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Politics Jagmeet Singh rolls out promise-heavy NDP platform for fall federal election

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, seen here unveiling the party’s 109-page platform, titled A New Deal for People, at a party event in Hamilton, on June 16, 2019.

Tara Walton/The Canadian Press

New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh unveiled an election platform Sunday long on traditional left-wing promises – including a national $10-billion-per-year pharmacare program, and higher taxes for corporations and the wealthy – as the party tries to win back supporters who helped deliver a majority government for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015.

But the platform – much of which has already been announced – was also short on cost estimates and details for its slew of promises, which Mr. Singh needs to convince progressive voters to choose his party over the incumbent Liberals or a Green Party with rising support.

“The NDP are in the most difficult position going into the next campaign” leading to the October 21 vote, pollster Nik Nanos said. “Their challenge is how they differentiate themselves” from a Liberal government that has championed progressive social and environmental policies, reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, proposed a ban on single-use plastics and is expected to promise its own pharmacare program – overshadowing similar NDP pledges.

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Mr. Singh unveiled the party’s 109-page platform, titled A New Deal for People, at a party event in Hamilton, highlighting the party’s pledge in April to deliver a national pharmacare program next year – a promise federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor told CTV’s Question Period was “not realistic” because it would be up to the provinces and territories to agree to participate.

The NDP would follow that with national coverage for dental, vision, hearing and mental health-care costs, currently offered to Canadians in varying degrees by their employers.

Mr. Singh evoked the memory of the late Tommy Douglas, the former NDP leader who was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of a national medicare program. “That was a powerful dream,” Mr. Singh said. “But we know that dream is not complete. We can take it further.”

The platform covered a lot of familiar ground for the party. It reiterated a promise to create 500,000 affordable housing units, and pledged to work with provinces and territories to reduce postsecondary student costs and debt, increase child-care spending by $1-billion annually and restore door-to-door mail service.

An NDP government would also require telecommunication giants to cap cellphone and internet bills, and introduce a $15-an-hour minimum wage and a ban on replacement workers in labour disputes.

Along with increased funding for the CBC and public transit, and federal incentives for electric cars, Mr. Singh’s party would increase corporate income taxes, introduce a 1-per-cent tax on Canadians worth $20-million or more and end subsidies to the oil and gas sector.

The platform further details plans to improve the standard of living and education for First Nations and Indigenous communities, and reiterated its four-year, $15-billion climate plan that calls for retrofitting buildings and electrifying public transit.

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The precampaign platform release is part of an effort to familiarize voters with Mr. Singh, who finally won a seat in Parliament in the Burnaby South riding in February, 16 months after he became party leader and released a candid autobiography about overcoming abuse, racism and his father’s alcoholism while growing up in Windsor, Ont.

Mr. Singh has had his share of struggles as party leader. Fundraising has been weak, a third of the NDP caucus isn’t running again and the party lost a by-election in B.C. to the Green Party in May. A recent Nanos Research poll found Mr. Singh is the preferred prime minister of just 9 per cent of Canadians – about the same level as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and 24 points lower than where his predecessor Tom Mulcair stood in June, 2015. “He is an unknown for most people," said Darrell Bricker, chief executive of Ipsos Global Public Affairs.

But he could also benefit from disillusionment on the left with the Trudeau government. Recent polls suggest Canadian voters have tired of Mr. Trudeau in the wake of several missteps, including the handling of the SNC-Lavalin affair that led to the departure of cabinet ministers Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott, and disenchantment among environmentalists that the government bought a pipeline and likely won’t meet its Paris Agreement commitments.

“There are a lot of loose fish on the left right now looking for a place to go,” Mr. Bricker said. He noted support for the NDP, in the high teens, is within the party’s traditional levels, adding “they won’t give up the left flank as easily to the Liberals” as happened during the 2015 campaign, when the Liberals siphoned off much of Mr. Mulcair’s support.

"The next election will be a referendum on Justin Trudeau. If progressives are really upset with the Liberals, they will decide either between Green or NDP, or stay home.”

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