MONTREAL — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh tried to strike an optimistic tone Wednesday in Quebec, where his party is trying to hold onto its sole seat and recapture ridings it lost in the last election.
Singh said this campaign — his second as leader — feels different in the province since he has a track record to run on, including pushing the Liberal government for more pandemic supports.
He brushed aside comments from Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet questioning Singh's support for Quebec, saying he isn't concerned about that hurting his electoral chances in the province.
"I'm not worried about the parties of opposition," Singh said in Montreal.
"My target is on the government because I’m here to make sure the government works for people. I want to be the next prime minister because I want to help Quebecers. When people needed help in Quebec, where were the other parties of opposition, the opposition parties? They were absent."
Blanchet has been critical of both the NDP and Liberals during this campaign, saying those parties try to paint Quebecers as racist, and he predicts they will "pay the price" on election day.
Singh has spoken out against Quebec's Bill 21, which bans certain public servants from wearing religious symbols at work, and experts say many Quebecers bristle at both the appearance of federal interference in provincial governance and the suggestion that systemic racism is at play.
"I believe very clearly that laws should not discriminate," Singh said Wednesday.
"Laws should not create divisions. Laws shouldn’t create two categories of people and that’s why I’ve got a problem with a law that creates two categories for people and I’ve always been opposed to it."
Singh said Quebecers are the ones fighting the law "and that's exactly how it should happen."
The NDP leader campaigned Wednesday in the province where the party hopes to regain some of the 2011 momentum that saw a so-called orange wave net them 59 seats and help sweep them to become the Official Opposition.
In 2019, the party lost all but one seat in Quebec. The NDP has said it is running a targeted campaign in the province, focusing on six to 10 ridings it believes it can win, including four in Montreal.
Singh was in the city a day ahead of a French-language debate, and stood at the Peel Basin, next to the Lachine Canal in downtown Montreal, to make a pitch on housing.
Singh pledged to invest $10 million to go toward his plan to build 500,000 new homes families can afford. He said every bit of federal land, such as the Peel Basin area in Montreal where conversations about developing a baseball stadium are ongoing, should be invested in creating affordable houses.
"The housing crisis is hitting hard in Canada, particularly here in Montreal where we know that people are struggling to find a home that's in their budget. Young people and young families are often considering leaving their community, leaving the place where they've got friends and family and connections to go somewhere else because they can’t afford to stay. That has to stop."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 1, 2021.
Virginie Ann, The Canadian Press