POLITICS
02/26/2019 13:08 EST | Updated 02/26/2019 13:34 EST

Jagmeet Singh Touts ‘Significant’ NDP Support In Quebec Despite Party Losing Outremont Byelection

“Outremont was always a difficult riding for us," the NDP leader says.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigns for the federal byelection, in the food court at an Asian mall in Burnaby, B.C., on Feb. 24, 2019.
Darryl Dyck/CP
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigns for the federal byelection, in the food court at an Asian mall in Burnaby, B.C., on Feb. 24, 2019.

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is downplaying the significance of losing a Quebec riding that was held by his predecessor for more than 10 years and became a beachhead in the so-called "Orange Wave."

Singh won a crucial byelection in British Columbia's Burnaby South Monday to punch his ticket to the House of Commons. Yet, the NDP finished a distant second in the affluent Montreal riding of Outremont, where Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan rolled to victory with more than 40 per cent of the vote.

Former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair captured the riding, previously a Liberal stronghold, in a 2007 byelection. Mulcair's win gave the party a foothold in the battleground province that culminated in the NDP winning 59 seats in a general election four years later. Under Mulcair's leadership, the party won just 16 seats in Quebec in 2015. He stepped down as an MP in the summer.

"Outremont was always a difficult riding for us, but we still had significant support," Singh told CBC News Tuesday. The NDP candidate in Outremont, Julia Sanchez, scored about 26 per cent of the vote.

Watch: Jagmeet Singh parties after winning Burnaby South seat

Despite the big Liberal gain, which comes in the middle of the SNC-Lavalin affair that has dominated headlines for weeks, Singh suggested Quebecers will warm to the NDP's message on matters such as the environment.

"People in Quebec are really upset about the Liberal government's decision to spend our money, taxpayer dollars, on purchasing a pipeline for $4.5 billion," he said, referring to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion project in British Columbia.

Singh also told The Canadian Press the party's Quebec base is alive and well.

"We've got lots of great support to build on, we've got great MPs that are there," he said.

Liberals win despite SNC-Lavalin affair

Singh delivered much the same message Monday night at his victory party, where he was asked to weigh in on the symbolism of winning a federal seat, but losing the riding that kicked off the "Orange Wave" that propelled the party to become the Official Opposition in 2011.

The NDP leader said he knew it would be a "tough riding" for the party and touted his "incredible team" in the province. Singh said he will travel there next week to outline his party's plans for Quebec.

Singh was also asked if his shots at SNC-Lavalin, the Quebec-based engineering giant at the centre of the controversy dogging Liberals, might hamper his party's support in the province. The corporation employs about 9,000 people across Canada.

"Canadians across this country, including Quebecers, don't believe we should be giving preferential treatment to one corporation, that if you're well connected and powerful, you can just call up the prime minister and have them change the laws to get you off the hook," Singh said.

"No one believes that is a good way to run a country. And Quebecers also don't believe that's the way we should run a country."

Paul Chiasson/CP
Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan celebrates her victory in a byelection in the Montreal riding of Outremont with Infrastructure Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and Tourism Minister Melanie Joly on Feb. 25, 2019.

Singh was referencing the allegations reported in The Globe and Mail that former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould faced inappropriate pressure from the Prime Minister's Office to direct the public prosecution service to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin.

Such a deal would have allowed the firm, facing fraud and bribery charges from its dealings in Libya, to avoid a trial that could hurt the company and spur layoffs.

Trudeau maintains his office did nothing wrong and Wilson-Raybould has been invited to speak about the issue at the justice committee this week.

An NDP motion calling for a full public inquiry into the matter was defeated by the Liberal majority in the House of Commons last week. However, two Grit MPs Toronto's Nathaniel Erskine-Smith and New Brunswick's Wayne Long — supported the motion.

Minister declares 'Orange Wave' as 'finished'

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took to Twitter Tuesday to congratulate Bendayan on her win, as well as Singh and York-Simcoe Conservative Scot Davidson, who won easily in the reliably blue Ontario riding.

Liberal cabinet ministers from Quebec were also all smiles Tuesday discussing the byelection results with reporters.

Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said it was "good news" that Liberals reclaimed Outremont and noted the Conservatives finished in fifth place. Tories have made no secret that Quebec is key to the party's fortunes in the next federal election.

Asked what the win might say about how the SNC-Lavalin issue is playing out in the province, Rodriguez said "not one person" asked him about the issue as he campaigned door-to-door over the weekend.

Tourism Minister Melanie Joly said the results represented "basically the end of the interest of Quebeckers towards the NDP."

Infrastructure Minister François Philippe Champagne had a blunt response when asked what the results say about the "Orange Wave."

"It's finished," he said. "Just look at the results."

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With a file from The Canadian Press