NDP veterans in B.C. laid groundwork for federal party's revival under Jagmeet Singh

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      As I reflect on the federal NDP's Lazarus-like emergence in this election campaign, it's clear that veteran political warhorses were part of the equation.

      While Jagmeet Singh has deservedly received tremendous praise for his poise, compassion, and ability to connect with voters, he's been ably assisted by NDP politicians with decades of experience.

      Vancouver Kingsway incumbent Don Davies, for instance, was the first to start talking about dental care in his role as the NDP health critic. This made it into the NDP platform, demonstrating a key difference between his party and the Liberals.

      Davies has also tried to play up the hollowness of Liberal promises around a national pharmacare program.

      He's done this by repeatedly pointing out that this was being pledged by Jean Chrétien as far back as 1997.

      In fact, Davies was such an effective health critic that he's even been endorsed by a former Liberal health minister, Jane Philpott, who bore the brunt of his cross-examinations in Question Period.

      Jenny Kwan, the incumbent for Vancouver East, has also helped the NDP's fortunes with her hardnosed criticism in Parliament of the Liberal record on immigration and multiculturalism.

      The Liberal brand is rooted in being the party for minorities—a brand forged decades ago. Justin Trudeau helped reinforce that by inviting 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada in 2015.

      But it was Kwan who pressed the Liberals to abandon the third-party agreement with the Americans on refugees, which Trudeau refused to do. She also highlighted failures in the government's citizenship legislation.

      And she drove home the point that the Liberals' refusal to grant permanent-residency status to caregivers until they spent two years in a government program was inhumane.

      In the process, she often reminded many voters that Trudeau isn't quite as progressive as he likes to present himself.

      The upshot was the NDP repositioned itself as a legitimate contender for the votes of immigrants and people of colour. This was further advanced by the election of Jagmeet Singh as party leader, which came about, in part, because of her endorsement.

      Kwan has also spent many years listening to and learning from Indigenous leaders in the region as a city councillor, MLA, and MP. This also likely a factor when major figures in the Indigenous movement signed on with the NDP rather than the Greens in this election campaign.

      When some veteran NDP MPs jumped ship, Peter Julian and Don Davies decided to run again—and they could end up wielding lots of influence if there's a minority government.
      Charlie Smith

      Then there was the credibility that long-time NDP MP Svend Robinson brought to the party on environmental issues as he tries to stage a political comeback in Burnaby North–Seymour.

      Robinson was a green-minded MP before there even was a federal Green party. This point was not lost on his backers, including former B.C. Green leader Stuart Parker and environmental legend David Suzuki.

      Another one stirring the drink has been Peter Julian, the NDP incumbent for Burnaby–New Westminster. He realized long before the devastating Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election that his party had to "green up" in time for the next election. He was ahead of his time in making these arguments.

      At the start of this campaign, Julian took his Green New Deal tour on the road in an attempt to prevent the hemorrhaging of NDP votes to Elizabeth May's party.

      In addition to being a fluent French speaker, Julian can converse in Mandarin, which has helped bring Taiwanese immigrants into the NDP camp. That, along with Kwan's fluent Cantonese, has played a role in rebranding the federal party as being more inclusive.

      These days, politics in Canada has become very leadercentric, particularly in the coverage of national campaigns.

      But on the ground, it's candidates like Davies, Kwan, Robinson, and Julian who laid a firm foundation for their party before the writ was issued.

      A political star may have been born in Canada in this campaign in the form of Jagmeet Singh.

      But let's not forget that he's also had a strong supporting cast of veterans in Metro Vancouver.

      Without them sticking around for one more election, Singh likely would not be where he is today.

      Comments