Liberal Raj Grewal announced Thursday that he is resigning as MP for Brampton East for unspecified “personal and medical reasons.” Party whip Mark Holland said Grewal’s resignation is effective immediately.
The surprise news dropped just as Liberal insiders were confirming that early in the new year Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will call three byelections -including in Burnaby South, where Singh has already been nominated to run – for early February.
Trudeau could also schedule one more byelection in B.C. for the same date. A sixth riding, due to be vacated on Jan. 22 by Montreal Liberal MP Nicola Di Iorio, is likely to remain without representation until the general election scheduled for next October.
When Singh was first chosen as NDP leader last fall, he said he’d like to run federally in Brampton East, the riding he had represented for six years in the Ontario legislature and which is now represented by his brother, Gurratan.
He initially intended to wait until the general election to seek a Commons seat but came under intense pressure to get into the House sooner after getting off to shaky start as leader. He announced in August that he would run in Burnaby South, where NDP MP Kennedy Stewart had announced his intention to resign and run for mayor of Vancouver.
Singh was nominated as the NDP candidate for Burnaby South in mid-September, for whenever the byelection comes.
Singh faces a much stiffer fight in the B.C. riding, where Stewart took just 547 more votes than the Liberal contender in 2015, than he would in his hometown of Brampton. Indeed, Liberals are privately concerned that Singh could lose the Burnaby South byelection, prompting the NDP to dump him and choose a potentially more appealing leader before next fall’s general election.
After weeks of debate in Trudeau’s inner circle, insiders say the prime minister has decided the Liberals will run a candidate against Singh, rather than standing aside to give him a better shot. They say the decision is based on the wishes of grassroots Liberals in B.C., who have been nearly unanimous in wanting to put up a fight in Burnaby South.
A spokesperson for Singh did not immediately respond to a question about whether the leader might consider giving up on Burnaby South and running in Brampton East instead.
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Switching would not be without consequences for Singh, who has gone out of his way to assure Burnaby voters that he’s not a political tourist. He’s said he and his wife intend to live in the riding and that he’ll run there in the general election as well.
Trudeau was criticized last month when he called one byelection in the eastern Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes for Dec. 3, while leaving Burnaby South, the Montreal riding of Outremont and the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe vacant.
At the time, Trudeau argued that the other three had only recently been vacated, whereas Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes had been without an MP for almost six months, since the death of Conservative Gordon Brown.
Insiders now say Trudeau will set a date in early February for the other three byelections. He will wait until early January to call them so candidates won’t have to campaign over the Christmas holiday season.
If New Democrat MP Sheila Malcolmson resigns her British Columbia seat of Nanaimo-Ladysmith by the new year, Trudeau could call that byelection at the same time.
Malcolmson, who is making a leap to provincial politics, has announced her intention to resign once a byelection is officially called in the provincial riding of Nanaimo. The current MLA, Leonard Krog, was elected mayor of Nanaimo last month but has not yet resigned his legislature seat.
If Malcolmson doesn’t quit her federal seat until later in January, Nanaimo-Ladysmith could wind up in the same boat as Di Iorio’s riding of Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel: without an MP until next fall.
Bill C-76, which the government hopes will be passed by the end of this year, would forbid the prime minister to call a byelection within nine months of the day fixed for a general election, making Jan. 20 the last day byelections could be called.
Federal Liberals will not be extending a so-called “leaders courtesy” to give the NDPs Jagmeet Singh an easier path to the House of Commons
A senior Liberal source unauthorized to speak on the matter has confirmed to HuffPost Canada that Liberals will run a candidate against Singh in an upcoming byelection in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South. The source confirmed earlier reports from both The Hill Times and CBC News.
The byelection is expected to be called early in the new year and take place in February. The government will also call votes to fill vacancies in two other ridings: Quebecs Outremont, previously held by former NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, and Ontarios York-Simcoe, left open by the exit of former Tory MP Peter Van Loan.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May announced in August that her party would not put up a candidate against the NDP leader, honouring an informal Canadian parliamentary tradition of clearing some space for party leaders who dont hold seats in the Commons.
In 2002, governing Liberals and Progressive Conservatives did not run candidates against then-Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper when he sought a seat in a Calgary. The same courtesy was extended to a seatless Jean Chretien when the Liberal leader ran in a 1990 byelection.
In both cases, however, Harper and Chretien were leaders of the Official Opposition without the right to sit in the Commons. Singh, a former Ontario MPP, is the leader of a third party.
In 2000, governing Liberals did not run a candidate against Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark in a Nova Scotia byelection, even though he was the third party leader. Clark was, however, a former prime minister attempting to make a political comeback.
The Liberal source told HuffPost that grassroots Liberals in Burnaby South wanted to compete to win the seat, long held by New Democrats. Former NDP MP Kennedy Stewart formally resigned the seat in September while running successfully to become Vancouvers mayor.
Conservatives have already nominated lawyer Jay Shin as their standard-bearer in the riding, meaning Singh has his work cut out for him.
“Im not sure why Mr. Trudeau delayed making this call in the first place, but Im excited to discuss the issues that matter most to the people of Burnaby South, like the housing crisis, costs of prescription drugs and threats to our environment,” Singh told HuffPost in a statement.
“The Liberals will need to answer to voters for their many betrayals over the past three years. With an NDP MP, the people of Burnaby know theyll have someone in their corner pushing the government to deliver solutions they urgently need.”
In late October, the leaders of the four main opposition parties released a joint letter calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to immediately call byelections in the three ridings with vacancies.
At the time, Trudeau had only called a vote for Dec. 3 in the Ontario riding of Leeds-Grenville-Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes. The riding was held for years by the well-respected Conservative MP Gord Brown, who passed away in May, and is widely expected to stay Tory blue.
“The longstanding tradition in Canada is to call the by-elections for all vacant seats at the same time,” they wrote in the letter. “However, you have offered no clear explanation as to why you only called a by-election date in Leeds-Grenville while the 334,000 Canadians in Burnaby-South, York-Simcoe, and Outremont should continue to go without federal representation.”