The undercard in the federal election campaign shows signs of becoming a rather bruising fight.
This would be the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the federal Green Party and the NDP. What was once a fairly polite co-existence – with the NDP the unquestioned stronger party – now appears to be turning into a bitter fight of near-survival for at least one of them.
I wrote in this space a few weeks back that the NDP should be able to count on B.C. as the one place where they can retain most of their federal ridings won in 2015.
Now, I am not so sure.
A clue that the party is feeling the heat from the Greens and that the Greens sense an opportunity is the suddenly charged verbal attacks the two party leaders have unleashed on each other.
They know they are both wooing the so-called “progressive voters” (a pool the Liberals are after as well) and both parties are displaying an air of desperation that makes the fight for those voters more intense than usual.
The latest war of words erupted after the debacle – for both parties – over the supposed defection of provincial NDP candidates in New Brunswick to the Green Party.
At first glance, the defections seemed like a disaster for beleaguered NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, even though New Brunswick is not a province where the NDP has much of a chance at winning seats.
However, when the story changed – the number of defections were lower than first reported and it was unclear if pressure tactics from either side were involved – Singh tried to regain control of the narrative, essentially accusing the Greens of lying.
Adding to the ugliness, one of the departing New Democrats suggested Singh could not win in New Brunswick because of his race, implying that New Brunswick voters were racist.
That prompted federal NDP MP Charlie Angus to jump into the fray on Twitter, saying it was “sickening” that people would leave the NDP for the Greens because they were worried about Singh’s religion.
Singh also went after Green Party Leader Elizabeth May for accepting people into her party who may think his race is a political problem.
“If she is accepting people that are not accepting of people’s diversity, then the Green Party has a lot to answer for,” he stated.
But May wouldn’t back down, accusing Singh of “strong-arming” his own members and she used words like “bullied” and “frightened” in describing the NDP’s own tactics.
A senior NDP strategist has told me the gloves will definitely be off between the two parties this campaign. The Greens smell potential victory in a number of NDP-ridings on Vancouver Island, and this official did not disagree with my characterization of the NDP being in a battle of survival.
A recent poll by veteran pollster Barb Justason in the Vancouver-Granville riding (commissioned by Independent candidate Jody Wilson-Raybould) pegged NDP support there at just six per cent, and while there is the possibility the poll is an outlier, it no doubt has New Democrats more than a little worried.
Look for the NDP to seize upon May’s comments about her potentially being willing to prop up a minority government under Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, a prospect reviled by both the NDP and the Liberals.
While I bet the Liberals will benefit most from a hemorrhage of voters from the NDP camp, the Greens have higher pockets of strength in B.C, particularly on the Island. Therefore, this is where this undercard fight will largely be fought.
As I have written here before, this campaign will be a nasty one. Well, we have always expected that from a Liberal-Conservative title fight.
What will be new this time around is a much bloodier battle for third place. Those pillow fights between the NDP and the Greens that we saw in previous campaigns are a thing of the past.
In addition, it will be interesting to see if either the B.C. NDP or the B.C. Greens – who get along quite well at the provincial level – try to get in the middle of this looming brawl, or choose to sit it out.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC. Keith.Baldrey@globalnews.ca
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