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NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is visiting 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 grappling with the cost of living are dissatisfied with the federal government, while promoting his party as the true steward of Canada’s working class.
The NDP has pushed affordability initiatives through its trust-and-supply agreement with the Liberals, including dental care, a one-time rental supplement and a doubling of the GST exemption.
Singh sees all this as a victory.
“We’re driving real change, but it’s not enough for me to just put pressure on the government,” Singh told reporters in St. Johns, NL, on Tuesday.
“I want to be the decision-maker and ensure that decisions are taken in the interest of working people.”
The party is trying to flip St. John’s East in Newfoundland, a seat that used to be an NDP stronghold, and Halifax, which often swings between the Liberals and the New Democrats.
Lori Turnbull, associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University, argued that history makes those seats the easiest for the NDP to take back.
A third constituency, St. John’s South-Mount Pearl, is also known to elect New Democrats. But Turnbull said it was unlikely Labor Minister Seamus O’Regan would be ousted any time soon.
Turnbull said despite the Atlantic region being a liberal bastion, there is growing frustration over the cost of living, the housing crisis and an aging population struggling to make ends meet using fixed income.
Turnbull said, “For the Liberals, the problem is they are in power. And the easiest thing for people to do is say, ‘Why aren’t you doing more for us? ‘”
Both Singh and Poilievre have taken advantage of that sentiment, making field trips over the summer and trying to pitch ideas to make people’s lives more affordable.
At a rally in Nova Scotia last month, Poilievre said the needs of people in the region “often end up in Ottawa.”
Poilevre has also taken aim at the liberal government’s clean fuel rules while in the field, which are expected to increase the price of gasoline by six to 13 percent by 2030.
The energy boards of two Atlantic provinces, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, have now decided to begin passing the cost on to consumers at varying levels, and Poilevre blames Ottawa for those additional costs.
Last month, the Council of Atlantic Premiers launched a campaign asking the federal government to reconsider the rules, as shared by Poilievre.
But during Singh’s visit to Atlantic Canada this week, he reminded people of a different conservative campaign.
Danny Williams, the former Progressive Conservative premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, ran a sustained offensive against the federal Tories during the 2015 federal campaign, urging Conservative voters not to support him. His campaign was known as “ABC” – Anything But Conservative.
Turnbull said that Harper would use derogatory language to refer to the Atlantic territories, such as calling them non-provinces, economically depressed, and demonstrating a culture of defeat.
He said, “People didn’t like Stephen Harper. He went off like a lead balloon.”
Melanie Richer, former director of communications for the federal New Democrats, said it would be a challenge for the NDP in the coming months to remind people of Harper’s conservatism, and of the fact that Poilevre served in her cabinet.
He said Singh would have to “overcome people’s mistrust of the Tories” and show what the NDP is capable of achieving through its trust-and-supply agreement.
“It’s an opportunity to say, ‘I currently have a seat at the table to pressure the government to do more. Can you imagine what else we could do if I had that seat? ?” Richer said.
The New Democrats and Conservatives argue that the Liberals are not getting along at the moment, Turnbull said, adding that every seat will count when the next federal election is held.
“It is important to win every seat in those parts of the country which are not necessarily vote-rich or seat-rich,” he said.
“There is no tremendous momentum for any party in this country.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on August 1, 2023.