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New Democrats try out a sharper line of attack as Conservatives target NDP ridings

New Democrats say they are rolling out a line of attack against the Conservatives, as its leader, Pierre Poilievre, targets the NDP's ridings.

Leader Jagmeet Singh is testing a new catchphrase: 'The price of Pierre Poilievre'

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, left, and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre stand together before marching in the Lunar New Year parade in Chinatown in Vancouver on Sunday, January 22, 2023.

New Democrats say they're rolling out a new line of attack against the Conservatives as their leader Pierre Poilievre targets NDP-held ridings.

On Tuesday, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh started dropping a new line — "The price of Pierre Poilievre" — an echo of Poilievre's frequent references to what he calls the "Liberal-NDP costly coalition."

The party is also pushing for passage of the pharmacare bill — C-64, one of the centrepieces of its confidence and supply deal with the Liberals — before Parliament rises for the summer. The party says it wants to use it and other policy wins to advance its strategy.

"The price of Pierre is something people are afraid of," Singh said in Thunder Bay, Ont. on Tuesday. "The price of Pierre would mean life costs more, less services, less access to programs you need.

"No more dental care. No more pharmacare. That is a serious price."

The party hopes to reframe how Canadians see Poilievre. Anne McGrath, Singh's principal secretary in the House of Commons, admits the message's substance isn't really different from what New Democrats have been saying for a while.

McGrath said the next election is expected to yield a change in government. Polls show the Liberals bleeding considerable support and the Conservatives in a position to win in a landslide.

"[Canadians] are fed up with the federal government. They want a change," McGrath said. "We intend to make it clear that change can be a positive change."

McGrath said the NDP will continue highlighting the things its parliamentary caucus obtained through the confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals, such as the Canadian Dental Care Plan and an early version of pharmacare. That agreement sees New Democrats support bills put forward by the Liberal minority government in exchange for policy wins on NDP priorities.

McGrath said a Conservative government would put those NDP gains at risk.

"(Voters) should be looking at the kinds of things that Pierre probably will take away from them," she said.

Poilievre has not said explicitly he would scrap dental care, pharmacare or the federal government's national child care plan. He has, however, criticized the effectiveness of these programs, or noted that some have yet to be implemented.

As he tours the country in preparation for the next election campaign, Poilievre has been spending time in NDP battleground ridings in northern Ontario and all over British Columbia.

Several NDP riding presidents say they have been paying attention to the resources Conservatives have been pouring into their districts.

"We're going to see a battle with the Conservatives," said Don Bonner, NDP riding president for Nanaimo Ladysmith. "They are taking this riding very seriously."

In metro Vancouver, the NDP riding association in New Westminster-Burnaby — typically an NDP stronghold — has been holding neighbourhood canvassing sessions that reach about 200 people monthly. A team of volunteers also phones constituents, informing seniors that they can apply for subsidized dental care.

"We don't take anything for granted," said the riding association's president Doris Mah. "We have to earn people's vote."

Recentpolling analysis by the Writ.ca shows a number of B.C. NDP ridings could be in play. Even Singh's own riding could turn blue. The publisher of the online website, Eric Grenier, notes that polls show New Democrats are losing momentum.

"It does seem like the NDP has been losing some support, primarily to the Conservatives, over the last little while," Grenier said.

Grenier said that with their current polling numbers, New Democrats probably aren't at risk of losing party status. He said while the party may lose seats out west, it might pick up seats in downtown Toronto, Halifax and St. John's since the Liberals are performing so badly in the polls.

Grenier said the numbers are not low enough to plunge New Democrats "into panic mode" and the party has seen lower numbers in the past.

"But the trend line is not going in the right direction," Grenier said.

Former NDP communications director George Soule, now a principal at the strategic communications firm Syntax, agreed now is not the time for New Democrats to freak out. He also dismissed suggestions that the recent departure of veteran NDP MPs signals the party is in trouble.

At least six of the party's MPs — Randall Garrison, Rachel Blaney, Richard Cannings, Charlie Angus, Carol Hughes and Daniel Blaikie — won't fight the next federal election. Blaikie is taking a job with Manitoba's NDP Premier Wab Kinew. Hughes' riding is disappearing after changes were made to the electoral map. Others have said they are stepping down for personal reasons, or because they want to spend more time with their loved ones.

Soule argues the party has attracted some well-known candidates like Maya Tait, mayor of Sooke B.C., who is running in Garrison's old riding of Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke.

Soule also said the party is in better financial shape now, having paid off its campaign debt well in advance of the next election. The party is even fundraising off the challenge posed by the Conservatives by reopening its "Blue vs. Orange Battleground Fund."

"It's easy to tell stories about the NDP dying," Soule said, citing the 2011 election breakthrough that catapulted it into Official Opposition for the first time.

"(It) was a good election that proved — don't bury us until we're gone."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Thurton

Senior reporter, Parliamentary Correspondent

David Thurton is a senior reporter in CBC's Parliamentary Bureau. He covers daily politics in the nation’s capital and specializes in environment and energy policy. Born in Canada but raised in Trinidad and Tobago, he’s moved around more times than he can count. He’s worked for CBC in several provinces and territories, including Alberta and the Northwest Territories. He can be reached at david.thurton@cbc.ca

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