There are 4,354 kilometres between Brampton, Ont., where federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh served as a member of provincial parliament, and Burnaby, B.C., where he hopes to serve as an MP. That distance is raising questions about whether Singh would be the right person to represent the riding of Burnaby South.
Global News has learned that Singh will announce this week his plan to run in the riding left vacant after Kennedy Stewart resigned his seat to campaign in the Vancouver mayoralty election.
“You have got to balance these things in by-elections. He will have to get to know Burnaby. He has visited many times so understands big issues like housing and Kinder Morgan,” said Stewart.
“But also, there is a certain benefit of having a national leader represent you in Ottawa … you get a lot of attention, and I think that is of benefit to Burnaby.”
WATCH: NDP MP Kennedy Stewart speaks with Global News about Singh’s plan to run in the Burnaby South byelection
Singh, who was elected leader last October but doesn’t have a seat in Parliament, says that Stewart, who vacated the seat in June, and several interest groups have encouraged him to run in Burnaby South, a riding where the contentious Kinder Morgan pipeline is considered a major issue.
Stewart defeated Liberal candidate Adam Pankratz by 547 votes in the 2015 federal election. Pankratz has not decided yet on whether he will seek the nomination to represent the Liberals against Singh in the byelection, but he does not think the people of Burnaby South would be well represented by a candidate who does not have significant roots in the community.
“I do think it is not a strategy Burnaby voters are going to be fooled by,” said Pankratz. “I think it’s a risky strategy by Jagmeet Singh to try and run in a community that he has no connection to: the city, the province, the community, nothing at all. I found it a surprising move.”
Singh wouldn’t be the first federal party leader to run in a Burnaby byelection. Former CCF leader Tommy Douglas ran in Burnaby-Coquitlam in a 1962 byelection. The former Saskatchewan premier won the seat and ran twice more in the riding.
But Pankratz says the message the NDP would be sending this time around is that the riding is a sure thing for the party.
“I just think it looks bad, generally speaking, that the NDP is taking the voters of Burnaby for granted to just drop someone in,” said Pankratz. “There is just no way in the time frame that Jagmeet is looking at running that he could get to know and understand the communities and the different issues.”
A date for the byelection has not been announced.