Jagmeet Singh on Montreal man who asked Singh to remove his turban: “These instances have been challenges, they have also been opportunities to show people who I really am – a proud Canadian – and what I really stand for: equality, justice, inclusion, and peace.”
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and the candidates are all set for the Federal Elections 2019 race. In an interview with Desi Today magazine, Singh talks about his agenda, his message to Canadians and his response to the Montreal man who asked him to cut of his turban
DT) How has been your journey so far since the time you have taken over as the NDP leader?
Leading the NDP has been an exciting and challenging experience for me. It’s an honour, privilege, and heavy responsibility to be in the company of so many great New Democrats who came before me – trailblazers like Rosemary Brown who was the first Black woman to be elected to a Canadian legislature, and iconic national leaders like Tommy Douglas and Jack Layton. I have truly enjoyed getting to know Canadians in every region of this huge and diverse country, and building a strong and lasting relationship with them.
DT) Have people across Canada accepted you in the same stance as any other leader, or you have faced challenges coming from a minority?
For the most part, I have found Canadians to be very open and welcoming of my identity as the first racialized leader of a federal political party. Some are curious as they may not have met someone who identifies as a Sikh, and, for the most part, they have been open and positive. One of the challenges that I have faced, not just as Leader of the NDP but throughout my life, is discrimination. Sometimes it is casual such as when I was approached by a gentleman in the market in Montreal who was otherwise polite and thought he would offer a friendly suggestion to remove my turban to appear more “Canadian.” Other times it is more overt like when people circulate disturbing items on the internet designed to mock me or my faith, and to misinform and anger ordinary Canadians. Unfortunately, this is nothing new to me, but it is disappointing. These instances have been challenges, they have also been opportunities to show people who I am really am – a proud Canadian – and what I really stand for: equality, justice, inclusion, and peace.
I’ve tried to make the most of these opportunities to make progress, and I think to a degree we have, but clearly there is more work to be done.
DT) What are some of the top commitments you are making to Canadians, if you are elected as the Prime Minister of Canada?
New Democrats have a very strong platform to address the issues I mentioned above, and many others. We listened to Canadians and built our platform around some key themes that we have heard about over the last two years. I’ll highlight them for you here, and share a few key commitments.
The broad themes of our campaign are: Making life More Affordable for Everyday People; Building an Economy That Works Better for More People; Protecting Our Air, Land, and Water, Securing Our Future; Taking Better Care of Each Other; Reconciliation At the Heart of What We Do; A New Deal to Build Stronger, More Vibrant Communities; and The Courage to do What’s Right. Within these themes are dozens of policy commitments, but some in particular seem to be getting a really good response from Canadians across the country.
DT) How do you plan to put more money back in the pockets of Canadians at the time when economies across the world are staggering and Canadian living becoming more unaffordable especially housing?
For many years, the cost of housing – whether owning or renting – has risen dramatically. The result is that too many Canadians are stuck in housing that’s too expensive or doesn’t fit their needs, but they feel like they have nowhere to go. The Liberal government doesn’t seem to understand that we’re in a housing crisis. People need help now – but 90% of the money in their housing plan won’t be spent until after the next election.
Our NDP housing plan would:
- Create 500,000 units of quality, affordable housing across the country – including affordable rentals, co-op housing, and social housing. We’ll also make it easier for young people to buy a home, by making co-ownership easier and reintroducing 30-year mortgages
- Provide a $5,000 per year rental subsidy for up to 500,000 families who are renting their homes, but struggling to pay
- Set up dedicated fast-start funds to kick-start the construction of co-ops, social, and non-profit housing and streamline the application process and help communities get the expertise and assistance they need to get projects off the ground today, not years from now
- Remove the federal portion of the GST/HST on the construction of new affordable rental units – a simple change that will help get new units built faster and keep them affordable for the long term
- Re-introduce 30-year terms to CMHC insured mortgages on entry-level homes for first time home buyers. This will allow for smaller monthly payments, freeing up funds to help make ends meet for young families. We’ll also give people a hand with closing costs by doubling the Home Buyer’s Tax Credit to $1,500
- Provide resources to facilitate co-housing, such as model co-ownership agreements and connections to local resources, and ease access to financing by offering CMHC-backed co-ownership mortgages.
DT) Can you tell us about NDP’s Universal Pharma Care plan?
Our universal pharmacare and dental coverage are proving to be very popular NDP commitments. To make life more affordable and ensure that all Canadians have the opportunity to live healthy and productive lives, a New Democrat government would cover 100% of the drug costs for every Canadian, and 100% of the dental coverage for all individuals and families who make $70,000 or less. These two measures alone could save the average Canadian $1,500 per year and drastically improve their quality of life.
DT) The NDP’s 2019 candidates’ list is very multicultural but at the same time there are only few South Asian faces and the list further shrinks when it comes to Punjabi Candidates. What do you have to say about that?
That is a great question. The 2019 slate of NDP candidates is the most diverse of any federal party – ever. We are very proud of this fact, but also know that we can do better. When our diverse slate of candidates is combined with the membership’s decision to elect me to lead the party national, I’m hopeful that Canadians of South Asian and Punjabi heritage will see that there are no longer barriers to belonging to, volunteering for, and running for the NDP. In fact, we welcome more diversity and know that this is a strength. I sincerely hope that more of us from the South Asian and Punjabi communities will become more active in the months and years to come. The NDP is a party for all Canadians, and I encourage anyone who is interested in getting more involved to contact us through our website at: https://www.ndp.ca/contact
DT) How is Quebec responding to you and your campaign?
Quebec is a unique and distinct province in Canada, and the people there have been very warm and welcoming for the most part. I feel that they are listening and watching not just myself, but our great candidates, and giving serious thought to our plan. Campaigning in Quebec is not without its challenges, but no more so than any other part of Canada, though the challenges are often a little different from region to region and province to province.
For me it’s important to show an openness to the people of Quebec, and to let them know that I want to be an ally for Quebec and that means letting people know where I stand and who I am.
DT) What is your message to our readers?
My message to your readers is that Canada’s NDP and I are working hard – and we are working hard for you. We live in a great country, full of vibrant communities and incredible people. And across the vast distances, there’s so much that brings us together. We all want to take care of our loved ones, build a good life, and give a bright future to the next generation. But as I listen to Canadians, I hear the worry in people’s voices. From our downtowns and suburbs to small towns and rural communities, life keeps getting harder.
It’s harder to keep up – as wages stay the same, and workers fear that they’ll be left behind. It’s harder to find good jobs – the kind that come with a living wage, good benefits, and the security of having a union on your side. It’s harder to afford a home as sky-rocketing rents and mortgages force people out of the neighbourhoods they grew up in. It’s harder to get the health care we need as families pay more out-of-pocket for everything from home care to prescription drugs. And all the while, we see the dangers of the climate crisis growing – and threatening everything that we value.
People across the country are worried about what the future holds and how their children will make a life for themselves. It’s the same look of worry I saw on the faces of my own parents as our family faced an addiction crisis and lost our home.
We know exactly why this is happening to families today. The stress that families carry, the worry that keeps people up at night, and the suffocating pressure that people feel as costs keep tightening the family budget – it’s caused by the choices that Liberal and Conservative governments have made to do less and less. If we want different results, we need to make different choices. And we need to do it now.
Our country, and our world, has been pushed to the tipping point – with unprecedented income inequality, an out-of- control climate crisis, and a resurgence of vile intolerance and hatred. What we need now is the courage to act together. And that is exactly what New Democrats offer to Canadians.
More to come in the upcoming issue of Desi Today