Trying to sell himself as Canada’s next prime minister to the people of New Brunswick, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh apologized Monday for the fact he was making first visit to the province since winning the leadership two years ago.
Speaking to reporters in the small northeastern city of Bathurst, Singh insisted his team takes the province seriously and that his party has the best policy ideas to address concerns in the region — from health care to employment insurance.
Singh has faced criticism for not visiting the province since his 2017 leadership victory — and when asked to explain his absence, he said it’s better not to make excuses and to just apologize.
“I’m not making an excuse, I’ve just unequivocally said: ‘My bad.’ But I can tell people in New Brunswick if they want someone who’s in it for them, let’s look at the policies, let’s look at what we’re proposing,” Singh said.
“I’m really sorry — I’m sorry that I didn’t get here earlier. I’m happy to be here, I’m honoured to be here and it’s a beautiful place.”
He said he had been warmly greeted in the province.
Singh also announced Daniel Theriault as his new candidate in the riding of Acadie-Bathurst, a district held for nearly two decades by former NDP MP Yvon Godin.
In August, Godin voiced his concerns in a CBC News interview about Singh not spending time in New Brunswick before the October federal election.
Godin, who represented the riding from 1997 until his retirement in 2015, introduced Singh and Theriault during Monday’s announcement.
WATCH: Singh says NDP ‘one seat away’ from full slate of candidates
“It’s so much of a great pleasure for me to introduce to you Jagmeet Singh, our leader for the New Democratic Party,” Godin said.
Theriault, a former director of Nova Scotia’s Acadian cultural federation, is running against Liberal incumbent Serge Cormier. The NDP described Theriault as a star candidate and said he has fought to protect the French language and to promote Acadian culture.
With the Theriault announcement, the party is now fielding a full roster of candidates in New Brunswick.
WATCH: Singh apologizes for not visiting N.B. sooner
Standing beside Singh, Theriault said the New Democrats decided to delay the announcement of his candidacy because they wanted to have an impact.
“Now that Mr. Singh knows us, he will come often,” Theriault said.
Across Canada, the party has nominated candidates in 328 of the country’s 338 federal ridings _ and candidates have been lined up for nine of the 10 remaining districts, NDP spokesman James Smith wrote in an email Monday.
Singh said it took longer for the NDP to nominate candidates because the party wanted to recruit more women to run. Many women who are contacted to be candidates, unlike most men, often think they are underqualified because they don’t see themselves reflected when they look at politicians, he added.
“I thought it was important to do that work,” he said. “I’m proud of that. It was hard to do, but we wanted to do things differently.”
Singh said 49 per cent of the NDP’s candidates are women and he insisted his team has a record number of people running from Indigenous, LGTBQ2 and racialized communities.
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Later Monday, Singh’s tour took him to meet voters in Halifax and a town-hall meeting at Nova Scotia Community College. Former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough was in the audience.
Singh took questions from the crowd, promising to introduce a national, universal, public pharmacare program by next year, immediately waive interest payments on all federal student loans, establish free tuition, and to work towards improving access to family doctors by, among other approaches, recognizing the credentials of foreign-trained doctors.
The NDP pharmacare pledge, he argued, would help ease the burden on the health-care system by enabling people to obtain medications.