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Leader of NDP Jagmeet Singh makes stop in Nelson

Kootenay Columbia MP Wayne Stetski introduces NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh during a rally Saturday at the Nelson Curling Club Lounge. — Bruce Fuhr, The Nelson Daily

Not since 2013 when current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau travelled through the Kootenays has a leader of a Federal Party stopped in Nelson.

Saturday, Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP toured the Heritage City before holding court in front of a crowd of supporters during the Kootenay-Columbia nomination meeting for MP Wayne Stetski at the Nelson Curling Club Lounge.

“We have so much in common . . . there’s so much that links us all,” Singh said to the large crowd of supporters, adding that everyone needs to work together to build a stronger Canada.

Singh, a lawyer by trade, became leader of the NDP in 2017 after Thomas Mulcair stepped down.

“I think it takes an act of Love to realize we’re all connected,” Singh said. “That we all share a common lot . . . it takes an act of Love to realize that. And it takes an act of courage to demand better and to dream better, bigger and to fight for a better world.

“With love and courage, we’re going to build a better world, my friends.”

The Ontario native, who has yet to find a seat in Parliament as he waits for Trudeau to call a by-election for the vacant seat in Burnaby South vacated by newly elected Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart, was joined by Stetski on whistle-stop tour of the riding that began Friday in Cranbrook and Creston.

Saturday, Singh held a breakfast meeting in Salmo before touring Nelson for most of the afternoon prior to the Curling Club gathering. Following the introduction by Stetski, Singh shared his thoughts on a better Canada before taking questions from supporters.

“In life, you’re faced with ups and downs,” said Singh, explaining how as the eldest of the family, he had to grow up very quickly after his father died, helping to raise his younger brother and help his mother. “I’m here because people helped me out. I’m only here because people helped me out.”

Some of the topics discussed by Singh included Education, Healthcare, Housing, Differences between BC and Alberta, Cannabis and Immigration.

Education:

“We need to tear down barriers in education. We need to build a Canada where everyone can pursue their dreams (and) we can’t be profiting off the deft of students. Right now, at the federal level we charge interest on student debt. That’s shameful. We need at the minimum to end once and for all charge interest in student loans.”

Healthcare:

“At one point at the Federal level, they were funding 50 percent of healthcare for provinces.  Now it’s 20-25 percent. Provinces are seeing massive gap in funding, and services aren’t what they use to be. If we want to defend out public health system, we’ve got to fund it at the federal level and that’s one of my commitments to you. Expand healthcare to include medications. Use our buying power,  We’re the only country in world that has universal healthcare that doesn’t include medication.”

BC vs Alberta:

“(Alberta Premier) Rachel Notley is actually an awesome leader. She’s got some amazing beliefs. She’s got some amazing ideas . . . the province did some great work around minimum wage . . . increasing tuition fees, defending education and healthcare. (BC and Alberta) disagree on one project, we disagree pretty strongly, Yes, but it’s only one project at the end of the day. There’s so much more we have in common. And if we are really honest about our future of the country in terms of car emissions, and reducing our emissions, there’s no way we’re going to achieve our goals if (United Conservative Party leader) Jason Kenny is Premier . . . that’s a fact. So, we need to keep Rachel Notley in power. We disagree on this one project . . , we’ll get through it, but there’s so much more we agree on. Sure people say she’s criticized me. I get it. Maybe she needs to do that. But as a New Democrat, she’s ride or die, she’s a Progressive. We disagree on this one thing . . . (but) we’ll get past it.”

Cannabis

“Many of those folks (former underground growers) would love to be included in the current systems, but the current systems don’t allow for it, at all. That is completely unfair. This was one of the many mistakes that were made during the whole process of legalization . . .. Another massive failure we’ve been calling for is an immediate, automatic, record deletion for anyone that was convicted for a minor possession offence. Because personal possession offence continue to be barriers for employment, for travel, for work, for volunteer opportunities, that should have been immediately as a deletion. After a lot of pressure, now the Federal Government talking about pardons. . .. There’s a number of things that were done wrong, and that’s absolutely focusing on corporations, and not on smaller growers and not allowing a level playing field for them.”

Housing:

“I thought this was a Toronto or Vancouver issue. It came up when we were in Cranbrook. It came up in Creston (and) when I was walking around here in Nelson. Housing in a National Crisis. We’ve got to do something about it. The government is proposing a plan . . . a national housing plan, and they say it’s a crisis but their proposing to release funds to do something about it after the next election. So first and foremost, we need to immediately invest in dealing with this housing crisis and that means investing and building non-profit and cooperative housing today.”

Immigration:

“Folks that are crossing the American border into Canada, these are folks that went into America and were processed for refugee claimants. They’re actually legitimate refugee claimants that were vetted by America, made it into the country and then (US President Donald) Trump said stuff that we’re going to kick out everybody, they got scared (because) if we get deported, we're going to go back to our country where we might be killed, and they said, "let’s go to Canada because Canada is safe." So they’re crossing the border in a way that’s not within our normal immigration system, but they’re just human beings that are afraid. . . . Refugees, I mean they are fleeing from potentially being killed in their home countries, maybe they were outspoken like the journalist (Jamal) Khashoggi, maybe they were LBGTQ, fleeing countries that it is dangerous to be LBGTQ. So,these folks are just human beings that are fleeing because they are just scared. . . . Now what should happen is we need to process their application in a way that’s safe, in way that’s efficient . . . right now it’s really unorganized. People are crossing over . . . they’re in these bad conditions . . .. There’s not that many of them, like the vast immigration in Canada is normal regular immigration. . .. These situations are troubling. But what we need to do is suspend the Safe Country Agreement. That agreement doesn’t allow us to deal with the folks coming in properly. It’s doesn’t allow us to address them a proper, normal refugee claimants. We’ve got to have a better system in place, and the provinces where this is happening are supported and enough CBS officers in place. . .. It’s definitely a concern."