Canada For NDP, optimism in Halifax is more than skin deep: 'It feels very positive'
Windsor-Essex NDP candidates point to housing woes, make final campaign push
Windsor residents Neha Chana and her husband Tejpal Singh are frustrated that they haven’t bought their first home yet. The young couple was presented to media by Windsor-Essex NDP candidates on Friday to illustrate the challenges of the housing market across the region and beyond. “The biggest concern of mine is housing,” said Chana, 28, who works in production at Vistaprint. “We have been looking at houses non-stop. Cannot find anything.” Singh, also 28, works as a press operator at Can Art. Chana and Singh currently live with Chana’s parents, but are eager to have their own place and start a family.
As Lisa Roberts canvasses in Halifax’s North End, part of her election campaign pitch is to harken back to when the riding was an NDP stronghold.
Roberts tells those who answer the door that she is trying to win back the riding previously held by Alexa McDonough and then Megan Leslie. McDonough looms large in both the political history of the region and of the NDP; she was the first woman to lead a major political party in Canada when she took the helm of the Nova Scotia NDP 40 years ago and then led the federal NDP for eight years, stepping down in 2003.
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Roberts has a history of her own in the area, having twice been elected as the provincial MLA in Halifax Needham.
“It feels very positive and possible,” she says in an interview, sitting on a bench in a shady neighbourhood park. “Halifax is where we stand the best and most obvious chance, but I’m doing what I can to boost the other NDP candidates across the province.”
Those candidates include 25-year-old Jenna Chisholm, who is hoping to take back the riding of Sackville–Preston–Chezzetcook, previously held by NDP MP Peter Stoffer for nearly 20 years.
Chisholm has been involved with the NDP at the local level since she was 15, working both federal and provincial elections — her first tattoo was a quote from former NDP leader Jack Layton. “I have ‘love is better than anger, hope is better than fear, optimism is better than despair’ tattooed on the middle of my back,” she says. “For a lot of people, their first tattoo is something they regret, but for me it’s something that I still stand by every day.”
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OTTAWA — The NDP have been riding high on the popularity of leader Jagmeet Singh, polling near historic highs just days out from the election. But another, less obvious, factor might provide an additional boost: a Conservative Party that’s lagging in the polls. Analysts are constantly weighing the impact of strategic voting in a campaign, which tends to be motivated by keeping an opponent out of power rather than getting a preferred candidate in. In recent Canadian elections, strategic voters have largely consisted of leakage between Liberal-NDP supporters.
After the Liberals swept Atlantic Canada in 2015, the NDP lost all six of their seats in the region. In 2019, the party clawed back one of those when Jack Harris regained his St. John’s seat.
But now the NDP has generally been polling higher in this campaign, at around 20 per cent, compared to the 16 per cent of the popular vote it received in the last election. The party won’t share how many seats it’s hoping to win this time, but some projections based on the polling numbers show that it could add more than a dozen new MPs on Sept. 20.
In a campaign where the Liberals and Conservatives have been neck-and-neck, and where the possibility of a minority Parliament is ever present, each new NDP riding in this region could be critical if the party is to hold the balance of power.
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The party is hoping some of those seats could come from the Halifax area. In the riding of Halifax and Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, the NDP came in second to the Liberal winners in 2019, while others were more of a three-way race with Conservative challengers.
Roberts is facing off with Liberal incumbent Andy Fillmore, who won the riding with a 12-per-cent margin over the NDP candidate last time around. As Roberts canvasses the North End, Fillmore is in the city’s Cowie Hill neighbourhood.
Since his election in 2015, Fillmore has had a chance to build relationships in the riding. One couple in a rowhouse thank him for his help with a passport issue their son was having, but they’re still not sure whether they’ll vote Liberal this time – though the woman concedes it may not be a good time to change governments.
Another pitch of Fillmore’s – like the wider Liberal campaign – is to talk about the Liberal record of managing the COVID-19 pandemic. A younger woman standing outside with her dog doesn’t know which way she plans to vote either. She agrees with Fillmore that his government did a good job with the pandemic, but she’s less sure about the party’s record on other issues, like climate.
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“I’m going to keep on having conversations, right up until the day of the election, and remind people of the good work that I’ve been able to do here in Halifax for them, and the good work that the Liberal government has done across the country,” Fillmore says in an interview.
Fillmore is predicting the battle in Atlantic Canada will be between the NDP and the Liberal Party. He says the three “headliners at the door” are climate, health care and housing.
Voters are “going to be looking for the most credible platform and the most credible record on those matters. So I think my job is to, again, highlight what we’ve been able to achieve,” Fillmore says. That includes federal investment; the riding of Halifax “went from very near the bottom of the barrel, in terms of federal investment, to the fifth most-invested-in federal riding in the country” after the Liberals were elected in 2015, he notes.
Those three issues are part of Roberts’ campaign as well. While she’s canvassing, two youth, a woman with a career in the arts, and a small group of seniors sitting in the shade outside of their apartment building, all bring up their concerns about housing costs.
Roberts argues that the health care transfer system, “that was negotiated under Stephen Harper, but executed and implemented under Justin Trudeau, does not work for Nova Scotia. We have an aging demographic that is getting even older, and our health care funding is per capita.”
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Throughout Election 44 we are publishing this special daily edition of First Reading, our politics newsletter, to keep you posted on the ins and outs (and way outs) of the campaign. To get an early version sent direct to your inbox every weekday at 6 p.m. ET, sign up here. DEBATE HIGHLIGHTS Last night was the only English-language debate of Election 44. Find the National Post’s full recap here. What follows are First Reading’s highlights from the Wednesday French-language debate (or “debat des chefs,” as they call it). “ I’m sorry Mr. Trudeau, but this is an undesired election ,” was how moderator Patrice Roy opened the debate .
She says one issue over which the NDP may be able to attract voters at the expense of the Liberals is climate change. “I think the disappointing track record on climate change is a very significant one for all kinds of voters,” she says.
“The Greens put a lot of effort into Halifax in the last election, and I don’t think that they will be a significant factor in this election. I think the NDP in Halifax, at least, is likely to be the destination for some of those voters.”
One challenge for Roberts is that the campaign comes at a time when university students are moving, meaning some will have just arrived and will have to prove residence in Halifax. This is a particular concern for the NDP, who generally tends to do better with younger voters, a demographic the party has been targeting in the lead up to and during the election.
It’s also a demographic Chisholm, in Sackville–Preston–Chezzetcook, falls squarely into. One of the reasons she decided to run was that she got sick of seeing politicians who didn’t represent her – not her age, gender, or overall life experience, she says.
Chisholm is trying to take the riding from Liberal incumbent Darrel Samson, who is 62. She has to contend with the Conservatives as well. The party, now represented by Angela Conrad, got nearly as many votes as the NDP did in the riding in the last election.
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We’re almost certainly getting another minority government come election night, says Randy Boswell, and it may not be immediately clear who will get to become prime minister. That’s right: finishing first in Monday’s vote is not an iron-clad guarantee the top party’s leader will take command of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO). However, the threshold for forming a government isn’t complicated. Strike a formal or tacit agreement among 170 MPs to pursue a legislative agenda — from as many parties as it takes — and you get the keys to the kingdom.
“I’ve gotten to know a lot of the people locally, and seen how badly they need and want change at the federal level. And I feel like, historically, most of our community members are NDP at heart,” Chisholm says.
Chisholm says the key for the NDP to flip some of the ridings that are currently Liberal will be focusing on issues and relationships.
“With myself being Mi’kmaw and our Indigenous people across the country, we know that we put our trust in Trudeau six years ago, and he let us down immensely. And it’s been like a continuous process of pain for a lot of our communities,” she says, citing examples like the government not supporting Indigenous fishers and breaking its promise to eliminate drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by March of this year.
“And so, that hope of rebuilding relationships and having someone that will start from the bottom and work through things with us, that’s crucial.”
One strategy the NDP has used to reach the millennial and Gen Z demographic is social media – leader Jagmeet Singh joined the video platform TikTok in the last election and has grown a following there since. Instagram and especially Facebook are also an important part of Chisholm’s campaign. As she canvasses, she points people to her social media accounts.
She says social media allows her to leave a lasting impression on people in the riding.
“Now they can see me a little bit more, get to know me a little bit better than they would if they just met me on their doorstep once,” Chisholm explains.
In the Halifax area, like the rest of Nova Scotia, the start of the federal campaign overlapped with the provincial election that saw the Progressive Conservatives win a surprise majority on Aug. 17. Some federal candidates helped canvass for their provincial counterparts and then had to jump into their own campaign, volunteers who worked the provincial election are tired, and some voters at the door are suffering from election fatigue.
NDP looks to reclaim Layton's legacy — and the seats that come with it
A reporter asks NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh about Jody Wilson-Raybould's book about the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Jonathan Roberts, an associate professor at Mount Saint Vincent University and NDP candidate for Halifax West, says the NDP gained a “lot of momentum from the provincial campaign on housing. People realized that the Liberal government here, the provincial government, just wasn’t going to do anything about it.”
Like Chisholm, Roberts is in a three-way race. In 2019, the NDP and Conservative candidates got nearly the same amount of votes, both ringing in at 19 per cent.
Liberal Geoff Regan, who held the seat for the previous two decades (and another four-year stint in the 90s), won by a large margin last time, but he’s not running for re-election. Instead, Roberts is facing off with Liberal candidate Lena Metlege Diab and Conservative Eleanor Humphries.
As Roberts door-knocks in the neighbourhood of Fairview – where he says increasingly unaffordable housing is the biggest issue – he notes the neighbourhood is full of houses the government built for soldiers returning from the Second World War. It’s an example from the past as Canada faces an ongoing housing crisis, he says, explaining the NDP plan is to spur the building of the 500,000 affordable homes they’ve promised through tax policy and incentives.
Ultimately, one key factor is whether the NDP is able to take some of its old ridings back, or whether they stay Liberal, is what the voters think about the Liberal record.
The key for the NDP to get through to voters is targeting the grassroots and in authenticity, Roberts says.
“When we say we’re going to do this and we’re going to do that, we actually mean we’re going to do it. And of course we’ve never been in power, so no one can say we never did it,” he says. “Whereas, the other parties have been in power, and they say they’re gonna do it, and they don’t.
“The Liberals, they’ve broken so many promises… it’s just not possible for them to have the credibility.”
Fillmore, on the other hand, predicts that in the later stages of the campaign, people will think back on the Liberal record favourably.
“People will have a chance, when they get back from vacation and back from the cottage and put their heads back in the game … to reflect on the way in which the pandemic has been managed by the federal government, the vaccine rollout, the supports for individuals and businesses and organizations.”
He hopes that record will lead them to conclude — as the woman in Cowie Hill did — that “now’s not the right time to make a change.”
From now until the bitter end of, the National Post is publishing a special daily edition of First Reading, our newsletter, to keep you posted on the ins and outs (and way outs) of the campaign. All curated by the National Post’s own Tristin Hopper and published Monday to Friday at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 9 a.m. Sign up .
NDP looks to reclaim Layton's legacy — and the seats that come with it .
A reporter asks NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh about Jody Wilson-Raybould's book about the SNC-Lavalin affair.