Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, centre, and Courtenay-Alberni candidate Gord Johns arrive at a rally at Johns’ campaign headquarters on Roger Street, Friday, Oct. 18 in the final weekend push before the Oct. 21 federal election. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

Hundreds come out to meet federal NDP leader at Port Alberni rally

Pipelines, a coalition government and reconciliation among topics Jagmeet Singh covers

Hundreds of supporters gathered at Courtenay-Alberni NDP candidate Gord Johns’ Port Alberni campaign office on Friday, Oct. 18 to see federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh in the final push to Monday’s election.

Singh was on a whirlwind tour of Vancouver Island, with Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Victoria on his agenda. Courtenay-Alberni is considered one of the hotly contested ridings in British Columbia. Singh is the only federal leader to visit Port Alberni during this election campaign.

During his half-hour rally Singh went on the offensive against the Conservative government, discounting some of the recent claims federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has made about the NDP and increasing taxes. “Mr. Scheer is making stuff up because he’s getting desperate,” Singh said.

On the topic of forming a coalition with the Liberals, Singh reiterated that he’s “not going to work with Conservatives.” He fell short however of saying that in an NDP-Liberal coalition he would vote down any Conservative bills to trigger a snap election.

He drew cheers from pipeline opponents in the crowd when he said he would end any talk of the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, as well as cancel oil and gas subsidies in favour of funding new energy.

Singh said later his visit to Port Alberni was “awesome. It’s a great showing of love, lots of people here, it’s always fun spending time with Gord.

“What I see when I meet with people is that the folks in Port Alberni know that Gord is someone they can count on to fight for them. That’s what New Democrats do, we fight for the people,” Singh said.

Johns was the first NDP MP elected to the Courtenay-Alberni riding in more than a decade when he replaced Conservative MP James Lunney. He is in a tight race for the riding with Conservative candidate Byron Horner.

With many Indigenous people in attendance at the rally, Singh told local journalists that the rights of First Nations people are important, and issues such as treaty negotiations need to be dealt with.

“There has been some positive steps taken, but we need to go further. For me, for New Democrats, reconciliation can’t just be a word,” he said. “It has to be concrete action, and that means making sure we do the hard work, negotiating treaties, making sure we work with First Nations and Indigenous Peoples like equal partners.”

One concrete example of that is the legal battle the Liberals have engaged over Nuu-chah-nulth fishing rights, he agreed.

There is a lot we can do to make sure that fishing is sustainable and the pressure should be put on making sure we tackle commercial fishing as opposed to putting the weight and the burden on Indigenous and local fishers.”

Singh spent nearly an hour after the rally taking selfies with people, shaking hands and answering questions from the throngs of people gathered in the parking lot.

John Barney sat against a wall outside Johns’ campaign office, watching the action and grinning. “This is awesome,” said Barney, 72, a volunteer with Johns’ election campaign.

“I wanted to meet (Jagmeet Singh) because he proved to be as transparent and honest as Gord Johns.”

Barney said he appreciates the NDP’s approach to reconciliation, and that he sees the example set in his own riding.

“When Lunney was in (former Conservative MP James Lunney) I think we saw him at the Friendship Center one time. Gord Johns has only been in office for four years and we’ve seen him at the Friendship Center multiple times.”

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A student from Port Alberni’s high school asks federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh to autograph his shoe following a rally in the Vancouver Island city on Friday, Oct. 18. SUSAN QUINN PHOTO

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