November 20, 2017
Leslie Claire Amminson

On Wednesday afternoon, the newly elected leader of the Federal NDP Jagmeet Singh talked to students, faculty, and the general public at Memorial University’s St. John’s Campus. Singh started by acknowledging the key components of his platform before taking questions from audience members.

Among the topics Singh discussed was healthcare. He advocated avoiding the privatisation of healthcare, and broadening Canada’s healthcare system to include dental coverage. Later in his speech, he gave attention to the opioid crisis, highlighting that the epidemic should be treated just as seriously as any other outbreak, and that stigma against it must be broken down in order to make progress. He advocated for the decriminalization of drug possession, which he explained would allow drug users to seek help and health care without the fear of being stigmatized.

Singh also acknowledged the disparity in gender equality and emphasized that he would want to work to change that disparity should he be elected as Prime Minister. Another student raised the issue of sexual assault on campus, and what can be done to make campuses safer for female and non-binary students. Singh stated that sexual assault complaints must always be taken seriously and investigated, as a starting point, and that the courtroom approach to dealing with those complaints has to change. “We have to ensure that the training does not […] further victimize people who are survivors. Survivors have already gone through so much, and to put them through further trauma is not acceptable”.

He condemned the Liberals’ poor follow-up on their commitment to Indigenous Reconciliation, which was an instrumental topic throughout Trudeau’s campaign that has seen few positive results. He also targeted the Liberals’ lack of action on the issue of electoral reform. Though the party claimed the electoral system was something they wanted to change, they have now abandoned that promise and are no longer pursuing that change. Singh highlighted that fairness is what the NDP is working towards. “We are not in pursuit of power for power’s sake” he stated. He explained that he is in favour of a Mixed Member Proportional system, but is open to other possibilities as well. Climate change is another issue that Singh claims he is committed to. “We are in imminent danger now–not tomorrow” he emphasized

When the floor was opened to students to ask questions, many asked what the NDP could do to improve the lives of students across the country. Attention was given to the accessibility of education, and how the government can invest in making education more affordable. In response, Singh focused on his personal experience with education, and how the tuition fees for the program he was enrolled in have almost tripled since he was attending. “I am only here today because tuition was somewhat more affordable when I went to law school […] I just think about all the incredible potential we have in our country, all the young, bright minds that are thinking twice about pursuing post-secondary education because of the cost. We’re doing a tremendous disservice to all these potential leaders and innovators” he stated, adding “I am committed to tearing down the barriers to education”.

In light of the recent Islamophobic posters at MUN, Singh spoke about inclusivity. Though Singh is not Muslim, he often faces Islamophobia. The slogan of his campaign, “Love and Courage”, envelops his approach to dealing with racism. “I face Islamophobia regularly”, Singh explained, “and I never say ‘I’m not a Muslim’, I always say ‘hate is wrong’. And that’s important because, once hate is allowed to grow […] it’s going to spread, and it’s going to be [directed towards] someone else tomorrow”. He made the distinction between free speech and hate speech, explaining “there is free speech and you can criticize, but then hate speech is where you’re inciting hatred against a community”.

Singh took a few moments at the end of his presentation to take a snapchat with students, while they all smiled and said “Love and Courage”. Singh is now continuing with his first cross-country tour as federal leader.