In a final push to win seats in Western Canada, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is scheduled on Saturday to stop in five cities in Saskatchewan, Alberta and B.C., where the party hopes ridings could flip orange in Monday’s federal election.
The NDP campaign began the day in Saskatoon, stopped in Regina and Edmonton, and then is set to briefly visit Cranbrook, B.C., before ending the day in Vancouver. The NDP didn’t win any seats in Saskatchewan in 2019, and only holds the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona in Alberta, but they’re hoping this election will be different.
During the last week of the campaign, Mr. Singh has led with a message of positive change, albeit one that is frequently interspersed with attacks on the Liberals’ record, in the hopes of reaching progressive voters.
“One of the things that we always try to do in our campaign is make people the heart of our story,” Mr. Singh said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “We use the campaign as a way to be a vehicle for people’s lives and their stories and their struggles, and then give hope that there are solutions to these problems.”
During whistle stops through Southern Ontario this past week, Mr. Singh boosted his positive message by encouraging supporters to jump and dance along to his upbeat, 2019 campaign song, Differentology, as well as join him in the refrain he repeats at each stop: “When we lift each other up, we all rise.”
Much of his campaign, however, has also been about talking down the Liberals, with the aim of drawing a distinction between his party and Justin Trudeau’s.
“We’ve got six years of evidence of what Mr. Trudeau has been able to do in power as Prime Minister,” he said, echoing a common theme from the campaign trail.
Some critics are skeptical that Mr. Singh’s plans will be better.
The NDP platform costing received only a passing grade from the Institute of Fiscal Studies and Democracy at the University of Ottawa. One of the main issues cited by the institute was that the party had several revenue programs costed by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, but hardly any spending programs were.
When asked about the criticism, Mr. Singh said that the NDP has laid out a plan of what the party believes in. ”So people know exactly where we stand,” he added. And asked if he would commit to having more measures costed by the PBO, he didn’t provide a direct answer. “We’ll lay out more details of our plan as we move forward, so it’s going to be more than just the costing,” he said.
The institute assessment gave the Conservative platform a passing grade as well, scoring it low for responsible fiscal management because it didn’t explain how the party would increase health spending while the deficit shrinks. The Liberal platform was given a good grade.
The NDP has also faced criticism for its climate change plan, which has an ambitious target – a goal of reducing emissions by at least 50 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Mark Jaccard, who develops climate models, assessed the climate policies of the four major national parties in a piece for Policy Options. He wrote that achieving the NDP plan’s aggressive targets without giving a break to “trade-exposed industries” would be “devastating” to the economy.
When asked about this assessment, Mr. Singh said the party consulted with environmental experts to develop the policy, and they’ve said it’s one of the best plans.
“Our plan is actually a plan that incorporates not just a market based-solution, but also the power of government investing in proactive solutions,” he said. Mr. Singh added that the NDP is focused on creating jobs for projects like retrofitting buildings. “We’re proud that we’re going to be bold about it,” he said.
The NDP held 24 seats in the House of Commons at dissolution, and is hoping to increase that number. Just more than half of the party’s candidates are women, and 72 per cent are part of what they call an “equity-seeking” group that includes racialized candidates, women, those from the LGBTQ community and other marginalized groups, those living with a disability and youth.
“It’s been a really big part of my leadership to make sure women were well represented in positions of power. That’s something that I’ve committed to,” Mr. Singh said, adding that both his chief of staff and campaign director are women, and that he’s always looking to improve diversity within his party.
“I want to make sure that we continue that trend that we already started, to get more people, particularly from Indigenous backgrounds and other equity-seeking groups, to have a team that reflects the country,” he said.
Mr. Singh has also put a focus on Indigenous issues. He visited Neskantaga First Nation during the final week of the campaign. The remote, fly-in community in northern Ontario has had a boil-water advisory for more than 26 years, the longest-running in Canada.
“They felt really unheard,” Mr. Singh said of people in the community. “They were suffering in silence.” He said he hoped the visit to Neskantaga, where he was accompanied by media covering the campaign, highlighted the day-to-day costs of boil-water advisories.
The Liberals had promised to end boil-water advisories by March, 2021, but said last year that would not happen, citing COVID-19 as a reason for the delay. Government documents from this spring showed it could take until 2026.
There are still 52 long-term drinking-water advisories in 33 communities, according to Indigenous Services Canada. Since the Liberals took power in 2015, 109 have been lifted.
Mr. Singh said he would make ending boil-water advisories a priority, but has given few details on how his party would do so. He said the visit to Neskantaga was about helping give people in the community a voice.
“We want to share their story, want people to know what they’re going through,” he said.
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