jagmeet singhOttawa: With almost a year under his belt as leader and an election nearly a year away, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh faces pressure to show a united team when he meets with caucus members for a strategy session beginning on Tuesday.

Singh, who took over the helm of the beleaguered New Democrats last October, is facing calls from party stalwarts to lay out his vision for the 2019 election bid.

He is also planning to run for a seat in the House of Commons held by the party, but one it snagged by just over 500 votes in 2015.

NDP strategist Robin MacLachlan said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has opened the door for Singh to argue the Liberal government is failing progressive voters and the NDP leader needs to walk through the opening with a plan.

“I am somewhat disappointed that his vision has not translated into a clear narrative that is cracking through what can often be the favoured two-party horse race,” MacLachlan said. “It is up to Jagmeet Singh to prove that the NDP won’t fail in owning that progressive space.”

Singh will have a chance to test drive his campaign narrative whenever Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sets a byelection date for the B.C. riding of Burnaby South. Singh announced in early August he would run in the seat being vacated by fellow New Democrat Kennedy Stewart who is taking a run at Vancouver’s mayoralty.

“No better place than Burnaby where the battleground over the (Trans Mountain) pipeline that has become, I would suggest, perhaps the bane of the Liberal government’s existence,” MacLachlan said, referring to the Federal Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline expansion.

NDP national campaign co-chair Marie Della Mattia said the byelection in Burnaby South, as well as other planned byelections, offer the party key opportunities to signal what the NDP stands for ahead of the 2019 election.

“We have something to say and we believe that it connects with what people are feeling and what they want from their government,” Della Mattia said.

Singh was not available Monday for an interview.

A byelection win could improve Singh’s relationship with caucus, said McMaster University professor Peter Graefe, noting the NDP has recently garnered headlines for internal matters rather than what it offers voters.

“They have to have find a way to work better,” he said.

Last week, Singh announced MP Erin Weir will not be able to run as a New Democrat in 2019, a decision causing a rift between the leader and the party’s long-standing members in Saskatchewan.

There is also grumbling about the party’s finances.

The party pulled in $4.86 million from 39,053 donors in 2017, a decline from the $5.39 million collected in 2016, and a steep drop from the $18.59 million in 2015.

Until the party fares better financially, Singh has decided to forego his paycheque.

Veteran NDP MP Nathan Cullen said he wishes his party was in a better place and the caucus meetings in Surrey offer a “natural reset moment.”

Cullen, who backed Singh’s leadership bid last year, said he was impressed by the leader’s energy and ability to relate to people during a visit to Cullen’s B.C. riding this summer.

“I was curious to see how he would be able to relate across a very wide spectrum of people,” Cullen said. “He did really well and I’m saying that very objectively.”

By Kristy Kirkup, The Canadian Press