Jagmeet Singh was running a few minutes late.
North Island-Powell River NDP MP Rachel Blaney wasn’t terribly surprised.
“He’s probably stopping to talk to everyone out there,” she told representatives from Campbell River’s social support network gathered to share their challenges with the federal NDP leader.
In town to discuss affordability, both in terms of housing and food security, Singh joined Black Press Media staff for a stroll around the block and a one-on-one interview.
The needs of the various non-profits he spoke are very real, he said.
“We’re hearing more more stories from people that are having a hard time making ends meet. Even families that have jobs have a home, they’re feeling the squeeze. Knowing that, I can only imagine how much harder it is for someone who doesn’t really have housing or doesn’t really have enough income to make their bills or just get by.”
“We have to focus on the problems, but then look to solutions and that’s what folks in the room were really quick to do. They had great ideas about what we could do to fix this and that to me was a hopeful message coming out of the meeting.”
However, translating local on-the-ground needs to federal policy can be tricky. Singh says that one way is to treat the cause of a problem instead of the symptoms.
“In housing it’s getting at the fact that housing is being used like like a casino or a stock market to make money,” he said. “You gamble on buying property here and you hope you can make a lot of money off of it.”
Singh would like to see tax laws used to make it less attractive to use housing as a money-maker. Fixing the affordability crisis has been focused on either reducing the cost of living or lessening the load on regular people. However, Singh said that wages were not keeping up with inflation even before the current crisis, and there are ways people can advocate for higher income.
“We know one of the best ways to a good-paying job that has enough to pay the bills is to make it easier to join a union. So we’re looking at ways of strengthen the ability to join the union,” he said, adding that anti-scab legislation was also on the NDP docket.
Singh has been signalling a focus on the NDP being the party of the working class. During an NDP caucus meeting earlier this month he said the Liberal Party is “waging a war” on workers. Singh said that was referring to the Bank of Canada’s approach to inflation.
“They’ve said that you can’t increase wages to keep up with inflation,” he said. “The Bank of Canada’s approach right now to the inflation is raising interest rates … It makes it harder for people that have got a mortgage and it makes it harder for people who have debt.”
“(The Liberals) are choosing a path to make more pain for workers while they’re ignoring that the wealthiest corporations have made huge profits in this inflationary period so they’ve really chosen a side,” he said. “They’re choosing a side to protect the wealth of the billionaires and chosen a path that’s gonna hurt workers. And to me that looks like class warfare.”
Workers are hurting, and towns with industrial economic bases are facing insecurity both in the short and long terms. One of those insecurities is related to climate change, and Singh’s NDP has a plan for a just transition for industry workers.
“The Inflation Reduction act in the States and the decisions that the Biden Administration have made around clean energy investments have meant that there is a risk that we fall behind; workers in Canada fall behind if we don’t also have a clear strategy around investing in some of these jobs in the future,” he said. “What can we do knowing that one of the world’s largest economies … has chosen to invest in clean energy or in jobs in a sector that reduces emissions?
“Climate change means that different jobs or different sectors are being impacted. Those workers might might have volatility or unpredictability in their jobs … It also means that there’s certain areas that we need to make investments because there’s going to be an opportunity for us to create really good jobs … I could include things like on-land containment for fish farms or something like that … We’re looking at how we can transition any any process that we have into a more sustainable way to do it that still creates those good jobs.”
Other industries are not immune.
Many regions are facing health care worker shortages. These shortages are exacerbated by the housing crisis. Even B.C. Premier David Eby and his family had trouble finding a home in Port McNeill when they tried to relocate there for his wife’s medical career during the pandemic.
To Singh, the health care worker shortage is a national issue, and requires a national response — beyond just improving housing.
“The federal government has to play a role in supporting with funds for opening up more seats in colleges and universities,” he said, adding that they have to be “making sure that we pay our healthcare workers adequately so they can be in communities. So this is very top of mind and we have we have real concrete things that we could do to fix it.”
Health care is one of the main priorities for the NDP this year, with the health care, dental care and pharmacare coverage all major parts of keeping the confidence and supply agreement with the Liberals in place.
“We’re proud of the work that we’ve delivered so far or the work we’ve done so far and I’m not satisfied though. I know there’s more that needs to be done this year. We’re gonna keep on fighting,” he said.
“We’re proud that we were the only party in Parliament that’s actually pushing for these changes.”