OTTAWA—The relevance of the NDP in an election year will be put to the test next month in federal byelections called yesterday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Trudeau set Feb. 25 as the date for byelections in the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe, Montreal's Outremont, and B.C.'s Burnaby South—where NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is hoping to win a seat in the House of Commons.
The latter two will be important tests for New Democrats, who have been struggling to find their footing since their party was relegated to a distant third in the 2015 general election, reversing the NDP's historic 2011 breakthrough.
The NDP has trailed the Liberals and Conservatives badly in both fundraising and opinion polls ever since—a situation that benefits the ruling party and worries the Tories, who want a strong NDP to siphon off Liberal votes.
For Singh, victory in Burnaby South is crucial, giving him an opportunity to raise his profile and shake off internal criticism about his leadership.
Defeat could prompt New Democrats to dump Singh and replace him ahead of the Oct. 21 general election.
“The time for timid is over," Singh said in a news conference outside a Burnaby SkyTrain station. He said he's ready to "fight Ottawa” and push for policies that will make life easier and more affordable.
“I'm determined to make people the priority,” he pledged.
The riding is no cakewalk for Singh, a former Ontario MPP whose political home had been Brampton, northwest of Toronto.
Kennedy Stewart, now Vancouver mayor, won Burnaby South for the NDP in 2015 with just over 500 votes more than the Liberal contender.
But Singh will benefit somewhat from the Green Party's decision not to field a candidate in the byelection, extending so-called “leader's courtesy” to a leader seeking to enter Parliament.
The Liberals, after much internal debate about whether to stand down, are running daycare operator Karen Wang while the Conservatives are fielding corporate lawyer Jay Shin.
Former talk-show host Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, who has championed opposition to B.C.'s inclusive approach to dealing with gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, is running for the new People's Party of Canada led by former Conservative MP Maxime Bernier.
Singh said he's confident of his prospects but also said he'll lead the NDP into the next general election whether he wins or loses the byelection.
The race in Outremont, left vacant when former NDP leader Tom Mulcair resigned, also will be seen as a test of whether the NDP can hang on to what's left of the “orange wave” that swept Quebec in 2011.
Outremont had been a Liberal stronghold until Mulcair scored an upset in a 2007 byelection, establishing an NDP beachhead in Quebec for the party's breakthrough there four years later.
Trudeau's Liberals, who are running well ahead in the polls in Quebec, are gunning to take the seat back.
The Conservatives are expected to easily keep York-Simcoe, left vacant by the resignation of longtime Tory MP Peter Van Loan.
It remains to be seen what impact the fledgling People's Party of Canada might have. Bernier split from the Conservatives and created the new party last summer.
Bernier hasn't named byelection candidates in either Outremont or York-Simcoe but is expected to do so by the end of the week.