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Federal NDP leader praises provincial government at Victoria party convention

Jagmeet Singh also accused his party leader counterparts of being out of touch
B.C. Premier David Eby, left, with federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during the B.C. NDP convention at the Victoria Conference Centre on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh praised Premier David Eby’s government and took swings at his political opponents in a speech to delegates at the B.C. NDP convention in Victoria on Sunday.

“The work of Premier Eby and the New Democrats in B.C. makes us proud to be New Democrats,” he said, singling out the provincial government’s policies on child care and housing.

Singh also took on his two fellow party leaders during his Sunday-morning speech to the 703 delegates, calling Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre’s publicly expressed concern about affordability an “act,” and accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not understanding what Canadians are going through with high living costs.

“I have seen Trudeau’s government up close,” said Singh, whose party is in a confidence and supply agreement with the Liberal minority government. “I shouldn’t be mean, but one of our MPs has described working with the Liberals as like wrestling eels that are soaked in oil.”

The Liberals spend much of their time trying to get away from issues rather than meeting them head-on, Singh said. “The reason is Trudeau doesn’t get what people are going through. He only acts when he is forced to, or when his political future is on the line.”

Poilievre, meanwhile, says he wants to help ordinary Canadians facing affordability challenges, but Conservatives are known for imposing cuts on public services, Singh told the delegates.

“With Pierre Poilievre, it is all an act,” he said. “He would make life so much harder for people. He claims to care about working people, but you never see Pierre Poilievre taking on rich CEOs.”

Singh noted that New Democrats are pushing the Liberal government to bring in a dental-care-coverage program for all Canadians this year and will continue fighting for a universal Pharmacare program to cover prescription-drug costs for everyone.

“I can promise you we will keep on fighting until the end to get the best results we can for people while we have this position of power in this minority government.”

But it’s not a “fun fight,” Singh added. “We’ve got a fight against establishment Liberals and corporate Conservatives every day.”

In an interview with the Times Colonist after his speech, Singh said working with the Liberals is worth it “when I’m getting stuff done,” adding: “I have the opportunity to get something done, I’m gonna get it done.”

Explaining why the NDP backed the Conservatives on an unsuccessful motion in early November to pull the carbon tax off all home heating — after the Liberal government paused the carbon tax on home-heating oil, which is prominently used in Atlantic Canada — Singh said that a price on pollution “makes sense” but should be done in a way that is fair.

“We voted against the unfairness that the Liberals brought in.”

Meanwhile, the federal NDP leader praised B.C.’s $500-million rental protection fund, which will help non-profit housing providers buy buildings t0 preserve them as affordable rentals, and said he’s hoping to bring in a version at the federal level. “As a country, we’re losing more affordable homes than [what is] being built, so we need to keep what we have.”

Tuesdays’s fall economic statement from the federal government is expected to include a fund for affordable housing, according to a senior government official source who spoke to The Canadian Press.

Singh called vacancy control, which ties rent controls to a unit rather than the tenant, a “great idea,” but added that there are other mechanisms to increase housing affordability.

He pointed to the federal government’s recent announcement that it would be developing six surplus federal properties into 2,800 new homes in Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and St. John’s, N.L. as an example.

“We should be using all that federal land with strict guarantees to ensure that it is affordable, deeply affordable,” he said.

By contrast, Poilievre, in a visit to View Royal last week, told the Times Colonist that he hopes to sell off thousands of federal buildings and get government “out of the way” of housing if elected prime minister.

The Conservative leader has promised many more visits to the Island — where the NDP hold six out of seven federal seats — before the scheduled 2025 election.

Singh wasn’t worried, however.

“He can do whatever he wants,” he said. “We have lots of strong MPs already here.”

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