NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh campaigns in Montreal ahead of tough byelection fight

MONTREAL — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh ventured into his predecessor’s former territory on Saturday as he campaigned in Montreal’s Outremont riding ahead of several federal byelections expected to take place early next year.

Singh shook hands and chatted in French as he visited local businesses alongside NDP candidate Julia Sanchez.

The riding was vacated earlier this year by former NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, whose 2007 byelection victory represented a breakthrough for the NDP in Quebec.

Mulcair went on to win the riding three more times before leaving politics to take a teaching job.

Despite the NDP’s past success in Outremont, the party could be facing a challenge once the byelection is called.

Its results in recent byelections have been disappointing and Sanchez has never run in an election before.

The NDP finished a distant third in a byelection in Chicoutimi-Le Fjord that the Conservatives won in June, taking just 8.7 per cent of the vote in a riding the NDP won in 2011.

The previous October, the NDP finished a distant fourth in a byelection in Lac-Saint-Jean that was won by the Liberals.

But despite those losses, the NDP leader expressed confidence on Saturday.

“You can’t compare byelection results to general election results,” Singh said. ”I don’t think that’s a fair comparison.”

Singh is counting on his environmental platform, including promises of green energy jobs and investments, to win over Quebecers.

“Between the heatwave in Quebec that saw significant lives lost, floods, and extreme weather across Canada, more and more people are really concerned about what we’re doing to fight climate change,” he said.

Singh would not offer a prediction on the Outremont byelection, but acknowledged that the riding held symbolic importance as the birthplace of the so-called orange wave that propelled the party to its best-ever showing in the province in 2011.

But while he’s made several trips there, not everyone in Outremont appeared to recognize the NDP leader as he made stops at a pastry shop and cafe on Saturday.

While he attracted curiosity, several people asked who he was, and one wondered if he was Canada’s defence minister.

However, Singh appeared well received as he introduced himself to restaurant patrons, chatting in French as he asked them about their political priorities.

At his side was Sanchez, a political newcomer who has spent the last seven years in Ottawa as CEO of the Canadian Council of International Co-operation.

She said she relished the challenge of moving back to Montreal and taking on a high-profile assignment in her first political battle.

“I’ve been knocking on doors since August, and people are really proud of the work the NDP and Thomas Mulcair and the team did … and I think they want continuity,” she said.

Sanchez will face Liberal candidate Rachel Bendayan, a lawyer who finished second to Mulcair in the last election, while the Conservatives have announced Jasmine Louras as their candidate.

Singh also appeared confident of winning his own battle for a seat in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South once the next round of byelections is called.

He said he has moved to the riding and is seeing “a lot of support” from people on the ground as he campaigns on issues including the environment and the need for affordable housing.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to announce the date for byelections for the Burnaby South, Outremont and York-Simcoe, Ont., ridings early in the new year.

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