Jagmeet Singh, the leader of the federal New Democratic stopped in Cranbrook as part of a whirlwind tour of the Kootenays, holding a so-called Jagmeet and Greet at the office of Kootenay-Columbia MP Wayne Stetski, Friday, Nov. 16.
“We have an incredible MP — I want to support him and see the work that he does,” Singh told a media scrum later. “It’s abundantly clear the amazing impact he’s had on the community. Lots of love, lots of support.
“But it’s also important for me as federal leader to understand the issues, concerns and problems that all Canadians are facing. And I really want to spend some time in the East Kootenay to get a sense of that.”
While in the area, Singh met with local First Nations leaders and Labour leaders, “to talk about some of their concerns and some of the things they see that we can improve on in society.”
Housing issues, both locally and nationwide, are a particular focus of Singh and his party.
“We also met with community leaders on the homelessness and housing front,” he said, further to his Kootenay visit. “We know that housing is a massive crisis, and it’s often relegated to urban centres that it becomes a big topic … but it’s truly a national crisis. Here in the Kootenays we know it’s an issue; it’s hard to find housing, vacancy rates are very low — close to one per cent — and there are really no options for affordable housing.
“This is something I’m committed to doing something about. We’ve been pushing since I became leader very aggressively on building units immediately … we need to provide some relief.”
The housing crisis was a topic Singh spoke about to the crowd that had come down to meet him Friday, and he spoke of the housing issues his own family faced when he was growing up.
“I have an understanding of the challenges that many Canadians face, and continue to face,” he said afterwards. “It’s given me that insight. But at the end of the day, I’m only here today because people lifted me up. People supported me. Social programs helped me out. And that’s really my motivation. I want to build a Canada where we take care of one another, where we have programs we can rely on, that can lift people up and help them.”
Since elected as NDP leader one year ago, and with his subsequent travels around Canada as leader, what has struck Singh are the common denominators, both positive and negative, that communities and regions share.
The labour shortage and housing issues are among the problems.
“Many employers have opportunities for work, but they don’t have people to fill those jobs,” Singh said. “In addition, lots of people are talking about housing, and issues that we would think of as big city issues, but they’re everywhere, in small communities and diverse places.”
But he has also noticed a common thread of compassion as a national trait.
“The thing that I found most striking, having travelled across the country, is that despite the fact there are intense regional differences … there is actually so much we share in common. There is actually a spirit of wanting to care for your neighbour, of wanting to care for one another — that spirit is something I’m really proud of.”
The federal election is one year in the cure, and Singh said he and his party are focussing on showing Canadians there is an alternative.
“If people want to build a brighter future where we take care of one another there is a real option for folks. Things like housing — we know the Conservatives don’t care, they’re part of the reason we’re in this position, because they’ve abandoned investing in housing and building units.
“The Liberals talked about caring, but haven’t actually delivered anything, and their only line is to release funding after they’re elected. Which again, which is not something guaranteed, and is a promise they may or may not follow through on. We’re committed to immediately doing something.
A national pharmacare program is also a plank in the NDP platform.
“We’re proposing that the only way to lower costs for all Canadians and for businesses, the only way to ensure justice for everyone is to have a system where medication is covered for everyone.”
“Those contrasts are something we’re going to show more and more, we’re going to show the solutions to problems, and that’s going to be what we do for the next year.”
Photo (above): Jagmeet Singh talks to the crowd at a meet and greet at MP Wayne Stetski’s office Friday, Nov. 16. (Barry Coulter photo)
Photo (below): Left to right: Cranbrook firefighter Murray Robertson, Singh, Firefighter Gregory Green, MP Wayne Stetski. (Barry Coulter photo)