NDP facing a tough road with high turnover rate of incumbents, trouble raising cash and nominating candidates

July 12, 2019

With about 100 days to go until Canadians head to the polls, it is necessary to take stock of how the NDP compare in readiness for the election, now that we are in the pre-election period. The NDP appear to be the least ready of all three official major parties but still have time with campaigning in earnest beginning when the writ drops, likely in early September. It is unclear whether their current troubles and the criticism Jagmeet Singh faces will be resolved by then.

High Turnover Rate of Incumbents

Thirty-nine sitting MPs from all parties have declared they aren’t running in the upcoming election. It is not clear how many of these decisions were politically motivated. While, it is normal for all parties to suffer attrition (MPs who were elected in one election but did not run for the party in the next), not all official parties are facing the same rate of attrition. Since 2000, the average rate of attrition among official parties has been 16 percent. The rate of attrition does not include MPs who died in office.

The NDP are facing the highest turnover rate of incumbents and will be missing 11 sitting MPs. When you factor in the MPs that the party lost since the last election, the total reaches 15 (including the three who resigned and one who was expelled from caucus). To contextualize this, it means they are currently suffering the highest attrition rate of any official party in the last six elections and will be missing more than one-third of the original caucus (44) elected in 2015. In comparison, the Liberals have lost 14 percent including a number of former ministers and the conservatives have lost 23 percent of the MPs elected in 2015. Not surprising, the Liberal Party has the greatest number of incumbents running again.

In total, 68 MPs, who were elected in 2015 for parties with official status, have said they will not run for those parties, have been barred from doing so, have died while in office or have left politics since the last election.

The NDP have reported that the high rate of attrition can be explained by the fact that many of the veteran NDP MPs had to be convinced to run in the last election and their retirement is not unexpected. In addition, the current political standings likely contribute as the candidates are aware that they will face tough fights and there is little chance of the party gaining power. It is unclear, what if any effect the NDP’s high attrition rate will have on the party as, empirically, there are is no clear correlation between attrition and election outcomes.

Trouble Raising Cash

Jagmeet Singh has been leader of the NDP for almost two years and still finds his party struggling financially at this critical time, in the leadup to the election. The party has been in debt since the 2015 election. It is unclear with their current financial situation how they plan to finance a costly election campaign requiring money for a leader’s tour and events in ridings.

Singh has participated in only one $25 fundraising activity since the beginning of 2019, an event in March in London-Fanshawe. The party says Singh has taken part in other events which have been free to attend and where donations have been made. According to Jesse Calvert, the NDP’s director of operations, the party strategy is for the leader to tour the country and speak with donors and supporters without requiring anyone to pay admission. Supporters can contribute if they choose.

This approach is in contrast to that taken by other party leaders who have been working the fundraising circuit with high price ticketed events that require disclosure (events where a political contribution of at least $200 is required) in efforts to finance their election activity. For example, the Liberals have 53 disclosed past or planned events that range in price from $200 to $1,625 depending on location and person speaking.  

In the first quarter of 2019, the NDP raised over $1.2 million from 13,713 contributors. This places the NDP ahead of the Greens but behind the Liberals and the Conservatives in money raised. The Conservatives raised more than double the next highest party, the Liberals.

While the first quarter results were a good start, it is unclear where the NDP stand financially because they have asked for an extension on their 2018 report which would show details about their earnings, expenses and outstanding loans. The Party recently sent a fundraising note asking donors for additional funding to fund their planned campaign tour. Only time will tell whether their strategy of free events will hurt or help the NDP.

Nominated Candidates

There are 338 seats in the House of Commons. As of Monday July 8, at noon, the Conservative Party had the most nominated candidates, with 313. The Liberals continue to nominate candidates and currently have 221 ridings nominated. The NDP is the major party with the fewest nominated candidates, with only 115 riding nominated. The NDP only have a candidate nominated in just under half the ridings and are far behind the other major parties. The People’s Party has vowed to run candidates in every riding and are only fifty candidates short, with 278 nominated. This means the People’s Party currently has the second highest number of nominated candidates of all parties. The Green Party, while behind most parties, actually is ahead of the NDP in nominating candidates with a total of 203 nominated candidates.

While the NDP still have time to nominate and register candidates, until 21 days before the election which is scheduled for October 21, it is unclear what their delay is. It is interesting considering their strategy was to release their platform early to give candidates a chance to discuss the details with potential voters but for that to occur there needs to be a candidate nominated.

The criticism of Singh and the NDP may be an overreaction or well-founded concern for the success of the party. Only time will tell the effect on the NDP electoral fortunes of the high turnover rate for incumbents, low fundraising success and delay in nominating candidates.