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NDP's Jagmeet Singh talks housing, vaccine protests, opioid crisis with NEWS 1130

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh makes his platform announcement in St. John's, N.L., on Thursday, August 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sarah Smellie

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – As Election Day nears, we’re catching up with Canada’s federal party leaders to help you make an informed choice on Sept. 20.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh joined NEWS 1130 Friday morning to talk about a wide range of topics including housing, vaccine protests, and the overall tone of the election campaign thus far.

Listen to the full interview with Terry Schintz: 

The one-on-one chat came the morning after the five main party leaders squared off in the first and only English debate of the run. The format has been criticized by many, with a number of pundits and experts saying there was no clear winner.

Regardless, Singh believes he was able to put his best foot forward.

“I’m feeling great, really excited. We were able to show Canadians that they do have a choice in this election, that they are not stuck between Conservatives and Liberals, that better is possible, and we are the ones that are going to make sure we deliver on investments to health care, pharmacare, dental care, that we make the super wealthy, the billionaires, pay their fair share to afford the investments that we need. We’re the only party that isn’t going to cut the help that people need or put the burden back on those who’ve already had a difficult time in this pandemic,” he said.

Full interview transcript:

Terry Schintz: A lot of Canadians are expressing some frustration with these debates. There is obviously a lot of interest in the election, but the debates are not, themselves, seen as overly satisfying, they can be a little frustrating to watch. What is your take on that?

Jagmeet Singh: “There’s always, I think, there will be ways to improve the debates. But I was really excited and honoured that I was able to share my views with Canadians, was able to show that Canadians can’t afford another four years of Mr. Trudeau because when he breaks a promise, it ends up hurting people, and the housing crisis gets worse, or the climate crisis gets worse. We were able to show that, but I’m sure we can find better ways to allow for debates and sharing of ideas.”

We have a dominant story out here in British Columbia right now: A planned protest coming up Monday afternoon at Vancouver General Hospital from people who have a problem both with the COVID vaccines and the new vaccine passport system coming to B.C. Let’s take a moment and talk about that. What goes through your mind, not off a script, when you see these rallies, you see some of these signs, especially as Canadian hospitals are targeted?

“There’s absolutely no space at all for anyone who is a health care worker or patient to have any sort of barrier and to getting their care. We’ve said that there is a firm line in the sand — people can protest, people can express their opinions, it’s a very vibrant part of our democracy, but in no way should health care workers be in any way, have a barrier to doing their work. There should not be any subject of violence or any subject of threats. Health care workers need to be protected, and that’s why we’ve called for changes to the criminal code that would make it an aggravating factor if someone is to attack in protest a health care workers, deny them the ability to do their work, or to deny a cancer patient — or any other patient — from accessing their care. That’s not on.”

So let’s take it a step further. Safe to say you would be in favor of injunctions to prevent these protesters from getting in the way, or some kind of bubble zone? Talk to us a bit about that.

“Absolutely. We do not want any way that a health care worker will be in any way threatened. They’ve already sacrificed so much, they’re already feeling burnt out, they’ve already gone through such a difficult time. The least we can do is make sure that they’re safe in going to work and coming back from work, and that they’re not subject to violence or to any barriers to getting into work — that cannot happen. So we are, yeah, we are absolutely going to push for that. What we can do at the federal level is to change our Criminal Code to acknowledge that that would be an aggravating factor in any sort of sentencing that a health care worker has been impeded to go to work or someone who needed care was impeded to get the care that they needed. That’s just not acceptable.”

Fair enough. Let’s move along because timing is tight. Homelessness, very serious issue in British Columbia, Metro Vancouver. Fair to call it a Canadian crisis? And if so what is your plan?

“Yeah, it’s definitely, sadly, a crisis across Canada. We feel it a lot in the Lower Mainland, we see it daily, we see the the impacts of the housing crisis on people’s lives. And we know that this isn’t a problem that just kind of sprung up overnight, it’s been decades in the making. And one of the key things that we can do — two parts: I think one is, we’ve got to get big money out of housing, and so that’s what we’re pushing to do, we’re going to get big money out of housing, and we need to invest in housing. When federal land is being used, it should be used for affordable housing, it should be used for subsidized or housing for the hard-to-house, people who are dealing with homelessness. And we’ve seen, there’s been a number of examples where the federal government is using federal land for rich developers to produce or to provide not affordable housing. So that’s something that we would not support, we would want to see investments to build half a million new homes that are affordable instead of what Mr. Trudeau was about to do, two times. One we stopped it in Toronto and once in Quebec — right now it’s on the horizon is land that’s going to be used for luxury condos or a baseball stadium and we’re saying that federal land should be used for housing and should be used for affordable housing, social housing, that’s what we want to focus on.”

I’ll ask you another one, sir. You are no doubt familiar with the Metrotown neighborhood in Burnaby. A lot of older apartment buildings there, they’ve just been flattened over the years, they are — and love them or hate them — flattened and they are long gone, replaced by high rises and whatnot. Are you saying that would not happen under an NDP?

“Yeah, we put forward a plan, actually, to deal with those renovations. A lot of people have lost their homes because of that and so our plan would be to, a lot of the builder have to apply for a CMHC-approved loan or CMHC approvals. And what we would say is, we would have strict rules, that CMHC loans or approvals would not happen unless there’s a strict criteria of affordability that’s met and that would allow for a level of federal protection to prevent some of these renovictions. It could have happened before if Mr. Trudeau made this a priority. We would. I’ve seen the pain that it’s caused for people in my in my riding in Burnaby, where people lost their affordable housing. They had apartment, a place, a home that was affordable and they lost it to renoviction. So we can stop that. There’s a way for us to put a lot of pressure to discouraged and de-incentivize that from happening.

COVID crisis is obviously dominating our planet, dominating our lives but the opioid crisis, you could argue, is taking more lives in British Columbia than COVID. Thousands of lives across the country. And I think there’s valid criticism that federal politicians are perhaps not paying enough attention to that crisis, how do you respond to that?

“Again, another really sad circumstance. It’s true, over the past number of years, the opioid crisis has been ignored and the impacts on people have been ignored. So what we’ve been saying is that this crisis has to be treated like a public health care emergency, and that means no longer arresting people that are dealing with addiction or people that … are using, and instead responding to this crisis with health care, with rehabilitation services. The evidence is clear: if we want to save lives, there’s better ways to do it. The old approach [didn’t] work, and we would abandon that approach and say let’s approach this problem with compassion and care, ise the evidence that’s available for us to support people.”

Last question because time is tight and we appreciate your time this morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. I’ve covered politics for a long time — primarily as an anchor, but also out on the beat when I was a little bit younger. We’re seeing some anger directed at politicians and political leaders, and a quite aggressive tone that I don’t think Canadians are used to seeing, necessarily. Where is this coming from, and what do you make of it?

“Well … it’s just wrong. Like, there are some folks that are putting out violent messages, misogynistic messages, and that’s just wrong. That’s just no space for that. That’s wrong. There are people though that are frustrated, and genuinely frustrated and angry, and to those folks — not the ones that are that are doing things that are violent, and hurtful, and damaging — but the people who are genuinely frustrated and angry, I get that. We are in a rigged economy where people have just seen one of the worst economic crises, and they’re seeing billionaires go into space, and people are looking at that like what is going on with their system. Why is it that the 44 richest billionaires in Canada made $78 billion more profit or more wealth over this pandemic, when people were making sacrifices and people were struggling. That doesn’t add up. And so people are saying, ‘Well, we’ve got to change that,’ and I want to change that. I want to end this rigged system, I want to make sure that those 44 billionaires are paying their fair share, and we invest in the solutions that people need, whether that’s the opioid crisis, or the housing crisis, or fighting the climate crisis which is, frankly, top of mind in B.C., particularly, given what’s happened with the forest fires. And so I’m really confident we can make better choices and we can get better results, and we can change things. But I get why people are frustrated, and I hear you and I see you, and I want to respond to that by saying, we can make things better. Better is possible, you just have to vote for it. We’re encouraging people to vote for New Democrats.”

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