Most weeks so far in 2019 haven’t been so good for New Democrats. We’ve had a lot of negatives to point to, and people have been down. It’s been a rough period to be on Team Orange, but this week was one when a big shoe was expected to drop that had the chance to turn things around. This week started with a lot of promise and positivity.
On Monday that shoe dropped, with NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s solid win in the Burnaby South by-election, earning a seat in the House of Commons. Not only did he win with a larger margin than the NDP had in 2015, it helped to put to rest the questions about Singh’s future as lead. He won, he won well and earned his chance to take the party into the Fall election. That brought certainty that had been lacking for a while and offered a chance for the party to re-launch.
Later in the week, good news continued to come for the NDP in their response to the developments in the SNC/PMO Scandal. After Jody Wilson-Raybould’s bombshell testimony Wednesday evening, Jagmeet Singh came before the cameras, went live on national television and gave the perfect performance. He read that tone and mood of the moment right, he didn’t overplay his hand and came away from the evening looking the best out of the three major party leaders. In short, Jagmeet started to show some of what he was capable of doing.
If the week had ended right there, this would have been a great week for the New Democrats. But unfortunately that’s not where it ended, and two other shoes that have been hanging around for a while came crashing down. The first came on Thursday and the second came this evening:
While these announcements do bring us to 13 NDP MPs who are not offering again or who have left, the decisions by Murray and Nathan are not part of any narrative that people want to spin on this. For both of these members, they are long serving MPs and both travel some of the longest distances of any MP out there, coming from Vancouver Island and Northwest BC respectively. These are actually two decisions I had been expecting because of those facts, and also because I’ve gotten to know both of them a bit to different degrees.
Murray is someone I got to know pretty well in 2015. In that spring, I was approached about lending Murray’s office a hand; a good colleague of mine was dealing with health issues, and I was asked if I would go help Murray in his office for the last two months before the House of Commons rose for the election. When I first came in, he made me feel at home, comfortable and a part of the team, even though I had just showed up and was going back to my normal job in June. I also came to know him for his generosity and his wicked sense of humour. He is just a fun person to be around and after that, whenever I’d see him around the Hill, he’d always shot a quick quip or joke at me. He’s not just the great politician that everyone has got to see this week in the Justice committee, he’s the real deal as a person.
Nathan is someone who I got to be around over my nine years on Parliament Hill, including during the 2011/12 Leadership Race when I was helping run one of the other campaigns. But my favour memories of him are honestly one of my first. When I started working on Parliament Hill in late 2009, about once a week a group of staff and MPs would get together in Jack Layton’s MP office in the West Block, where most of us worked. Someone who get a larger TV and a DVD player, we’d order some food, bring some beverages and watch episodes of “The West Wing”. Nathan would take part in these evenings sometimes, like other caucus members would, and it was an awesome time. It was in those evenings that I really felt welcomed and I felt like I had joined a team. Of course, Nathan is prodigious for his parliamentary abilities too, as everyone also got to see this week. But after 15 years of some of the worst travel of all Parliamentarians and a young family, I respect and understand his decision.
While it’s sad to see the Orange Team lose two big parts like Nathan and Murray, their departures are not something nefarious. But this news tonight did make me reflect on what New Democrats face going forward, but also reflect on where the party was just four years ago and what might have been. Going into the 2015 election, the party had a deep front bench and had attracted some of the best candidates they ever had. That group some MPs such as:
Tom Mulcair, Megan Leslie, Paul Dewar, Charlie Angus, Craig Scott, Robert Chisholm, Jack Harris, Guy Caron, Romeo Saganash, Alex Boulerice, Helene Laverdiere, Ruth-Ellen Brousseau, Francoise Boivin, Nycole Turmel, Matthew Dube, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Irene Mathyssen, Dave Christopherson, Peggy Nash, Brian Masse, Malcolm Allen, Claude Gravelle, Niki Ashton, Pat Martin, Linda Duncan, Peter Julian, Kennedy Stewart, Nathan Cullen, Murray Rankin, Don Davies, Dennis Bevington
On top of that strong class for MPs running, they added some amazing new candidates in 2015 like:
Monika Dutt, Rosaire L’Italien, Maria Mourani, Daniel Caron, Hans Marotte, Andrew Thomson, Howard Hampton, Olivia Chow, Jennifer Hollett, John Fenik, Emilie Taman, Andrew Foulds, Noah Richler, Diane Freeman, Tracey Ramsey, Daniel Blaikie, Erin Selby, Aaron Paquette, Cameron Alexis, Carol Baird Ellan, Mira Oreck, Jack Anawak
Now going into 2019, here is the list of those remaining who are running:
Jagmeet Singh, Charlie Angus, Guy Caron, Niki Ashton, Brian Masse, Alex Boulerice, Ruth-Ellen Brousseau, Matthew Dube, Pierre-Luc Dusseault, Peter Julian, Don Davis, Tracey Ramsey, Emilie Taman, Daniel Blaikie
In this Parliament, some new members of the NDP caucus have stepped up to play bigger roles and have become part of that top team, like Ramsey, Blaikie, Karine Trudel and Rachel Blaney. But the caucus is still seeing lots of experience and institutional knowledge taking their leave. That will leave a big hole for the party without doubt.
The NDP is facing many issues, we all know that and I will go into some of those at a later and more appropriate time. This week though has really helped to show some of the challenges the party is going to face going forward though. While there are parts of this week that have been the best the group as had in weeks, seeing Cullen and Rankin leave hurts, no matter how much party members wish them well. They are the kinds of MPs that just don’t come along everyday, as are many of the others who have decided to take their leave. That can’t help but leave a hole. This is another challenge to add to the list of ones that Jagmeet Singh faces going forward. We’ll see how the Orange Team tackles those in the weeks and months ahead.