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NDP’s Singh talks affordability in Atlantic while targeting Liberal seats


NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is touring Atlantic Canada in an effort to highlight affordability issues — and flip two Liberal seats in the next federal election.

Singh said voters who are increasingly struggling with the cost of living are dissatisfied with the federal government, while selling his party as the true caretaker of working-class Canadians.

The NDP has pushed for affordability initiatives through its confidence-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, including dental care, a one-time rental supplement and the doubling of the GST rebate.

Singh views them all as wins.

“We’re making a real difference, but it’s not enough for me to just push government,” Singh told reporters in St. John’s, N.L., on Tuesday.

“I want to be the one calling the shots and make sure that decisions are made in the interests of working people.”

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The party is looking to flip St. John’s East in Newfoundland, a seat that used to be a stronghold for the NDP, and Halifax, a riding that often flips between the Liberals and New Democrats.

That history makes those seats the easiest for the NDP to take back, argued Lori Turnbull, an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University.

A third constituency, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, has also been known to elect New Democrats. But Turnbull said it’s unlikely Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan will be unseated any time soon.

Despite the Atlantic region being a Liberal stronghold, frustrations are rising because of the cost of living, the housing crisis and an aging population that is struggling to make ends meet using fixed incomes, Turnbull said.

“For the Liberals, the problem is that they’re the incumbent. And the easiest thing for people to do is to say, ‘Why aren’t you doing more for us?”’ Turnbull said.

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Both Singh and Poilievre have tapped into that sentiment, taking tours in the region over the summer and trying to pitch ideas for how to make people’s lives more affordable.

At one rally in Nova Scotia last month, Poilievre said the needs of those in the region “often get lost in Ottawa.”

Poilievre has also taken aim at the Liberal government’s clean fuel regulations while in the region, which are expected to lead to a six to 13 per cent price increase for gasoline by 2030.

The energy boards for two Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, have decided to start passing on the costs to consumers now, at varying levels, and Poilievre has blamed those added costs on Ottawa.

Last month, the Council of Atlantic Premiers launched a campaign asking that the federal government rethink the regulations, a view Poilievre shares.

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But during Singh’s own trip to Atlantic Canada this week, he reminded people of a different conservative campaign.

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Danny Williams, former Progressive Conservative premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, launched a sustained offensive against the federal Tories during the 2015 federal campaign, imploring conservative voters not to support them. He also ran a campaign in 2008 known as “ABC” — Anything But Conservative.

Turnbull said Harper would use disparaging language to refer to the Atlantic regions, like calling them have-not provinces, economically depressed and exhibiting a culture of defeat.

“People just didn’t like Stephen Harper. He went over like a lead balloon,” she said.

Melanie Richer, a former director of communications for the federal New Democrats, said a challenge in the coming months will be for the NDP to remind people of Harper conservatism, and of the fact Poilievre served in his cabinet.

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She said Singh will need to “tap into that distrust people have about Tories” and showcase what NDP have been able to achieve through their confidence-and-supply agreement.

“It’s an opportunity to say, ‘I currently have a bit of a seat at the table to push the government to do more. Can you imagine what more we can do if I had that seat myself?”’ said Richer.

With New Democrats and Conservatives arguing that the Liberals aren’t meeting the moment, every seat will likely count when the next federal election happens, said Turnbull.

“It’s critical to win every seat in parts of the country where it’s not necessarily vote-rich or seat-rich,” she said.

“There is no overwhelming sense of momentum in this country for any party.”

&copy 2023 The Canadian Press


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