Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh spoke in Parksville on Tuesday night as part of a campaign fundraiser at the Parksville Museum.
Alongside Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns, Singh addressed a variety of topics, all focused around what the NDP describe as their “people-first” policies.
Top of the agenda was creating a universal pharmacare program that includes dental and vision coverage, combating climate change, tackling housing affordability and ensuring that a transition out of oil and gas won’t leave workers in the resource economy behind.
The goals are lofty, but the NDP’s current campaign brand seemed focused on optimism, with Johns leading the crowd in a chant of “love and courage.” That happens to be the title of Singh’s autobiographical book published this past April, where he addresses deeply personal issues.
The race is projected to be tight in the riding of Courtenay-Alberni, which includes the Parksville-Qualicum Beach area.
Non-partisan polling service 338 Canada shows that the riding is split between Tory and NDP, with the Conservatives in a slight lead of 28.5 per cent of the vote and the NDP at 26.4 per cemt. The Greens are at 26.2 per cent as of Aug. 11 while the Liberals are at 15.7 per cent.
Johns echoed this, saying the Conservatives have been campaigning hard to gain the support of people in the riding.
In an exclusive interview with The NEWS after his speech, Singh says he’s been speaking with Vancouver Islanders about their specific concerns.
“On Vancouver Island health care comes up a lot, a lot. Housing is becoming a recent development issue … over the past five years it’s really changed a lot. People tell me how things have just become so much more difficult in the recent just couple years,” said Singh.
He says that a combination of housing scarcity, affordability and outdated housing on Vancouver Island is being exacerbated by pressure from the Lower Mainland’s hot housing market. Singh promised 500,000 units of affordable housing within 10 years.
In terms of health care, the federal NDP is pushing a plan for universal medication coverage, including dental, vision and addiction recovery support, to the tune of $9 billion.
“Everything we need should be included in our health care system,” said Singh.
In the NDP’s plan, the funding for that $9 billion would come from taxing the wealthiest members of society. They plan to tax those whose net wealth is over $20 million, by applying a 1 per cent tax on all wealth over $20 million.
Singh also brought up climate change. He emphasized that those who work in the resource sector should not be left behind in their party’s plan to transition out of oil and gas and into green energy.
“Our vision for fighting the climate crisis is one where we respect that there’s a lot of people that need to be brought along, and they can’t be neglected or forgotten … if we draw lines that pit one group against another and divide each other, we’re not going to move forward,” said Singh.
Johns echoed Singh’s sentiments, and spoke more specifically about the need for environmental measures protecting B.C.’s coast, namely a transition away from pipelines and a need to protect coastal salmon.
Johns mentioned the effects of climate change in Parksville specifically, pointing to what he says is unusual weather over the past year — December’s windstorm, February’s hailstorm, March’s drought and the May forest fire.
Johns also pledged to work alongside Indigenous groups.
“The climate crisis is real, and we’re a rural community … and we know in rural communities how real the climate crisis is. And we need to take swift action to ensure that we’re moving, transitioning away from a fossil fuel economy to one with clean energy,” said Johns.
All these dreams should be peppered with a dose of reality – the NDP is aiming for a federal minority government, and Johns acknowledges that, but maintains hope for change.
Johns will be running against Conservative Byron Horner and the Green Party’s Sean Wood. At the time of press, no Liberal candidate had been announced in the riding of Courtenay-Alberni.
The Canadian federal election is scheduled for Oct. 21.