By Joe Fries
Special to OsoyoosToday
Voters in South Okanagan-West Kootenay can impact government priorities even if they elect an opposition MP, the head of the federal New Democrats asserted Thursday during a visit to Penticton.
“I’m running to become prime minister,” said Jagmeet Singh, also the newly elected MP for Burnaby South.
But “if people want to see the health-care system expanded, if they want to see proportional representation brought in for real, if they want to see investments in affordable housing, then having a New Democrat fighting for you is going to make it possible, whatever the next government looks like.”
At the moment, most major polls suggest the federal election in October will produce a Conservative or Liberal minority government, while the NDP will hold the balance of power.
And even while fighting the current majority Liberal government from the opposition benches, said MP Richard Cannings, he’s been able to attract what he estimates is about $100 million in federal investments to the riding.
“From what I can see, it’s above average for a riding in Canada,” said Cannings.
Mr. Cannings acknowledged he was unable to secure money for needed repairs to the Oliver agricultural water system, potentially leaving local taxpayers on the hook for millions of dollars, but said Ottawa’s infrastructure funding programs are too narrowly focused.
“We did everything under the sun to get (the Oliver project funded), and it just seemed we were up against this bureaucracy where it didn’t fit the government’s boxes in terms of infrastructure,” said Cannings.
“It wasn’t drinking water… it wasn’t waste water, it wasn’t a big enough disaster. They have all these pots of money and it just didn’t fit in there.”
Mr. Singh said New Democrats – who currently hold 40 seats in Parliament, 27 of which are split between B.C. and Quebec – would streamline such infrastructure funding programs to ensure they’re helping municipalities in times of need.
The NDP’s biggest campaign commitments, however, relate to health and the environment.
On the health file, the party is pushing for universal pharmacare by 2020, followed later by publicly funded dental, hearing and vision care.
“If you need health care, if you need medication, you should use your health card – not your credit card,” said Singh.
And on the environmental front, he’s proposing massive investments in renewable energy and a new program to retrofit every building in Canada over the next 20 years to not only reduce carbon emissions, but also create jobs – an estimated 300,000 of them in just the next four years.
Singh also dismissed arguments that Canada’s carbon footprint – estimated at about 2% of global emissions – is small enough and reducing it will only make the country less competitive against such giant polluters as the U.S. and China.
“It’s a global problem, and if we’re not doing our part… there’s no moral authority and no way to persuade those who aren’t doing their part,” said Singh.
“There are other countries that are already showing leadership, and we should get on board,” added Cannings.
To pay for all those commitments, the NDP is proposing a series of tax measures, such as higher brackets for the wealthy, raising corporate taxes, closing loopholes, cracking down on off-shore tax havens, reducing subsidies to the fossil-fuel sector and creating a 15% foreign buyers’ tax on real estate, all of which is expected to raise billions of dollars.
And all of it is possible if voters elect New Democrats, said Singh.
“So our difference,” he added, “is we want people to imagine: What would you get if you had a government that’s working for people?”
Joe Fries is an editor and writer at The Penticton Herald. OsoyoosToday and The Herald share an informal editorial use agreement.