Fed­eral NDP lead­er­ship hope­fuls de­bated one last time on Sun­day

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - FRONT PAGE -

VAN­COU­VER — Fed­eral NDP lead­er­ship hope­fuls lined up Sun­day to take shots at ri­val Jag­meet Singh dur­ing the eighth and fi­nal de­bate in the cam­paign to re­place out­go­ing Leader Tom Mul­cair.

Singh, an On­tario leg­is­la­tor, is the only one of the four can­di­dates who is not a fed­eral politi­cian, and he bore the brunt of the at­tacks in what was oth­er­wise a rel­a­tively con­ge­nial face­off be­tween ri­vals whose cam­paigns over­lap more than they di­verge.

Man­i­toba MP Niki Ash­ton, who ap­peared by live feed be­cause of fly­ing re­stric­tions re­lated to her preg­nancy, ques­tioned Singh’s ded­i­ca­tion to the fed­eral NDP be­cause of his un­will­ing­ness to com­mit to run­ning for a seat in Par­lia­ment if he loses the lead­er­ship race.

“I will be win­ning, and once I win, I will run fed­er­ally,” Singh said, prompt­ing some cheers from the au­di­ence. “I’m ab­so­lutely run­ning fed­er­ally. No ques­tion about it.”

Ash­ton’s re­sponded with a re­minder: “I want to ac­knowl­edge that it’s up to the mem­bers to de­cide who is go­ing to win this race.”

The cam­paign’s two other can­di­dates, On­tario MP Char­lie An­gus and Que­bec MP Guy Caron, were also present for the de­bate.

An­gus crit­i­cized what he de­scribed as Singh’s plan to re­strict old age se­cu­rity, the fed­eral govern­ment’s largest se­niors ben­e­fit pro­gram.

“I still can’t get over the fact that you would put a means test on old-age se­cu­rity at $70,000,” An­gus said.

“Clearly you can’t hear what I’m say­ing. I’m say­ing I’m not chang­ing — I’m en­hanc­ing the pro­gram,” Singh replied.

“I don’t think you agree with (old age se­cu­rity). I think you agree with let­ting se­niors liv­ing in poverty,” he told An­gus, prompt­ing gasps from the crowd. “Be­cause if you don’t un­der­stand the plan, how can you crit­i­cize it?”

The NDP an­nounced late last month that party mem­ber­ship had more than tripled since March, from 41,000 to 124,000 card-car­ry­ing New Democrats.

Singh’s team says it signed up 47,000 new mem­bers and Elec­tions Canada data show his cam­paign raised more than $350,000 since he en­tered the race in May, dwarf­ing his ri­vals’ sec­ond-quar­ter fundrais­ing num­bers.

The con­sid­er­able com­mon ground that ex­ists be­tween the four can­di­dates was ap­par­ent dur­ing the de­bate as they lam­basted the Lib­eral govern­ment on ev­ery­thing from rene­go­ti­at­ing the North Amer­ica Free Trade Agree­ment to deal­ing with ris­ing eco­nomic in­equal­ity and ad­dress­ing cli­mate change.

Di­ver­sity is­sues also came up as Ash­ton com­mended Singh, who is Sikh, for his han­dling of a racist heck­ler who in­ter­rupted a mee­tand-greet last week.

A vi­ral video of the in­ci­dent shows a woman ac­cus­ing Singh of pro­mot­ing Shariah law and sup­port­ing the Mus­lim Brother­hood, as Singh tells her he sup­ports her and will not be in­tim­i­dated by hate.

“It’s some­thing that hap­pens to racial­ized peo­ple across not just Canada, across the world,” Singh told re­porters af­ter the de­bate when asked about the ex­pe­ri­ence.

“There are of­ten times that peo­ple are faced with un­fair­ness and in­jus­tice, and they re­spond with all sorts of grace and with dig­nity.”

Singh added that he hopes the in­ci­dent shows peo­ple he is able to re­spond well in un­pleas­ant sce­nar­ios.

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