Singh targets Liberals, hard-hit Canadians in convention speech

·6 min read
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh survived his second leadership review Sunday as the NDP's three-day virtual policy convention comes to an end. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh survived his second leadership review Sunday as the NDP's three-day virtual policy convention comes to an end. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press - image credit)

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh worked to distinguish his party's progressive policies from those of the governing Liberals in his convention speech Sunday, speaking directly to Canadians battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Who will pay the cost of this pandemic and who will pay the cost of the recovery?" Singh asked. "It should not be you or your families, workers, small businesses that had to shut down, workers that lost their jobs."

Singh began his remarks addressing the disproportionate impact the public health crisis has had on women, Indigenous people and racialized communities. He also spoke to seniors in long-term care and young Canadians struggling with student debt.

The leader's address comes one day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's own speech at the Liberal Party's policy convention. Observers have said the competing events, which overlapped for two days, focused on similar policies in a bid to woo progressive voters.

Singh spent much of his speech attempting to draw a line between the two parties, claiming the Liberals focused more on their own interests than those of Canadians.

"I've heard it said that in this pandemic, we're all in the same boat. I disagree. We're not actually in the same boat. We're certainly in the same storm, but some of us are in leaky lifeboats," Singh said.

"In this storm, the Liberals continue to side with those in luxury yachts."

Focus on NDP's pandemic track record

The leader also touted his party's push for paid sick leave, a measure Singh said he wants to see made permanent. The NDP reached a deal with the Liberals on paid sick days last September, partly in an effort to sidestep a snap election.

He went on to denounce the Liberal Party for making little progress on implementing a national pharmacare program. Liberal delegates on Saturday supported the creation of such a program, though Singh criticized the party for recently voting against an NDP private members' bill to establish a pharmacare framework.

Singh took credit for boosting the federal emergency wage subsidy early on in the pandemic and repeatedly challenged the government for siding with "the ultra-wealthy".

The leader briefly paused his charge against the Liberals to take aim at the Conservatives, saying that the opposition doesn't care about workers because of its stance on paid sick leave, pharmacare, long-term care and those trying to join unions.

WATCH | Singh targets Liberals at NDP convention:

"They believe in cutting the services that people need and making it harder for everyday people," Singh said.

Liberal MP Terry Beech, who also co-chaired that party's convention, said in a statement following Singh's speech that "Canadians want a real plan with real solutions for real problems, and both Erin O'Toole's Conservatives and the NDP have shown that they just don't have one."

Singh passes 2nd leadership review

The convention closed on a victorious note for Singh: 87 per cent of party delegates voted against triggering a leadership race.

In 2018, Singh coasted through his first review at the NDP's policy convention, with 90.7 per cent of delegates voting against holding a contest.

Former leader Jack Layton obtained around or above 90 per cent during his reviews, similar to the outcome achieved during Tom Mulcair's first vote in 2013. Three years later with Mulcair still at the helm, more than half of party delegates voted in favour of a leadership election — an unprecedented result for a federal party leader.

Heading into the convention, NDP deputy leader Alexandre Boulerice predicted Singh wouldn't have to worry about the review.

"The caucus is united. The feeling, the mood with the activists, the members, the volunteers, is quite good. There's no questioning of the leadership right now. We are ready to go with Jagmeet in an election any time."

Singh, centre right, and Alexandre Boulerice, NDP incumbent for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, attend a rally with supporters in Montreal during the 2019 federal election campaign.
Singh, centre right, and Alexandre Boulerice, NDP incumbent for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, attend a rally with supporters in Montreal during the 2019 federal election campaign.(Nathan Denette / Canadian Press)

But Boulerice doesn't believe the leader — who handily won the party's top job in 2017 — should get too comfortable.

"His challenges are the challenges of a lot of federal leaders," Boulerice said.

"He needs to connect with areas of the country he knows a little bit less, maybe like the Maritimes ... to have good knowledge about the different realities."

Singh also needs to brush up on his French, Boulerice said. The MP holds the party's only seat in Quebec, a province where the NDP is hoping to make gains.

Before the vote, longtime Ontario MP Brian Masse said it's never good to assume anyone will survive a leadership vote.

"If he's not [worried], then that's a problem. I don't think that it's something that he needs to dwell on ... but he has to be cognizant that we have a diverse membership that has strong opinions on a lot of different issues, and he's the person who represents the face of that at the end of the day."

Convention marred by glitches, delays

The party's virtual policy convention has been beset by technical glitches, missing accessibility services at times, and has been slowed by a flurry of points of order and points of privilege from delegates.

Near the end of the convention Sunday, a request was approved allowing delegate fees to be waived for attendees living with disabilities who weren't able to fully participate in the proceedings.

Non-binding resolutions voted into the policy book Sunday included proposals to implement all 231 recommendations made by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, as well as a plan to establish a publicly owned telecommunications company to expand high-speed internet access.

Earlier in the convention, delegates voted overwhelmingly to raise the federal minimum wage to $20 and impose a one per cent tax on fortunes over $20 million.

On Saturday, delegates passed a controversial resolution calling for Canada to suspend arms sales with Israel and impose sanctions on Israeli settlements deemed illegal under international law.

"The measures are similar to what human rights organizations have called for, and I think there is good merit in what they are calling for," Singh said Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"If we want to get peace, it's going to require some pressure, and I think that's important," he said, when pushed by CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on whether he would adopt the resolution as a position of his party.

Other resolutions passed Saturday include a proposal to make long-term care part of Canada's health-care system and a pledge to support Indian farmers protesting that country's new agricultural laws.

WATCH | Singh discusses NDP resolution on sanctioning Israel:

The party says it's ready should a federal election be called.

The NDP cleared its multimillion-dollar campaign debt earlier this year and is prepared to spend up to $24 million for its next election run.

The party is currently facing criticism from some grassroots members for keeping 100 per cent of all Elections Canada campaign expense reimbursement, funds that usually go to candidates and benefit electoral district associations or ridings.