POLITICS

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh Faces These 5 Hurdles

Financial issues aren't the only concern.

10/01/2017 18:08 EDT | Updated 10/01/2017 18:08 EDT
Chris Young/CANADIAN PRESS
Jagmeet Singh listening to a speech before being elected leader of the federal NDP party in Toronto on Sunday. He faces several challenges early on.

OTTAWA — The federal NDP can now turn its focus to some more immediate challenges now that it has settled on Ontario provincial politician Jagmeet Singh as its newest leader.

Here's what tops the list, according to long-time party members:

1. Party unity

One of the most pressing issues for a political party after a leadership race is the issue of party unity and the NDP is no exception, said former party national director Karl Belanger. While the lengthy race to replace Tom Mulcair was not as "divisive and spectacularly aggressive'' as the Conservative leadership competition, he still believes the candidates and their campaigns need to heal their divisions now the race is complete. "It is a difficult thing to do,'' Belanger said. "It doesn't come necessarily automatically.''

Jagmeet Singh on confidence:

2. A byelection in Quebec

Belanger also sees a byelection in Quebec as a pressing issue for the new leader to take on. It is slated for Oct. 23 — a competition sparked by the departure of Conservative MP Denis Lebel. Lebel announced in June he was quitting federal politics after nearly a decade in the House of Commons.

THE CANADIAN PRESS
Conservative MP Denis Lebel asks a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on Oct.3, 2016.

Belanger said the new NDP leader won't have a lot of time to have an impact on the byelection, but he still will be judged by the results. The NDP has 16 seats in the province of Quebec — a province many political observers see as a critical battleground for 2019.

3. Rebuilding the party's finances

Financial issues have dogged the NDP following the last election and the party will have to do considerable work to pull in money, pay off debt, and look at its national election campaign for 2019 — an incredibly costly venture. Elections Canada returns show the party has some $5.5 million worth of debt to contend with and the new leader will need to get cash flowing to party coffers if it is going to be competitive in time for Canadians to head back to the polls.

4. Connecting with Canadians

One of the biggest hurdles for any new leader is reaching out to Canadians and increasing name recognition. The party says it has a plan in place to introduce the new leader, though it has not announced details.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair at a news conference in Ottawa on January 18, 2016.

Much work is also required behind the scenes as the party looks to build its brand around a new face after five years of Tom Mulcair's leadership. Andrew Scheer, who took over the Conservative party in May, had to spend the summer on the barbecue circuit and in regions where the party is looking to pick up seats in 2019. Singh will have to do much of the same.

5. Not having access to the House of Commons

Singh does not have a seat in the House of Commons — a challenge both Layton and former leader Alexa McDonough confronted after becoming leader. Singh will have to name a new leader in the House in his absence to hold down the fort with 44 MPs and go toe-to-toe with Trudeau in question period.

Chris Wattie / Reuters
Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 14, 2017.

Singh has said he will consider running in a byelection prior to the next election, but he has assured members he will use the time outside of the Commons to work on rebuilding the party and meeting with supporters. David Coletto, the CEO of polling firm Abacus Data, said he does not see the need for a seat as a pressing issue for Singh and the NDP.

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