‘We know people are hurting,’ Jagmeet Singh prioritizing Canadians’ health-care, housing concerns in 2023

Many Torontonians are facing a lot of uncertainty heading into 2023. 

Will a pack of chicken cost more than $27 per kilogram? Will gas prices surpass $2 per litre again? Will rental prices continue to skyrocket?

As the cost of living continues to escalate in Canada, many are wondering whether they can keep up with the rapid price increases. 

This concern is on the minds of many, including Federal New Democratic Party leader Jagmeet Singh

“We know people are hurting, we know people need help. We want to get people that help, get people that respect, and use our position to achieve that,” Singh said in an exclusive interview with Now Toronto on Friday. 

Singh, 44, was born and raised in Canada after his parents emigrated from India in search of a better opportunity for their family. 

After working as a criminal defence lawyer, Singh entered the world of politics in 2011 and served as an Ontario Member of Provincial Parliament. Then he made the leap into federal politics in 2017 and was elected as the NDP’s party leader, becoming the first person of colour and Sikh politician to lead a national party in Canadian history.

Besides being fully immersed in law and politics, Singh has miraculously found some down time to win a jiu jitsu championship and learn how to surf and drive a motorcycle, among other things.

He currently resides in Burnaby, B.C. with his wife, Gurkiran, and his one-year-old daughter, Anhad, who he cites as his inspiration for wanting to help Canadians thrive and live comfortably.

Although Singh says his family is lucky to be in a financially stable position today, he wants to guarantee the same future for his daughter. 

“When I look at my daughter, I don’t think about the next couple years, I think about what life I want her to have when she grows up. And so it really has committed me to start seeing the type of world we want to build not in the next four years, the next 10 years, but the next 40 years,” he said. 

That’s why he’s on a mission to make a change for Canadians now, and has a big to-do list of priorities for the new year, including tackling price gouging by the nation’s largest grocery store corporations.

‘CORPORATE GREED SHOULDN’T BE MAKING PEOPLE SUFFER’

Grocery prices rose a startling 11 per cent year-over-year in December 2022, according to Statistics Canada. And in November 2022, poultry prices grew a whopping 9.3 per cent compared to a year ago.

The national statistics agency says the rise in chicken prices is partly due to reduced global supply, as farmers have culled and quarantined birds infected with avian influenza.

And rising prices aren’t expected to stop there.

The latest edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released last month suggests grocery costs are expected to increase up to seven per cent in 2023. This means a total annual grocery bill of $16,288 for a family of four — $1,065 more than it was in 2022. 

But, how much is too much for a pack of poultry?

Singh, like thousands of people on social media, was outraged after seeing a viral tweet about a five-pack of chicken breasts selling for nearly $40 at a Toronto-area Loblaws earlier this month.

In response, he has called out some grocery chains for “ripping people off” and generating a huge profit amid inflated food costs. 

“We want to stop that. We want to say corporate greed shouldn’t be making people suffer when it comes to buying groceries. There’s ways to do that. We’ve done that in the past, we’ve put in profiteering taxes and we’re saying let’s do that again and other countries are already doing that.” 

He says implementing a profiteering tax is one way to penalize these corporations for gouging Canadian families, and in turn, use that money to help struggling families. 

“(The) European Union, United Kingdom, Germany have all put in excess profit taxes to say, ‘If you gouge people, you’re going to have to pay your share.’ And we can use that to reinvest into helping people out,” he said. 

FOR-PROFIT HEALTH-CARE LEAVES PEOPLE ‘SUFFERING’

Along with tackling price gouging, Singh says his party is fighting to see action in addressing ongoing health-care concerns across the country, specifically with healthcare worker shortages and lengthy wait times. 

In fact, Singh has recently threatened to pull his party’s support from Prime Minister Trudeau’s Liberal government if no progress is made to combat these very issues. This could be detrimental to the minority government who needs the NDP’s support to pass certain legislation in the House of Commons. 

Singh said his party has used their influence on the Liberals to get free dental care for children under 12 years old. The dental-care bill was passed in Nov. 2022 allowing for families who make less than $90,000 a year to receive as much as $650 per child to care for their teeth.

This year Singh is aiming to expand dental care to children 18 years old and under, and to seniors. He also wants to implement a pharmacare plan to provide necessary medications to Canadians in need. 

“We’re the only country in the world that has a healthcare system that’s universal, that doesn’t also include medication coverage. So, we’re hoping that moves forward and that’s a part of our agreement (with the Liberals),” he said. 

Although it’s a loaded threat, Singh did not say at what point he would draw his support from Trudeau, but rather said he wants to see investments in the healthcare sector now to get the help that is desperately needed.

“If you go to any hospital, any healthcare worker across the country will tell you, ‘We don’t have enough workers, we’re overworked, we’re under-resourced.’ And so we need to deal with that,” Singh said. 

He added that the country should be recruiting international workers and utilizing their invaluable skills.

Along with obtaining more workers, Singh vocalized the need for free health-care to remain a priority in the country, instead of investing in for-profit clinics. 

His comments come as Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced on Monday a three-step plan to reduce the surgery backlog in the province by investing in private healthcare facilities to take on some of that burden. 

Singh, however, says investing in private care means “profit gets put above people, and people end up suffering.”

“We saw that with the long-term care homes where the military went in and saw some of the most horrific conditions in the for-profit long-term care homes where profit was a priority, they cut corners. And we saw some really horrible things where, you know, seniors weren’t getting the care they needed,” he said. 

MORE MIXED-USE AFFORDABLE HOMES NEEDED

Singh emphasized that another main goal of his is to provide financial support for both homeowners and renters who are coping with rising mortgage rates and rental prices. 

Many homeowners are definitely feeling the pressure of rising rates, especially after the Bank of Canada hiked its key interest rate to 4.25 per cent last month – the highest it’s been since January 2008.

On the flip side, renters are also facing climbing prices, especially in Toronto where the average rent of a one-bedroom apartment hit more than $2,500 last month, according to the latest data from Rentals.ca and Urbanation.

Singh says the solution is building more mixed-use affordable homes so people can both buy and rent within their means. 

“Homes means it can be apartments, it can be cooperatives, it can be not-for-profit housing, there has to be mixed. It can’t just all be developers building really expensive condos, that’s not going to fix the problem.”

Singh is also pushing the government to implement a bill that requires developers to provide 40 per cent of its units at an affordable rate, compared to the current 20 per cent. 

“And that’s a big incentive to build more units that are affordable because a developer gets a financial incentive if they meet these criteria. And that’s going to literally cut rent in half for a lot of people,” he said. 

There’s no doubt that Singh has an ambitious to-do list this year, but that doesn’t seem to be stopping him from going after his ultimate goal of becoming prime minister and fighting for the change Canadians want and need. 

In fact, Singh boldly stated in the House of Commons last month that when he is prime minister, he will keep his promises, and was subsequently met by laughs from members of the Conservative party.

But Singh says he’s unphased by the cackling he received and is determined to make his dream a reality.

“I said what I said, I didn’t stutter. I meant it and I believe in it, because I know Canadians will benefit from it.”

(Photo caption: Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh is seen at Zav Coffee Shop in Toronto.)

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