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Singh seeks to rally New Democrats as glitchy policy convention wraps up

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OTTAWA —
Federal New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh took aim at the Liberal government Sunday, firing an opening salvo ahead of a possible election later this year.

Rounding off a three-day policy convention plagued with hiccups and frustrations, Singh sought to unite the party faithful around a message of fair treatment, financial relief and Liberal failures.

His unwavering focus on the Grits stood in contrast to remarks from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who made nary a mention of New Democrats in his keynote speech at a Liberal convention Saturday.

With the Liberals pledging national pharmacare and child-care systems — the party has backed both ideas since the 1990s but made little headway on either — Singh is leading the party further left via proposals to cancel billions in student debt, eliminate for-profit long-term care and impose a wealth tax.

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Part of that push zeroes in on the “rich” — a word featured 15 times in Singh’s speech, often preceded by “ultra.”

“We’re not actually in the same boat. We’re certainly in the same storm. But some of us are in leaky lifeboats, while others are in luxury yachts,” Singh said.

“Liberals continue to side with those in the yachts.”

Singh also claimed credit for beefed-up wage subsidies, emergency response benefits and sick-leave payments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“The Liberals like to take credit, but New Democrats get results,” he said.

Speaking from an Ottawa production studio, Singh addressed more than 2,000 delegates assembled online to debate and vote on resolutions that will guide the NDP campaign platform ahead of a potential fight at the polls.

He has consistently emerged as the most popular federal leader in recent public-opinion surveys, but the party itself often falls short of 20 per cent support.

If the three main opposition parties were to vote against the looming Liberal budget — scheduled for April 19 — the government would fall. Singh has promised his party won’t trigger an election while the pandemic persists.

Trudeau could decide to pull the plug himself and Liberal insiders suggest that may happen during the summer, provided the vaccine rollout continues apace and the pandemic, currently spreading like wildfire once again, is sufficiently doused.

On the hustings, Singh would be fighting for Liberal seats while also seeking to stave off challenges from Conservatives gunning for trade union votes and Greens explicitly targetting NDP supporters.

He took a parting shot at the Conservatives on Sunday, saying they “are no friends to workers” on sick leave, pharmacare or union solidarity.

Singh’s speech also looked to shore up solidarity within the party at a convention that saw glitches and procedural delays threaten to sideline policy debate amid simmering tensions over how far left the party should tack.

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Resolutions on deck for a vote on Sunday include proposals to insert the word “socialism” into the party constitution and implement all 231 recommendations made by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2021.

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