Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh visited Courtenay and Campbell River on Monday, joined by North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney (and Courtenay-Alberni MP Gord Johns), as part of his national tour.
Black Press reporter Jocelyn Doll posed a few questions to Singh and Blaney:
What would a national housing strategy look like if the NDP were to be elected?
Singh: One key distinction is, when we talk about housing in our country it is a national crisis. If you look at affordability it’s something that is across the board, from coast to coast to coast, a big issue. I don’t know how many times in your life if you’ve had a crisis were you able to wait two years before doing any sort of concrete step. That is what we are seeing with this government, they are acknowledging that it is a crisis, which is a good thing, but then their real significant, substantial promises aren’t actually going to happen until two years from now. To me that doesn’t respect the seriousness of the issue. What we need to do is build affordable units right away, we need to reinvest in support co-operative housing as a model and we need to get at some of the speculation, something that the provincial government here in B.C. has started doing with the speculation tax.
What about the seniors strategy?
Singh: What I learned today is that when you talk about affordable housing, when you break it down there is all sorts of issues and needs and it’s not just affordability when it comes to low income but it is also access to housing that is appropriate for seniors. But I will let our seniors critic speak more to that.
Blaney: We know that a national seniors strategy is really important because in 2036 they are predicting that one in every four Canadian citizens are going to be a senior. Right now we are seeing a lot of gaps and seniors are falling through them. This really needs to be a partnership with the federal and provincial levels of governments working closely with municipalities to bridge those gaps and make sure seniors don’t fall through them. One of the important things, and Jagmeet speaks so well on this as well, is we really need a Pharmacare strategy. We saw it in the last budget again the government is going to do more consultation and not really do the important next step which is how do we implement something that already the parliamentary budget officer of Canada has said will save billions of dollars for Canadians. When we talk about seniors and the significant gaps that they are facing, often it is specifically not being able to afford medication. We have seniors in and out of hospitals because they are not using their medication because they cannot afford to use their medication.
What can we expect from you two in the years leading up to the election?
Singh: Our big focus is going to be income inequality and the environment. There is also a really strong connection between protecting the environment and inequality. We know that people rely on the environment for their livelihood and with negative impacts to the environment and climate change this is going to impact that way of life, particularly for indigenous communities but for all Canadians as well. These two big themes are going to be our big focus. We know there is this talk about, the government says this all the time, that the economy is doing really well, it is moving along and it’s a strong economy. And then you speak to everyday people and they say ‘I don’t feel the economy really helping me out. If it is doing so well why is my life still the same? Why do I still feel stuck?’ They are right to feel that way. We have sad evidence that shows over 80 per cent of the wealth generated last year went to the top one per cent of the wealthiest in the world. That’s why what we are pushing for is we need to address off-shore tax havens and CEO stock options and the loopholes that prevent the powerful and wealthy from contributing their fair share. That’s going to be a big part of the work we do over the next year and a half.
Can you give us a quick rundown of what an NDP government would do to address the opioid issue?
Singh: We have to look at it as a health crisis. The first step would be to declare it a public health emergency and that would allow appropriate funding to flow. Right now people who are front care providers, crisis workers, are actually working outside of the legal framework because there isn’t the appropriate funding or a legal way for them to actually provide the assistance they are doing. The second piece is what we are doing with our resources, we spend 80 per cent of our resources as a country, as a nation, on prosecuting, on arresting and on incarcerating people, that’s what we spend our money on, charging someone with a crime, putting them through the criminal justice system and then putting them in jail. Folks that are dealing with personal possession or people that are dealing with drug issues are people that are dealing with either mental health issues, poverty or addictions. These three things to me don’t sound like a criminal justice problem, they sound like a health care problem and so we should deal with it like a health care problem.
Why are you doing this tour and are you enjoying it?
Singh: I’m loving it. First of all I don’t know if you appreciate this but being out on the Island, the fresh air, right when we put our first foot on the land we just breathed in this beautiful fresh air, so it is amazing just for that. And then the people here are wonderful.
Blaney: We know that rural and remote communities often get forgotten and so I am really glad he has got a dedication and a focus to coming here and experiencing the realities that we face every day. I think that it is important when we have people who are leaders that they spend time in some of these communities that they have a distinct understanding of the challenges we face. I am really happy to have him here and engaging in the process.