MONTREAL — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh focused on the environment as he campaigned in central Montreal, where his party hopes to regain seats it lost in the past two elections.
An NDP government would eliminate subsidies for oil and gas companies, replacing them with direct funding for renewable energy projects, Singh promised during a campaign stop in the riding of Outremont, once held by Thomas Mulcair and now represented by Liberal Rachel Bendayan.
"What we'd like to do is invest directly into remediation of oil wells. We'd like to invest directly in retrofitting some of these oil wells into geothermal plants," he said.
A February report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development shows Canada spent at least $1.9 billion in direct aid to the traditional energy sector last year, up from $600 million in 2019.
More than three-quarters of that — $1.5 billion — was to help companies restore abandoned oil wells in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia, which are a significant source of methane emissions.
That type of funding doesn't guarantee that public funds are used to help preserve jobs or protect the environment, Singh said during the campaign stop in Montreal's Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, an area known for bike lanes and pedestrianized streets that has elected environmentally focused candidates at the provincial and municipal levels.
Speaking near where Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau participated in a massive march against climate change in 2019, Singh said the Liberals had promised to end subsidies to oil and gas companies but had instead increased them, though he didn't offer specific dollar amounts.
"We want to make sure that instead of these vague promises or these broken promises, we are committed to immediately ending those fossil fuel subsidies," Singh said.
The NDP is running a targeted campaign in Quebec, focused on six to 10 ridings, said Alexandre Boulerice, who has represented the neighbouring riding of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie since 2011.
Four of those, including Outremont, are central Montreal ridings won by the NDP — or include parts of former ridings won by the party — during the 2011 "Orange wave" but are now represented by Liberals.
Other targeted ridings include the cities of Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke, which have large student populations, as well as two more rural ridings, Drummond and Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, where former NDP MPs who lost their seats to the Bloc Québécois in 2019 hope to regain them, said Boulerice, the sole NDP member elected in the province that year.
Boulerice said Singh is connecting with voters in Montreal because he has the same kind of charisma as Jack Layton, who was the party's leader during its breakthrough in Quebec.
"I've worked with both men and they have the same kind of positive vibes," he said. "They can connect to people, they are genuine, people relate to them, people like them."
Singh also promised to spend $500 million on Indigenous-led conservation programs. He said many Indigenous communities face an "impossible decision" between creating good jobs in industries like logging and conserving their land.
"What we want to do is create a fund so that Indigenous communities that choose to conserve their land have an opportunity to do that with resources and the tools to actually make that decision."
Singh didn't outline the criteria that would determine which projects would be funded or how they would receive funds.
Speaking to a supporter critical of how the provincial NDP government in British Columbia has handled protests against logging in the Fairy Creek Watershed area on Vancouver Island, Singh said the fund would help avoid similar disputes in the future, by giving Indigenous communities the means to protect traditional land.
Singh made the comment as he visited small businesses in the Papineau riding currently held by Trudeau.
Local NDP candidate Christian Paré, who is running again after placing second in 2019 with 19.2 per cent of the vote, said she wouldn't be running if she didn't think she could win.
While climate change is important because it affects everyone, she said in an interview Monday that a lack of social housing is the biggest issue in Papineau, which includes some of Montreal's poorest neighbourhoods.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 23, 2021.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press