OTTAWA — New Democrat Leader Jagmeet Singh says he’s not interested in forcing a federal election with a second wave of COVID-19 looming, if he can work with the Liberals to bring much-needed help to struggling Canadians.
Singh’s comments Friday were his clearest yet on whether the NDP plans to support the minority Liberal government’s throne speech next week. The speech will be followed by a confidence vote that the Liberals must win to keep governing.
The Liberals need the support of one party to carry on, and the fourth-place NDP have enough seats to make that happen.
Singh, who spoke to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau later Friday, said he would make the case for the government to extend benefits for unemployed Canadians that the Liberals are planning to reduce.
"We are absolutely prepared to fight an election. But I want to be very clear about this point: it is not my goal to tear down government, it is not my goal to force an election," Singh said in a speech outside the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que., with Parliament as his backdrop across the Ottawa River.
"But we know with the coming second wave, with the help that Canadians need right now, our focus is on making sure that families, working people, small businesses get the help they need."
Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole also spoke Friday to Trudeau about his wish list for the throne speech.
In a statement later, the Conservatives said O'Toole, who is in self-isolation after an aide tested positive for COVID-19, urged Trudeau to ramp up testing capabilities and to ensure that Canada becomes more self-reliant in the production of personal protective and medical equipment.
He also emphasized the need for more financial support for small businesses and for "workforce recovery," particularly in the hard-hit tourism sector. And O'Toole echoed the premiers in calling for more unconditional funding to provinces for health care.
According to the statement, O'Toole also pushed back against Trudeau's desire to "build back better," particularly with respect to the prime minister's goal of building an environmentally sustainable economy. He told Trudeau that western alienation is largely due to his government's environmental assessment process for infrastructure projects, which critics have dubbed the "no-more-pipelines" bill.
"Mr. O’Toole emphasized that Canadian natural resource industries are global leaders and any Canadian resources prevented from reaching the market are replaced by resources from countries with poor records of human rights and environmental standards," the statement said.
In his speech and in remarks to reporters afterwards, Singh accused his Liberal and Conservative counterparts of doing the bidding of big business during the pandemic.
Singh took aim at Trudeau and O’Toole as he laid out the NDP’s priorities. He told his supporters that his two main political rivals are essentially in the back pocket of big business and the "super rich," who he said have profited massively during the pandemic at the expense of working people.
"Megacompanies like Netflix and Amazon pay virtually no tax in Canada," he said.
"Tax loopholes and giveaways continue to let the richest Canadians get away without paying their fair share. This isn’t an accident. The system designed by the parties of Justin Trudeau and Erin O’Toole doesn’t work for working people. It works for the rich and powerful."
Later, when he was answering questions about whether he would support the government, Singh said: "The richest have made profits in this pandemic, but everyday people have actually felt the pain. And so we need to get help to them."
He made clear that unless the Liberals focus more on working people than on bigger corporate interests, his party’s support will evaporate.
"If the Liberal government continues down a path where they’re more interested in helping themselves, they get caught up in scandal, and they’re not willing to do what’s necessary … and they’re more worried about helping themselves, then we are prepared to fight an election."
Singh wants the Liberals to extend benefits for unemployed Canadians that he says they are planning to curtail.
He’s also called on the government to do more to help seniors, and address the crises in climate change and affordable housing.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2020.