By: Alex Bloom
In the lead-up to the Burnaby South by-election on February 25, I spoke (separately) to all three recognized party candidates over the phone. You can also read my interview with Jay Shin, Conservative, and Richard Lee, Liberal.
Jagmeet Singh was previously a member of the Ontario Legislative Assembly representing Brampton, Ontario. During our phone interview, I asked how he felt that his time there had prepared him to run in the Burnaby South by-election.
“The experience in the Legislative Assembly allowed me to listen to the concerns of our constituents and then forcefully bring those to the Legislative Assembly,” he said. “So I was able to push back on government policies — in this case, Liberal government policies — that were hurting people and demand action,” he said.
Singh continued, saying “I gained that ability to fight and fight for my constituents and not back down [. . .] I want to fight for the people of Burnaby South, I want to take on the government in Ottawa that has neglected the people, that has ignored people faced with housing crisis concerns and a housing crisis, and I want to make sure that there is medication coverage for all.”
When I asked him to comment on the differences between Burnaby South and Brampton, Ontario, Singh was ready.
“Burnaby, I would say there’s a richer culture around concern for the environment.” In Burnaby, according to him, “they love their connection to the mountains and the river and the proximity to so much nature has influenced folks to feel more in tune with what’s going in the environment.”
Singh says that these concerns are “amplified” in Burnaby. “People are impacted by the forest fires, care about making sure we have a clean environment where we can breathe the air for — not just the future generations — but for like next summer.”
I asked Singh to summarize his top priorities for Burnaby South if elected, and he said his first priority was housing. “[. . .] and I mean all forms of housing. We need to build more affordable units. We should build 500,000 — half a million — affordable units across the country, and we should kick-start co-op and non-profit housing.”
Singh stated that his second priority is the healthcare system, “[ . . . ] to make sure that we deliver healthcare that is truly universal, and we tackle the out-of-pocket healthcare expenses — more and more people are spending money out of pocket.”
He went on to discuss the issue of housing, and its impact on students in particular.
“I met with a lot of students at a round table and we talked about the impact of the housing crisis on students, and they told me how many of them were worried about staying in school, and were thinking about leaving the province because it’s so expensive to find housing. So I want to focus on student housing, making it affordable, having good options for students.”
The last of his top three priorities was “the environment and investing in a green economy where we create jobs and reduce emissions.” In Singh’s view, responsible use of our finances means investing in new technologies and supporting the renewable energy industry.
When asked about specific things Singh wanted to accomplish for students, he said that he wanted to “tear down barriers to education.”
Singh then went on to share a personal story from his life. “[. . .] my family went through a financial tough time when my dad fell sick and it was tough to make ends meet. I had to take up the responsibility as the eldest of the family, so for me, my way out was through higher education.” He was attending law school at the time, and Singh says that then tuition was $8000 a year. Now he says the cost is more like $35,000 a year.
As a follow up, I asked him what his stance is on tuition fee hikes, and the rate at which tuition should or should not be raised. “I’d like to see tuition freezes so that we can get a hold on the cost of tuition and then work towards reducing tuition fees so that more students can actually go to school,” he said.
He then went on to comment on the higher tuition fees that international students pay. “As a part of the community, they’re just really squeezed and it doesn’t help us benefit from their international experience and international education — which is one of the reasons that international students create a richer and more diverse culture in schools. But when tuition fees are so high, it has a crushing effect on them.”
Moving back to the topic of conventional versus alternative energy, I asked Singh to elaborate on the comments he previously made to CTV News contrasting the LNG Canada Project with the Trans Mountain Expansion project.
“I made the contrast that in Trans Mountain the consultation process was a sham, and with the LNG example there was a peaceful consultation done. BC NDP did some really good work around reaching out to First Nations and obtaining consent and partnership, and that’s a positive sign and example of how to move forward with reconciliation.” He said, although he emphasized that there was still more work to be done.
Following up, I asked him for this thoughts on the RCMP and the federal government’s handling of the situation in Northern BC with the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s barricade.
“I think that there’s no question people who are defending their land have the right to defend their land, and we need to respect that right. The approach should always be ‘how can we support peaceful dialogue as opposed to silencing that dialogue?’” Singh replied.
“I’m guided by the principles of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People. We put that declaration into law with a motion, or with a peaceful resolution that was passed in the House and we’re looking forward to seeing that passed in the senate as well. [ . . . ] Reconciliation requires work and we should not be stifling people’s ability to express their concerns or raise their opposition,” he said.
Speaking to his stance on green energy in the province more broadly, Singh said, “I’m the only national leader of a recognized party that’s opposed to Trans Mountain, I think that is a bad project.”
“I believe instead of buying a pipeline for 4.5 billion dollars we should be investing in the economy of the future, which is the green economy,” he explained.
I asked him to elaborate on what he thought about the project, particularly its proximity to the surrounding community. “It’s deeply concerning,” he said. “If you had had that project put forward today it would not have received approval given the proximity to the university, to neighborhoods, to communities. It’s something that’s got a lot of problems, even with the coastal impact, the tanker traffic, the fact that we don’t know how to clean up diluted bitumen. All of these concerns make it clear that the project shouldn’t go ahead.”
Singh concluded the interview reiterating his and the NDP’s priorities.
“The people deserve an MP on their side because the New Democrats are going to stand up and fight for more affordability and better housing; student housing, co-ops, not market housing. Someone like me, who’s going to fight for a better healthcare system that doesn’t cost money out of pocket and where your medication is covered. Someone who’s willing to dare to believe in a green economy where we can invest in technologies that could create jobs and also reduce our ecological footprint.”