Monday, July 22, 2024

Jagmeet Singh tours Vancouver Island and launches national school lunch program campaign

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Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is touring several Vancouver Island communities this week, where he has been meeting with communities to hear their concerns.

In addition to this, he used his time on the Island to announce that he and his party will be pushing for a national school lunch program in the next federal budget. 

Singh last visited Vancouver Island back in the summer and says he makes a point to come out to the furthest communities from Ottawa to make sure people know they are just as much a priority as anyone else in Canada. 

“Jack Layton always said this, ‘Let’s build a Canada where no one is left behind,” Singh told Victoria Buzz. 

“I feel like sometimes, the further you are from Ottawa, the more people feel ignored. So folks on the island, I feel rightly so, for a long time saw the other parties in power, the Conservatives and Liberals, didn’t really make them a priority.”

“We as a party and me as a leader I want to make them a priority,” he continued. 

Singh says the concerns he has been hearing about from Vancouver Islanders aren’t necessarily unique in the grand scheme of things, but the impact of the housing crisis and a myriad cost-of-living issues are being felt by a lot of people. 

Powell River

He began his tour in Powell River, where he spoke at two events.

At the first of these, Singh spoke with Indigenous people from the Tla’amin First Nation about the importance of investment in housing and the continuation of their efforts to protect and restore their language. 

“What they’re doing is incredible—they’re building more homes on their territory and working toward reconciliation,” Singh explained. 

He then said that those in the area are being impacted by the statements of a Conservative candidate who has been approved by Pierre Poilievre in the area, Aaron Gunn, who is a residential school denier. 

“He doesn’t even recognize the truth of Indigenous people, how can he represent those people,” Singh asked. 

In 2019, Gunn tweeted that he did not believe that what was done to Indigenous people and has been continuing, is not genocide. In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recognized the fact that it has been and is an ongoing genocide. 

Following his time with the Tla’amin Nation, Singh spoke with parents about affordability in child care and how that impacts the community of Powell River. 

“We forced the Liberals to make child care funding permanent with legislation that was a part of what we negotiated,” said Singh. 

“They’re worried Pierre Poilievre’s candidate might take that away.” 

Campbell River, Comox and Courtenay

While he was moving between the three mid-island communities of Campbell River, Comox and Courtenay, Singh spent his time speaking with people about cost of living and food security. 

“We went to a place called Lush Valley, which focuses on food security,” Singh told Victoria Buzz. 

“They make meals for kids in schools, Indigenous communities—they really help people and give people food baskets as well.”

While there, Singh made an announcement he says is a significant issue to his party regarding a national school lunch program. 

“We’ve been talking about it for years, but this was the first time we announced it as it relates to this upcoming budget,” he explained. 

According to Singh, every other G7 country has some form of national school lunch program. 

“It helps with getting kids fed, but also for the parents, it takes one thing off their plate—they don’t have to worry, ‘Do I have money to pack a lunch, do I have to do extra shopping for it?’”

This is an initiative that doesn’t necessarily have to go to the House of Commons as a Bill. Singh says his party will try to put pressure on the government to include money in the budget for it. 

Qualicum Beach and Denman Island

In Qualicum Beach, Singh did a walk-around in town to see some local women-owned businesses which included a bookstore, a coffee shop, a hair salon and a bakery that was owned and operated by new Canadians. 

“What New Democrats believe is that we have to support local, family-owned, Canadian-owned businesses, not the approach which we’ve seen from both Liberal and Conservative governments,” Singh explained.

He says that he has seen other parties support large, non-Canadian businesses, who were given tax breaks with no-strings-attached. 

“It’s  just not a good way to support the economy,” he said. 

From there he had a round-table discussion with women who are leaders in the community in the spirit of International Women’s Day, then went out to Denman Island for a town hall-style meeting to hear their concerns.

Nanaimo

On Friday, March 8th, Singh made his way to Nanaimo where he says he will be visiting some more locations advocating for the NDP-led national school lunch program and talking about food security. 

“We’re going to be going to Loaves and Fishes—it’s a free food market,” Singh told Victoria Buzz.

“It’s kind of like a food bank, but they do it with a lot of dignity where people can kind of come in and take what they want, kind of like a grocery store.”

Following this visit, some constituents in Nanaimo may be able to meet Singh face-to-face as he says he’ll be door knocking with Lisa Marie Barron, Nanaimo’s NDP MP. 

From there, Singh will be making his way to Sooke, Esquimalt and Victoria.

Greater Victoria

In Sooke, Singh says he will be meeting up with new NDP candidate and successor to Radall Garrison, Maja Tait, representing the NDP in the Esquimalt—Saanich—Sooke electoral district. 

Tait is currently serving as Mayor of Sooke. 

There the two will be attending a meeting at Sooke Gathering Place, about a new development that will feature 76 affordable housing units as well as placemaking initiatives for the community. 

“We’re going to talk about their work around how we support infrastructure for municipal projects, how can we be a better partner working with the federal government and local municipalities,” Singh said.

From there Singh will make his way to the Esquimalt First Nation before going door knocking with Tait in and around Esquimalt. 

“I’ve been really impressed,” Singh said when asked about Tait. “She’s got an incredibly strong voice.”

“She has a son or a child and she’s been an elected official with a younger child, so we were exchanging stories about that.” 

Singh also has two young children and said that he and Tait bonded immediately over stories of bringing them along to meetings and events. 

Issues to Islanders

All in all, Singh says that after speaking with many Vancouver Islanders, the key points of concern are housing and affordability.

He says that he has been fighting and challenging CEOs of large grocery chains who disproportionately raised their prices under the guise of inflation. 

“One of the only ways you can fix a problem is if you identify what the cause of the problem is,” Singh explained. 

“If you misdiagnose the why, what’s causing prices to be high, you’re never going to solve it.”

Singh has a Bill in the House of Commons that has passed through its second reading and is now in committee before it will go to a third reading and vote in the house. 

Similarly, Singh says that he does not believe the way housing has been being built is working. 

“You’re going to hear both the Conservatives and the Liberals talk about building homes, but they’re not going to talk about building affordable homes,” Singh told Victoria Buzz. 

“They think that just building more homes is going to solve the problem, but I’ve spoken to builders and they say, ‘We have to buy the land at a market rate, we have to pay our workers obviously at a market rate, the materials cost a market rate, so we’re going to build condos and homes, sold at a market rate.”

According to Singh, the only way to mitigate the market rate is for the federal government to step in and subsidize this rate to allow for affordable housing to be profitable to developers. 

“Like we did right after the world wars, the federal government built hundreds of thousands of homes on a huge scale and building on that scale brought down the cost of building,” he explained. 

Lastly, Singh told Victoria Buzz another issue that is near to him is to achieve voting reform. 

This was a platform issue of Trudeau’s in the last election, but Singh says this is a promise broken. 

“It was one of the first things we put on the table when we were negotiating with this minority government—the Liberals rejected it outright,” Singh said. 

“We ran on it, I believe in it, I would bring in proportional representation immediately.”

He says if he could he would implement this change, then allow for people to choose if it best suits them after a couple years in a referendum, similar to how New Zealand adopted proportional representation. 

mm
Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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