Know Your Candidate: Jagmeet Singh, Burnaby South

In the run up to Canada’s federal election, the Beacon is conducting interviews with candidates affiliated with the 4 major parties in Burnaby’s 3 ridings (Burnaby North-Seymour, Burnaby South, and New Westminster-Burnaby).

We asked each candidate for a virtual sit-down interview, followed by a short segment recorded on video. Not all candidates were available to appear on video or agreed to do so. The Beacon will post the segments with the candidates who did appear on video on our social media channels.

Candidate: Jagmeet Singh (leader of the federal NDP, incumbent)

Riding: Burnaby South (read more about the riding here)

Note: A party official said Jagmeet Singh was unavailable to appear on video as he was travelling via campaign bus. Instead, Singh spoke with the Beacon over the phone on Tuesday.

In response to a survey sent out by Burnaby Beacon just before the election was called, some readers told us they felt Singh didn’t have a strong connection to the community.

(Singh, who was born and raised in Ontario, initially won his seat in the riding in a byelection in 2019. He was already party leader at the time, and was parachuted in to Burnaby South when the byelection was called.)

When asked about those sentiments, Singh said he disagreed—touting his work in Ottawa calling on the federal government to increase the amount Canadians received in the Canada Emergency Response Benefit.

“In this pandemic, when people needed help, when people lost their jobs—a lot of people I spoke to in Burnaby South were impacted directly by the pandemic … we were able to secure some of the largest victories that any opposition parties ever secured,” Singh said.

“My responsibilities with the minority [government], and with the pandemic, required lots of time in Ottawa. And it’s part of my responsibility as leader, but I love every moment I get to spend in the riding, and I love being able to spend time with my wife. And we’re going to continue to spend as much time as we can.”

Trans Mountain

Singh has promised to abolish oil and gas subsidies if elected in Ottawa. When asked by the Beacon on Tuesday if that would extend to cancelling the planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which terminates in Burnaby, he said his position on the matter has not changed since 2017.

“I’ve come out really clearly saying I think it’s the wrong thing to do. I would not extend it. It’s not the best use of our resources towards building an economy that creates good jobs, that helps us reduce emissions. And for various other reasons, including the lack of respect for Indigenous communities and the impact on them. There’s many reasons why it’s a project that I opposed.”

When asked again to clarify if he would cancel the expansion, Singh told the Beacon that he would.

As for the government-owned pipeline itself:

“It’s one of those things [where] we don’t know the details—what’s on the books … What is the asset worth? … What is the most responsible thing to do with it, respecting the financial situation of the country? So we’ll have to get into government and assess all the details of the asset before we can make a determination.”

Affordable housing

In response to questions about his proposed annual renters’ subsidy of $5,000, Singh described it as an “immediate measure, an urgent response to a need” that is not a permanent solution. He acknowledged that housing prices and rental costs in Burnaby are some of the least affordable in the country.

“The permanent solution is two parts. One: we’ve got to get at the speculative forces that are driving up the cost of housing … And it’s particularly big foreign money … If someone in Burnaby wants to buy their first home, they shouldn’t be competing with a US firm that’s got enough money to buy a billion dollars of real estate,” Singh said.

“And then the second piece that we want to do is just really mobilize federal resources to fund affordable homes, homes that are within people’s budget. So building homes, whether it’s cooperatives or not-for-profit housing, incentivizing developers, and also using the CMHC-backed loans, and not allowing CMHC loans to be approved for projects that aren’t affordable.”

Reconciliation and the opioid crisis

On Indigenous rights and Reconciliation, Singh committed to implementing all 94 calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the 231 calls to justice brought forward by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

The Beacon also asked Singh to clarify timelines for his party’s commitments to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use.

Singh said he would take action as soon as an NDP government was in power, immediately sending a memorandum to the public prosecution service to cease all prosecutions for personal possession.