OTTAWA — A polling and political analyst says the New Democrats need to decide whether they want to be the "conscience of Parliament" or win an election.
Philippe Fournier of 338Canada.com says polls consistently show that NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is more popular than either Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole.
But the NDP must win over suburban as well as urban voters and attract Liberals tired of the ruling party to stand a chance of forming government.
The NDP gained just one more MP in last year's federal election, despite spending $25 million on the campaign, and did not attract enough support in rural areas or the suburbs to come within reach of power. The NDP has 25 MPs, fewer than the Liberals, Conservatives and Bloc Québécois.
The NDP caucus is wrapping up a three-day virtual retreat to talk about priorities, policies and strategy for when the House of Commons resumes sitting at the end of the month.
Fournier said polls show that Singh is well thought-of by many Liberal voters. But he risks alienating them by brutally attacking the Liberals, and should turn his fire on the Conservatives.
"Does the NDP really want to win or be the conscience of Parliament?" Fournier asked. "If they want to win they are doing very poorly."
He said polls show that Trudeau still has the support of "the vast majority of Liberal voters" and not many are shifting their support to the NDP.
But eventually "the wear and tear of government" will lead to an erosion of Liberal support.
"How the Liberals will eventually lose is if more voters will be disenchanted. They will flock to the NDP or the Greens," he said.
Fournier, who analyzes multiple opinion polls, said the latest polling on voting intentions puts the NDP at around 20 per cent of the national vote.
NDP MP Charlie Angus says levels of insecurity felt across class divides are changing the political discourse in Canada.
Angus said there is now an opportunity for the NDP simultaneously to reach working-class, middle-class and young and elderly voters, all of whom are feeling the pinch from housing and living costs, and are "seeing their lives get more precarious."
He said there was now a "broader working class" including middle-class people who are not living at the standards of their parents, and are struggling to afford housing and even groceries.
"More and more people are saying the middle class I am in is not the class my parents were in — there's been a shift on class issues," Angus said. "Professors at university are making less money than someone who works at Tim Hortons."
The NDP MP said younger voters interested in justice were feeling the same economic insecurity as older, working-class voters to whom the Tories have been working to appeal.
Angus said it was "a false dichotomy" to assume that the NDP could not appeal to traditional working-class voters and young Canadians motivated by racial justice and green issues.
"I think there are ways of bringing those two narratives together and I think that is something we can start to do in this coming year," he said.
"This younger generation really understands economic insecurity. They are not putting up with it in a way 10 years ago they were expected to," he said. "They are beginning to speak out, like 'How come I don’t have a living wage? How come I have no place to live?'"
Singh said he and all NDP MPs had received pleas from seniors, including those unable to afford their rent, groceries or medication. The party leader said they were looking to the NDP "for a solution."
"Canadian families have gone through a lot these past two years whether it has been dealing with losing their jobs, losing benefits they rely on to get by, or struggling to get COVID-19 vaccines and tests. They want a government that is standing up for the issues affecting them most," he said in an emailed statement.
Karl Bélanger, a former senior adviser to the NDP and president of consulting firm Traxxion Strategies, said the party was right to focus on living costs, including the affordability of housing.
He said, as the fourth party in the House of Commons, the NDP must be "nimble at all times" and showcase all their MPs so they become recognized national figures.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2022.
Marie Woolf, The Canadian Press