Jagmeet Singh tours Quebec in hopes of avoiding an NDP wipeout

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is touring Quebec this week, visiting ridings on the island of Montreal, in the Eastern Townships and in central Quebec. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is taking a Quebec road trip this week, visiting a handful of ridings he hopes his party can hold in October’s federal election.

But even though his pit stops are in ridings that offer the NDP some of its best chances for hanging on, Singh still faces an uphill climb to win any of them.

After visiting Montreal on Monday, Singh is in Sherbrooke in the Eastern Townships on Tuesday. His tour will take him next to the central Quebec ridings of Drummond, Trois-Rivières and Berthier–Maskinongé on Wednesday and Thursday.

These visits will include stops in nearly half of the 15 seats the New Democrats still hold in Quebec, where the party’s support has plummeted.

According to the CBC’s Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the New Democrats are at 9.4 per cent support in Quebec. That places them in fifth place, behind the leading Liberals (32.8 per cent), the Conservatives (23.5 per cent), the Bloc Québécois (18.5 per cent) and the Greens (11 per cent).

The party has been holding at single-digits in Quebec since the Jun. 25 update of the Poll Tracker. Seven different pollsters have put the NDP at less than 10 per cent support in Quebec in recent weeks. The party briefly polled at this level in the Poll Tracker in February, when the New Democrats lost the federal byelection in Outremont, the seat of former NDP leader Tom Mulcair.

The New Democrats dropped 17 points in that byelection, losing the seat to the Liberals. It was in Outremont that the NDP’s ‘orange wave’ first started building, after Mulcair won the seat in a 2007 byelection.

The NDP’s support in the polls in Quebec is the lowest it’s been since before that 2007 win. If the NDP replicates its current polling in October’s election, it would be the party’s worst performance in the province since 2006 — which was the last time the NDP failed to win a single seat in Quebec.

The party might point out that things were looking equally bleak before its breakthrough in 2011, when it won 59 seats in the province. And the NDP was polling around 13 per cent three months before it captured 43 per cent of the Quebec vote in that federal election.

But every election is unique and the circumstances that contributed to that surge might not be on the table this time — particularly since Singh does not have the same links to Quebec that Jack Layton did.

Layton also benefited from the fact that no other national party at the time was being led by a Quebecer. That won’t be the case this time — and the debate over Quebec’s religious symbols law (which polls show is popular in the province) is unlikely to play in Singh’s favour.

Challenges in central Quebec

The four ridings that Singh will be visiting over the next few days include some that will be very difficult for the NDP to hold — and one where the work of the local MP might be enough to coax voters to buck the trend.

In Sherbrooke, Singh’s stop on Tuesday, the NDP managed to win by a margin of eight points in 2015, edging out the Liberals. New Democrat Pierre-Luc Dusseault still saw his support drop by six points from where it was in 2011, though that was a below-average loss in support for the New Democrats in Quebec.

One of the provincial seats within the federal riding of Sherbrooke went to Québec Solidaire in last year’s provincial election. QS shares a lot of the same ideological space as the NDP (as well as the party’s orange colour), though it is a sovereignist outfit. Still, the New Democrats will be looking at which bits of Quebec went orange in 2018 to learn where they have their best hopes of retaining seats in October.

The other seats Singh will visit this week in central Quebec went solidly for the centre-right Coalition Avenir Québec at the provincial level.

That includes Drummond, which the NDP won by only four points in 2015 after losing 21 percentage points since 2011. That steep loss of support suggests NDP MP François Choquette is unlikely to avoid a provincewide collapse in NDP support if current trends hold through to election day.

Trois-Rivières is another seat the New Democrats barely held in 2015, with Robert Aubin’s support slipping 18 points. He won by just under two points over the Liberals. This time, he also could face a stiff challenge from the Conservatives, who have chosen long-time mayor Yves Lévesque as their candidate.

All of these Quebec NDP seats are vulnerable because the NDP has dropped about 16 points in the province since 2015 — far more than the NDP’s margin of victory in these ridings.

NDP MP Ruth Ellen Brosseau was one of the few New Democrats to increase her support in the 2015 federal election. She will be running for re-election this October in the riding of Berthier–Maskinongé. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Berthier–Maskinongé could be one of the places where the New Democrats can hold on. Ruth Ellen Brosseau was one of the few NDP candidates to actually boost her support in the province over 2011, increasing her share of the vote by one point to 42 per cent.

But unless Brosseau’s own local popularity keeps her safe, the trend line in Quebec is steep enough for the NDP that it could lose this seat as well.

Tough but better odds in Montreal

Singh might have been on safer ground on Monday in Montreal. The NDP holds three seats on the island: Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie, Hochelaga and Laurier–Sainte-Marie.

All three seats overlap with those won by QS last year, in some cases by huge margins. The seats are in the progressive heart of Montreal, which should be fertile territory for the NDP. The Poll Tracker model gives the party more support here than anywhere else in the province.

But Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet lost 17 points in 2015 and held on by a one-point margin in Hochelaga, making it a tough seat for the New Democrats to hold.

Laurier–Sainte-Marie will be without an incumbent; Hélène Laverdière is not running again. The Liberals are gunning for this riding with environmental activist Steven Guilbeault, while the NDP is running Nima Machouf, the wife of former QS leader Amir Khadir.

The NDP MP elected with the widest margin of victory, Alexandre Boulerice, left, will be running for re-election in the Montreal riding of Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

Rosemont–La Petite-Patrie might offer the NDP’s best chance of holding a seat in Quebec. Alexandre Boulerice captured 49 per cent of the vote in the riding in 2015, losing only two points compared to his 2011 performance. The Bloc, his closest competitor, finished 28 points behind — the NDP’s widest margin of victory anywhere in Canada.

As Singh’s Quebec lieutenant, Boulerice is likely to get a lot of face time during the campaign. He’ll need the help, as the sagging trend line is theoretically enough to defeat him.

A visit from the NDP leader might not do the trick. The latest poll from Abacus Data found just 20 per cent of Quebecers have a positive impression of Singh (lower than anywhere else in the country), while 36 per cent hold a negative view of him. More visits to the province could shift opinion, however, as 44 per cent say they do not hold a strong view of Singh either way.

But if there is to be a future for his Quebec NDP caucus, those numbers will have to improve — and fast.

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