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Jagmeet Singh tells N.S. NDP party his social policy focus boosts its efforts

HALIFAX — The federal New Democrat leader made the case Saturday that his heavy focus on social programs will help rejuvenate the party's fortunes in Nova Scotia by the next provincial election.
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HALIFAX — The federal New Democrat leader made the case Saturday that his heavy focus on social programs will help rejuvenate the party's fortunes in Nova Scotia by the next provincial election.

Jagmeet Singh spoke at the party's provincial convention in Halifax, arguing his promotion of a universal pharmacare bill, a national dental care plan and a "massive" investment in affordable housing are gaining traction.

The NDP formed a single-term government in Nova Scotia under former premier Darrell Dexter in 2009, but the party's 31-seat majority was wiped out in 2009, with just seven seats remaining.

The social democratic party has struggled to rebuild since then, and also failed to elect Nova Scotia MPs in the 2019 federal election.

Under Gary Burrill's leadership, the provincial NDP has fallen to four seats, and last June it lost a byelection in a Halifax-area stronghold that had been held by the party since 1984.

During his speech to party delegates, Singh picked up on the recent reports of poor families in Halifax facing difficulties in obtaining affordable housing units, and promised he will press for improvement in federal funding.

"I want you to know that at the federal level, we are going to fight for you. We're going to put Ottawa to work for you," the leader told delegates in his 30-minute address.

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Singh said he believes the party's political fortunes will be lifted by a focus on social supports.

"Here in Halifax, you can't find rentals, and buying is out of the question for a lot of people," he said.

"We're pushing at the federal level to massively invest in affordable housing. ...We're take the existing plan the Liberals have announced and tacking on an additional $6 billion for real investments and making it a lot more accessible," he said.

Asked what will help the party reverse its decline in Nova Scotia, Singh said the NDP's social programs are beginning to connect with the public.

He said seniors will be pleased by his plans to provide medications, students will appreciate policies that eliminate interest on their education debt, and working class residents will appreciate housing help.

"People need better housing, they need investments in health care and pharmacare and ... the NDP wants to invest," he said.

There's been speculation among pundits a provincial election could happen by this fall, after the Liberal government recently announced a record-breaking increase in capital spending on schools, highways and other infrastructure.

Singh argues the NDP is well-positioned if there is a provincial campaign.

"I think you'll see a lot of changes in this campaign. You'll see if an election is called a very passionate team of dedicated (NDP) volunteers and activists ... championing policies for things people really want."

The party's more immediate test will come on March 10, when two provincial byelections that were held by New Democrats are scheduled.

One of them is in the Truro-Bible Hill-Millbrook-Salmon River riding vacated by former NDP politician Lenore Zann, who shifted to the federal Liberals in last year's federal election.

The other became vacant when NDP legislator Tammy Martin stepped down, citing health reasons.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Feb. 29, 2020.

Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press

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