OTTAWA — “My friends, it’s a new day,” said NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh as he took the stage Monday night after winning a make-or-break byelection in Burnaby South and a seat in the House of Commons.Singh may well be looking to turn the page on the past year and a half. Since he was elected in October 2017, his leadership has been marked by poor polling, lacklustre fundraising and a steady trickle of caucus members making their way toward the exit.But with Monday’s victory, analysts say, Singh has a fresh chance to make a new impression on Canadians, albeit a little later in the game than he’d probably like. “The chatter is over,” B.C. MP Nathan Cullen told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday. “Mr. Singh’s ability to lead this caucus into the next election is 100 per cent secured.”Still, his problems aren’t all behind him: a few of his heavyweight MPs, including Cullen, have yet to say if they’ll run again in the next election, and he faces a major obstacle in Quebec, where the NDP lost Outremont, the riding held by former leader Thomas Mulcair since 2007, to the Liberals in another byelection on Monday. But the timing for a fresh start isn’t bad, said former NDP strategist Farouk Karim. Singh will take his place in the House of Commons while the Liberals are mired in the SNC-Lavalin controversy, and as they table their last budget before this year’s election.“It’s not often in life that you would have a second chance to make that impression,” Karim said. “And he has that opportunity.”In his victory speech, Singh worked hard to paint Liberals and Conservatives as interested only in helping their “well-connected corporate friends,” while leaving ordinary Canadians in the lurch. “People should be angry at that, angry at governments in Ottawa that continue to develop a system that puts more and more wealth into fewer and fewer hands,” he said, pointing to three issues — affordable housing, pharmacare and climate change — that will likely be pillars of the NDP’s election campaign.Robin MacLachlan, a former NDP strategist, said there’s an opening for Singh while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is “reeling” from the SNC-Lavalin controversy, which he said has damaged Trudeau’s image “as being on the side of ordinary Canadians.”“He has an opportunity to position himself as the leader who kind of gets what you’re facing,” he said.With a seat in the House of Commons, Singh will finally have the chance to face off against Trudeau directly, though with little time remaining before the next election. “I would lower expectations. He’s not going to be 100 per cent from the get-go,” said Karim. “But I think if people see an improvement throughout, that will go a long way.”Cullen said Singh took a risk in deciding to run for a seat in the Burnaby byelection, and it paid off. “I think Canadians are going to look at us in a new way, and I think Mr. Singh’s confidence is going to be boosted,” he said. “I’m looking forward to how he does.”Arguably the biggest hurdle Singh now faces is Quebec, where the NDP has recently been polling as low as a dismal eight per cent, and nearly all of the party’s seats seem to be under threat. In a separate byelection on Monday, Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan won the Montreal riding of Outremont, which had been a Liberal stronghold until it was taken by Mulcair in 2007 and became a symbol of the party’s gains in that province.After Bendayan’s victory, Liberals were quick to declare the death of the Orange Wave that swept through Quebec in 2011 and helped propel the NDP to Official Opposition status for the first time. “It’s finished,” Infrastructure Minister François-Philippe Champagne told reporters in Ottawa on Tuesday. “Just look at the results.”But Singh played down the loss on Monday, saying the party “always knew that Outremont was going to be a tough riding.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh celebrates his Burnaby South byelection win in Burnaby, B.C., Feb. 25, 2019.
Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press
Karim said he was actually “pleasantly surprised” by the Outremont results, which saw NDP candidate Julia Sánchez finish second with 26 per cent of the vote — disappointing, but not catastrophic, according to Karim.“I think it’s a little hope that the party can build on,” he said. “Twenty-six per cent is far from over, that’s what I would say to the Liberals.”Singh, clearly recognizing the importance of building his profile in Quebec, said on Monday that he plans to travel to the province next week. Currently, more than a third of the NDP caucus is from Quebec, but several Quebec MPs have said they won’t run again, including Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet and Anne Minh-Thu Quach, who both made their announcements last week.MacLachlan said the NDP could attract Quebec voters concerned about climate change, and upset about the Trudeau government’s decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline. Karim said the strong third-place showing of the Green Party in Outremont, which finished with 12.5 per cent of the vote, proves that Quebecers “want answers” on the environment.Outside Quebec, two other high-profile NDP MPs — B.C.’s Cullen and Murray Rankin — have yet to announce whether they’ll run again in this year’s election. So far, 11 of the 44 NDP MPs elected in 2015 have either resigned their seats or have said they won’t seek re-election.But MacLachlan said Singh’s win should help “consolidate support” for the leader within and outside his caucus. Now, he said, Singh needs to focus on building his profile from inside the House of Commons.“He needs to reintroduce himself to Canadians,” MacLachlan said. “He’s been absent from the national conversation about policy, and now they’re going to hear from him.”• Email: email@example.com | Twitter: MauraForrest