Jagmeet Singh Addresses CAQ, Climate in Town Hall
Federal NDP Leader Answers Questions from Montreal Voters in Question and Answer Period
As the federal election draws closer, the NDP seeks to make inroads in Quebec to try and recover some of the support it lost in 2015 under Thomas Mulcair.
On Sept. 5, Jagmeet Singh came to the St. Jax church in Montreal to answer questions from voters. The candidate stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by voters hoping to get answers to their questions.
The audience raised concerns about issues ranging from human rights in Canada, how Singh wants to work with Quebec’s provincial government in light of new secularism laws and his Sikh identity, to how the party plans to address the climate crisis.
The issue that most seemed to be on the minds of voters was the latter and a large period of the question period was spent tackling the NDP’s climate policies.
The NDP announced their “New Deal” platform in June, which included a substantial section on how they planned to tackle the climate crisis. It calls for—among other things—creating an “independent climate accountability office” to conduct regular audits of the governments’ progress, facilitating the expansion of public transit, and reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050—a target in line with recommendations made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“We can’t leave anyone behind. In our plan, we’re proposing a way to make sure workers […] and communities aren’t left behind. We need to move with urgency and boldness to end our emissions, there’s no question about it,” said Singh.
During the question period, one voter holding a tote bag branded with climate activism organization, Extinction Rebellion, logo told the party leader she was pleased the NDP was the first party to call for the declaration of a climate emergency, but that “actual action” was needed. She asked whether Singh would be willing to set bolder targets than the party’s climate plan suggests.
One target is to reach emission neutrality by 2050, which the voter suggested was based on the assumption that it’s possible to remove carbon from the atmosphere with “technologies that don’t actually exist yet.” She went on to say that she doesn’t want herself and her daughter to be forced to live “in an inferno.”This sentiment was shared by some voters in the audience. Jason Delierre, a Montreal yoga instructor, said that as someone who considers climate change to be his most important issue, he would like to see Singh’s NDP adopt bolder targets.
“We’re not anywhere close to meeting the Paris Climate Agreement,’‘ he said, suggesting that it may be better to make targets as bold as possible even if they may not be met.
Singh responded that he would base any potential adjustment to the NDP’s emissions targets based on scientific evidence.
“If there’s clear evidence of a way to move forward, I’m always going to be willing to adapt my plan to adjust to that science,” he said.
The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) defeated the Liberals in 2018 to become the governing party of Quebec. Since then, they have passed a number of fairly controversial laws, including reducing immigration to the province by 20 per cent and banning the wearing of religious symbols by “government employees in positions of authority.”
One voter asked how an NDP government would find avenues for cooperation with the CAQ, given this context. Singh replied that NDP policy on immigration may have some overlap with the CAQ, but that we would have to wait until the party releases its official stance on the matter.
He stressed, however, that NDP’s immigration stance would respect the “humanity and dignity” of immigrants.
The party recently released a campaign ad targeting Quebec in which the new federal leader addresses his Sikh identity—which some say could harm his chances in the province—and navigate the province’s recently implemented religious symbols ban.
When asked about his identity by a voter, Singh explained that his religion encourages him to be open-minded and empathetic towards the grievances of others.
“When facing one with a different belief, even if it is one that I oppose, it’s my responsibility as a Sikh to protect their right to hold that different opinion,” he said.
While some believe that Singh’s cultural and religious identity could clash with voters in Quebec, others believe that it could actually provide an avenue for mutual understanding. Sujata Dey, a voter in the audience, claimed to hold human rights and the rise of right-wing populism as issues of great importance.
She said that she believed Singh’s identity as a minority could mesh very well with Quebec voters who, she said, also consider themselves to be minorities in the greater Canadian context.
Voters left the town hall with a better idea of what to expect from the party leader. The candidate gave off an approachable persona, delivering a round of high fives to audience members sitting front row, with a bright smile stretching from ear to ear.
But, because the town hall lasted under an hour and a half, few questions were heard and answers were deemed too vague by some. Voters can expect to hear more on the party’s platform when the leaders of the NDP, Liberal, Conservative, and Green parties hold debates over the next month.