LADYSMITH — Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh flew across the country Monday to spend an hour bumping elbows, taking selfies and talking with supporters at a picturesque oceanside park near Ladysmith.
Singh’s appearance is the second in as many months in the Nanaimo-Ladysmith riding, where the NDP hopes to unseat well-known Green MP Paul Manly.
An adoring crowd of just under 200 local campaign workers and longtime NDP supporters jockeyed for a few words and photos with their leader. One asked for his autograph. Tears welled in Paulette McCarthy’s eyes as she described getting Singh’s signature for her mother, whose socialist roots run deep.
“My mother is turning 95 in two weeks and she was a part of the pre-CCF movement,” she said. “And she is so excited that we are going to have a prime minister who wears a turban.”
McCarthy is confident her party can win nationally and locally, despite the fact that the NDP placed third behind the Greens and the Conservatives in the last federal election in 2019 in the riding and in a byelection held earlier the same year.
“The Greens feel like Johnny come lately, stealing NDP environmental policy but without any results,” said McCarthy.
It’s a sentiment shared by two young volunteers, Lauren Semple and Cheryl Lien, who were thrilled to have their photos taken with Singh.
“I want a member of Parliament that has party standing,” said Semple.
“The climate crisis means we don’t have time to wait for the Greens to become one,” added Lien.
Singh said he was surprised by the size and enthusiasm of his mask-wearing supporters, as he walked to the microphone with local candidate Lisa Marie Barron.
“When we were turning the corner and walking over here and when we saw the crowd we both started to get a little overwhelmed just with emotion thinking about the love and support of all of you being here,” said Singh.
“It means so much that you all care about one another and believe that we can do better. It’s so touching.”
Singh’s short speech focussed on the failures of the Trudeau government and how the New Democrats pushed for higher CERB benefits and increases to the wage subsidy program. He ended with an enthusiastic call-response chant, with the leader shouting “Together” and the crowd replying “We Rise.” Singh then filmed them in a TikTok message from the shores of Transfer beach before spending close to an hour with those who wanted a moment of their leader’s time and attention.
Despite the group’s enthusiastic support and its deep roots in the mostly blue-collar riding, winning Nanaimo-Ladysmith is not a cake walk for the NDP. The party lost its seat in a 2019 byelection to replace the NDP incumbent, Sheila Malcolmson, who ran successfully in the provincial election last fall.
The current incumbent Manly, whose father, Jim Manly, was the NDP’s MP from 1980-88, was set to represent the NDP in the 2015 federal election but the party’s national executive rejected his nomination in favour of Malcolmson’s. At the time, Manly complained on his Facebook page.
“I was told verbally on the phone, that there was concern that I was running to make Israel and Palestine an election issue,” he wrote.
Manly took the riding for the Greens in the byelection and again later that year in the federal election.
Manly told the Nanaimo News-Bulletin that he is confident he will retain his seat, despite internal party divisions over Annamie Paul’s Green leadership.
“Right here in my community we are totally united,” said Manly. “People that think that a few people at the top of the party having a tiff is going to affect Vancouver Island have another thing coming. They’ll be surprised.”
But Bill Eadie, a longtime NDP supporter who also turned out to see Singh, acknowledged Manly’s deep connection to the community but said it’s not enough.
“I like Paul Manly personally,” said Eadie. “The Greens have some laudable goals, but I believe in social justice as well and that is lacking with the Greens and Manly can’t change that.”
That’s why Eadie is volunteering his time for the local NDP campaign. Singh’s appearance in Ladysmith on Monday is to help raise the profile of candidate Lisa Marie Barron, whose position as vice-chair of the local school board may already offer some name recognition among voters. Barron, who works in substance abuse and addictions, is also working on a master’s degree in community development at the University of Victoria. She is willing to put those parts of her life on-hold if elected.
“I’m here because of my kids. I started as a school board trustee to have a say in my children’s future,” said Barron. “The lack of resources going into this community from the federal level convinced me to run because we need a stronger voice in Ottawa.”
Liberal party candidate Michelle Corfield, who ran a distant fourth in the last federal election in the riding, is urging voters to elect a member who will be a government party representative.
“When we don’t have representatives in the party that’s ruling, our messages are lost,” she said.
Tory candidate Tamara Kronis may represent the party that came second the last time around, but may not have the name recognition of her competitors because she has lived in the riding for just a few years and hasn’t had a high public profile in the community.
Singh and his supporters hope this small town will offer big rewards for the NDP, which currently holds five of the seven ridings on Vancouver Island. Manly and the only other Green MP, former leader Elizabeth May, hold the other two Island seats.