SHERBROOKE, Que. — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh extended a hand to Quebec nationalists on Sunday, promising the province new powers and funding in a bid to revive the so-called orange wave of support that carried his party to official Opposition status eight years ago.
The 11-page platform for Quebec included an expansion of the province’s language laws and the right to withdraw from federal programs with financial compensation.
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He also promised to find a way to get Quebec to sign the Constitution, on its own terms, although he did not explain how he would solve a problem that has long proven a political impasse.
“The fact that historically Quebec has not signed the Constitution is a mistake that should not exist,” Singh told supporters gathered in the conference room of a hotel in Sherbrooke, Que.
He also pledged more money to help integrate immigrants, increased powers in areas such as environmental assessment and trade agreements, and to expand the province’s language law, Bill 101, to cover all federally regulated companies in Quebec.
The Sherbrooke riding is held by the NDP’s Pierre-Luc Dusseault, who became the youngest MP in Canadian history when he won the seat in 2011, one of 59 NDP MPs elected in Quebec that year as part of a massive surge of support.
But he’s among the few who are still there; things reversed dramatically for the party in 2015, and NDP held only 14 seats in the province at dissolution.
Singh said the document he presented builds on the work of past party leader Layton, and Tom Mulcair, though he intends to capture the support of Quebecers by being himself.
Identity issues loom large in Quebec, which recently passed a law that prevents civil servants in so-called “positions of authority” from wearing religious symbols on the job.
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The NDP leader was forced once again to explain why he would not commit to joining any court challenges of Bill 21, which would prevent Singh himself from working as a teacher or a police officer in the province. As a Sikh, he wears a turban.
Singh, who opposes the bill but says it would not be right to “interfere” in a challenge, rejected the notion that he lacks political courage.
“I have the courage to come to Quebec, I’m a guy with a beard and a turban and I’m running for prime minister,” he said.
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He faces a formidable challenge, given that some polls have placed his party as low as fifth _ behind the Liberals, Conservatives, Green Party and Bloc Quebecois.
In response, Singh said he was focusing on the “only survey that matters”: the Oct. 21 election day.
“We can make gains because we have a bold program, we want to address climate change, we want to recognize the importance of Quebec,” he said in French.
“So I have a lot of confidence that we can make gains but we’ll leave the decision up to Quebecers.”
The NDP have had trouble nominating candidates in Quebec. They had to let one go after allegations of domestic violence, and lost another — Pierre Nantel — who defected to the Greens.
Nantel has since suggested he’s a separatist, prompting his new party boss to suggest that if he’s that committed to those views, he wouldn’t be allowed to run.
Singh said that while his party is a federalist one that “continues to work towards national unity,” he has no problem welcoming former separatists as candidates, as long as they share the party’s progressive values.
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“We welcome people who may have had positions that were very much in terms of separation as long as they want to work with us as a party and believe in our values of working together,” he said.
His speech was warmly received by supporters, who later broke out into a rendition of Gilles Vigneault’s “Gens du Pays” — a song considered an anthem of the province and its sovereigntist movement.
Singh stopped off in the NDP-held riding of St. Hyacinthe later Sunday, and is expected to make other stops in the province in the coming days. The party says he’ll be leading the NDP charge in Quebec throughout the campaign.
© 2019 The Canadian Press