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BALDREY: It'll be bad for federal NDP if Jagmeet Singh loses byelection

Byelections at any level rarely have outcomes that are potentially game-changing ones, but in an unusual twist, we have two such contests underway in this province.

Byelections at any level rarely have outcomes that are potentially game-changing ones, but in an unusual twist, we have two such contests underway in this province.

One outcome can potentially affect the leadership of a national political party leader and the other could threaten the stability of a provincial government. The stakes are huge in both races.

The federal byelection in the riding of Burnaby South may determine the political future of NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, who is running there even though he hails from Ontario. The man he replaced as party leader, Tom Mulcair, has already mused publicly that the “knives” will come out within the NDP should Singh lose this contest.

Singh, for his part, insists he will remain leader even if he does lose. In a sense, he can’t really say anything different on that matter because to do so would look weak.

But a loss would certainly create some internal strife in the federal NDP. The party has had fundraising problems (it badly trails both the Liberals and the Conservatives in this area), a number of MPs are not seeking re-election and both Singh and the party have miserable poll ratings.

While the riding was won by the NDP in the 2015 federal election, the margin of victory was less than 600 votes so it can hardly be considered a safe seat.

Further complicating matters is the sudden emergence of a successful politician being chosen as Singh’s Liberal party opponent.

Richard Lee, who won the Burnaby North provincial riding for the B.C. Liberal party in four straight elections, is replacing the original nominee. That would be Karen Wang, who was forced to step down after she made some controversial comments about Singh on a social media site.

Lee is no pushover, obviously. Former premier Gordon Campbell once jokingly told me “We don’t really know how Richard always wins but given that he does, I’m not going to ask questions.”

I still think the odds favour Singh in this battle (being a party leader brings some swagger with voters) but it’s going to be close on Feb. 25. If he loses, we will see if Mulcair’s talk about knives proves to be true and his leadership becomes threatened.

Across the pond in Nanaimo, voters will head to the polls on Jan. 30 to elect a replacement for longtime NDP MLA Leonard Krog, who quit to successfully run for the Nanaimo mayoralty.

On paper, this should be a no-brainer win for the NDP. The party has won 11 of the past 12 elections there and Krog’s margin of victory has averaged around 3,300 votes in the last four general elections.

But byelections are often weird political events. Voter turnout is usually very low, and in this province, the sitting government rarely wins byelections (just two of the last 24 of them have gone the government’s way).

Then there is the NDP government’s tone-deaf decision to announce, in the middle of the campaign, that all voters in Nanaimo are deemed to be subject to the new so-called speculation tax unless they formally declare themselves exempt.

Such a move seems like a gift from heaven for both the B.C. Liberals and the B.C. Green party (the Greens voted for the tax but leader Andrew Weaver is unhappy about the negative billing-like aspect of the tax exemption plan).

It appears both parties are trying to exploit this sudden development and the NDP appears to be on the defensive about it.

In any event, an upset victory by the B.C. Liberals would produce a tie in the provincial legislature: 43 seats each for the B.C. Liberals and the ruling NDP/Green party alliance.

As I noted in this space a couple of weeks back, such an outcome would not necessarily trigger an immediate election (the Speaker would vote with the government to break any tie on a confidence vote) but it would more than likely lead to one in the spring of 2020.

Such are the potentially pivotal outcomes of two byelections. Given what’s at stake in both of them, perhaps voter turnout will finally achieve adequate levels.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. [email protected]

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