The New Democrats were leading or elected in 24 seats on Monday night, far less than the 39 they held when Parliament was dissolved.
But not all was lost, according to NDP strategist Anne McGrath, who said the party had “totally exceeded expectations.”
“We went into this campaign with people predicting we were going to lose party status and that we were done,” she said in an interview Monday night.
“And we have come out of this campaign with a leader whose approval ratings shot sky-high, who ran a very effective campaign that really connected with people.”
Six weeks ago, the NDP had entered the election campaign facing more challenges than the front-running Liberals and Conservatives. Almost a third of NDP candidates elected to office in 2015 were poised not to run in this election, meaning the party lost its incumbency advantage in several ridings.
As a practising Sikh who wears a turban, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is the first member of a visible minority to lead a major federal party in an election.
The encounter was captured on video.
Singh spoke to a cheering crowd Monday night, congratulating the other federal party leaders and thanking his party’s volunteers.
“When we get back to Ottawa, every single day that we’re in Parliament, the Democrats are going to be working hard to make sure that your life is better, that Canadians’ life is better,” he said.
McGrath said the party experienced some “real disappointments” Monday night but still managed to elect a “great caucus.”
“There’s some people that I would’ve hoped would’ve been elected that weren’t able to get across the finish line,” she said.
“But I think we’ve elected a great caucus and the predictions of how we were going to do were completely overturned.”
Former NDP national director Karl Belanger said it was a “disappointing night for the New Democrats. They’re losing a lot of seats, especially in Quebec.”
“It was not unexpected,” he said of the NDP’s drop in seats. “But the late surge in the polls did not necessarily materialize at the voting booth.”
Polls at the start of the campaign, in early September, indicated the Liberals and Conservatives were in a close race while the NDP and the Greens would fight it out over third place.
But polls since late September showed Singh and the NDP gaining traction, mostly at the expense of the Liberals and Tories, who remained statistically tied on the eve of the vote.
As of June this year, the NDP had raised more than the Greens, but not by a large margin. Elections Canada filings show that the Greens raised about $2,221,000 from around 24,400 individual contributors in 2019, while the NDP raised around $2,660,000 in donations from 28,650 contributors during the same period.
Setting aside the NDP’s results on Monday, Singh has managed to come out on top, according to Belanger.
“Currently, they look like they have a clean balance of power,” he said. “So, despite the disappointing results, Jagmeet Singh actually has more power now than he had going into this election.”
When asked how the NDP would work with a Liberal minority government, McGrath said it was “too soon” to consider.
“I think that the Liberals are going to have to do some soul-searching about what happened in terms of the loss of support that they experienced,” she said.
“They’re going to have to figure out how to work with others and how to find areas of cooperation and we’ll just have to wait and see how they decide to approach that.”
By the time Parliament was dissolved, the NDP had held 39 seats compared to the Conservatives’ 95 and the Liberals’ 177 — with 14 in Quebec, 12 in British Columbia, eight in Ontario, two each in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and one solitary seat in Alberta.
Not long after polls closed in Newfoundland and Labrador earlier on Monday night, the NDP had already won back a seat that they’d lost in 2015 to the Liberals — their first win for the night.
The NDP’s Jack Harris triumphed over the Liberal incumbent Nick Whalen in the riding of St John’s East in Atlantic Canada.
But the NDP also lost several of its seats in Quebec to the Bloc Quebecois — nine as of 1 a.m. ET — which Belanger said wasn’t a total surprise.
After the 2011 election, the NDP had 103 seats in the House, compared to the Liberals’ 34 and Conservatives’ 166-seat majority. At the dissolution of Parliament in 2015, the NDP had 95 seats. After the 2015 election, that fairly strong seat count had almost halved, leaving the NDP with 44 seats as the Liberals swept the country with a 184-seat majority.
— With files by Kerri Breen, David Akin, Amanda Connolly