NDP uses Singh’s appeal, social media to attract environmental voters

But it’s a balancing act if party is to hold onto traditional union support

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Lauren Semple and Cheryl Lien can barely contain their excitement as the tour bus arrives at Transfer Beach in Ladysmith.

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The 20-somethings squeal and jump as the door opens and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh emerges. They are among the cheering crowd of 200, mostly party volunteers, who jostle for a selfie and a moment with their leader during a quick stop in a riding the NDP believes is theirs to take back from the Green incumbent.

“Young voters feel disenfranchised and they need someone to inspire them, and I think that’s what Jagmeet brings,” says Semple. “He tells us ‘we can do this’ and ‘we can make change.’ He is spreading that message through the channels that young people use.”

These women represent the young voters the party is trying to court through social media channels and through candidates and platforms that highlight millennials’ concerns, including climate change.

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But some political observers caution that while the party may need young voters, it must also retain its traditional union support.

“They’ve always had to do a bit of a dance with labour,” said Gerald Baier, a University of B.C. political science professor.

That labour support is not guaranteed.

Although the Canadian Labour Congress and the B.C. Federation of Labour have endorsed the NDP in this election, union leaders like Geoff Dawe, the president of Local 2 of the Public and Private Workers of Canada, said that doesn’t mean union members will automatically vote NDP.

“In the past, our national group backed the NDP, and we do have a Jack Layton poster in our local office right now,” said Dawe, whose local represents 600 workers at the pulp mill in Crofton, on Vancouver Island.

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“But we were expecting a little more attention to the state of the workforce in Canada and in B.C. None of the parties are talking about labour issues. It would be nice to hear from the NDP,” he said.

So far in this campaign, the NDP’s promises of 10 days of paid sick leave, a ban on unpaid internships outside of educational programs, and raising the federal minimum wage to $20 are aimed more at younger lower-income workers than at unionized employees of the boomer generation.

The NDP is putting a lot of effort into courting the youth vote in B.C., where the party believes the climate emergency is a winner among those under the age of 40. They hope the loss of support for the Green party will help defeat the Green incumbent in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, and push the NDP over the top in other close races.

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Vancouver-Granville candidate Anjali Appadurai is among the hopefuls with environmental credentials that the NDP hope will win over younger voters in swing ridings.
Vancouver-Granville candidate Anjali Appadurai is among the hopefuls with environmental credentials that the NDP hope will win over younger voters in swing ridings. Photo by Arlen Redekop /PNG

That’s why NDP candidates with high-profile environmental credentials are running in swing ridings. Anjali Appadurai, the former climate justice lead for the Sierra Club of B.C., is the party’s candidate in Vancouver–Granville. And Avi Lewis is running in West Vancouver–Sunshine Coast–Sea to Sky Country.  He has traditional bona fides as the grandson of former federal NDP leader David Lewis and the son of former Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis. He also has climate change credentials gained by co-writing “The Leap Manifesto” with his wife Naomi Klein. It calls for an end to fossil fuels, and a moratorium on pipelines forms the basis of the party’s environmental policies.

The party is also targeting young voters by using TikTok, the most downloaded app on the planet, where anyone can get thousands of views by uploading 15 seconds of content. It’s also planning to ramp up its social media campaigns on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat. Singh will also appear in the Nintendo game “Animal Crossing” to entice young gamers to cast their ballot.

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However, Baier said it’s not enough to have followers on social media.

“Young voters often don’t turn out to vote,” he explained. “You have to knock on doors and get people out to vote, and I think that will be even more important this time around when turnout is expected to be low.”

The NDP’s campaign strategist for B.C., Glen Sanford, says the party will use “modelling behaviour” to get out the vote among social media users.

“We will use examples on social media so young people are able to see other young people voting,” said Sanford. “Not using big-time influencers, but peers. What you will see during advance polls is showing people how easy it is to vote and that this is something that a lot of young people are doing.”

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The party will also rely on help from the provincial NDP to get the vote out.

Although Premier John Horgan has not come out directly to support his federal counterpart, hundreds of provincial party volunteers and many staff, including one of the premier’s communications directors, are now working full-time on the federal campaign in B.C.

Baier believes Singh could benefit from the party’s provincial success.

“One of the things that has changed in B.C. is that Horgan got seats where the NDP never had, like in suburban Metro Vancouver, and I think that is the kind of rising tide that may lift all boats,” said Baier.

Party strategists looking at the polls know that the dead heat between the Liberals and Conservatives means they need to brace for the traditional attack by Liberals, who will say a vote for the NDP is a vote for Conservatives.

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That is why in the final days of the campaign, Singh will be talking about how the Liberals and the Conservatives ganged up to defeat NDP bills on pharmacare and a tax on corporations that earned record-breaking profits during the pandemic.

It’s a message that organizers like Sanford will be pushing in B.C.

“When people look at Trudeau and O’Toole, they see leaders that are really on the side of the ultrarich, and they know that Singh isn’t and I really think that’s the defining difference,” he said.

It’s the defining difference the NDP hopes will resonate with B.C. voters, no matter what their age.


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