he’s for the people not the PAC’s, and although he lost his bid for the Senate, he was right: people vote, not PAC’s. The NDP fundraising efforts have been in staunch decline, they need to go back to the grassroots to get the vote out.
Be a staunch republican:
Many tories and NDP’ers voted Liberal in 2015 simply because the Liberals were unapologetically pro-legalization of marijuana. It was a big tent issue that saw a host of different voters vote Liberal because they wanted to see that campaign promise fulfilled. Bringing the sovereignty from the crown debate to centre stage in Canada could be that fringe wedge issue that serves as a big tent for Jagmeet Singh. There’s clearly a global appetite for populism, and if the British can trigger article 19 and hold a referendum to leave the EU, then why can’t Canada do the same? Singh needs to continue to champion this issue in a populist fashion. In a November 4th interview with CTV news, Singh said that he was a republican not a monarchist. It’s that kind of unapologetic authenticity that people need to see more of. Singh needs to position himself as a real populist, not a Trump-style faux populist. Championing this issue and promising to hold a referendum to let Canadians decide their future could see him get one step closer to moving into 24 Sussex next October. Pushing the wedge issue of being a republican can open a Pandora’s Box of opportunity for electoral/parliamentary reform. The current Westminster system being used in Canada is extremely top heavy. The power lies with the party leaders and the cabinet. Voting against party lines or speaking against the party platform is political suicide in this country.
However, that’s not the case in the United States. The senate vote on the skinny repeal of the ACA highlights why moving to a presidential democracy similar to that in the U.S could be another wedge voter issue for the NDP. The late John McCain enters the chamber at 2 am, and dramatically gives the dais a thumbs down. The repercussions of that vote are not the same repercussions that might have occurred in Canada. If the same events (hypothetically) unfolded in Canada, John McCain would say goodbye to any cabinet position aspirations, and more importantly he would be removed from the caucus by the party leader. But a presidential democracy gives more power to the individual lawmaker, not the party leadership. After that vote, John McCain was accountable to two groups of people – his voters and campaign donors, full stop. He would have had to weigh whether that decision would (a) cost him votes and (b) result in a loss of funding. Ultimately, his decision is down to the voters and whether his re-election would be jeopardized by voting against the skinny repeal. Luckily for McCain, he’s the senator of a purple state and his decision was pretty on brand for him. Moving towards a presidential democracy could be the big tent issue for Jagmeet to run on.
Own your platform:
The NDP platform is nothing if not expensive. It includes a federal $15 minimum wage, paid sick leave, universal pharma care, and the list goes on. Singh needs to embrace these positions. Canadians understand the price that has to be paid to achieve these promises – higher taxes. Singh needs to rebrand the NDP as the true progressive party of Canada if he wants to win. He needs to do that by not beating around the bush. If the price to be paid is higher taxes then own it, don’t avoid it. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and the rest of the unapologetic progressives in the U.S, have made that crystal clear. A $15 federal minimum wage, universal pharma-care, paid sick leave, dental care, eye-care, expanding senior’s benefits – these promises don’t come without a cost. And Singh’s’ best bet is to be transparent with how the NDP plan on paying for them – higher taxes. Bernie Sanders was fully transparent about how he planned to finance his platform, and even if you disagreed with him, you appreciated his non-politician like nature of being honest. He owned his platform; Jagmeet Singh needs to own his – Canadians will appreciate it.
Be a visionary:
Jagmeet Singh’s mission should be to show the world that the far to commonly mentioned ‘Nordic social democracy’ model of governance can be successfully applied in Canada. That system is often criticized for only being applicable in countries with small populations, extensive natural resources, and an ethnically homogenous population. The NDP need to implement that system of governance in Canada federally or die trying. Take a play out of the books of Stacey Abrams, Beto O’Rourke, and Andrew Gillum. Beto O’Rourke ran as an unapologetic progressive in a state that hasn’t seen a democrat statewide since 1994. He was progressive, unapologetic, and most importantly, authentic. He only lost Texas by 2-3 points.