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Jagmeet Singh defends NDP climate plan, criticizes Liberal policy

HALIFAX — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rode into his final push to get voters to the polls with stops in three provinces Friday and an endorsement from U.S. Democrat Bernie Sanders.

HALIFAX — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rode into his final push to get voters to the polls with stops in three provinces Friday and an endorsement from U.S. Democrat Bernie Sanders.

Singh departed his plane in Nova Scotia and rode a longboard on the tarmac before campaign events in Liberal-held ridings.

"Better is possible," Singh said in front of a cheering crowd of about 200 in Sackville-Preston-Chezzetcook before taking aim at Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

"He's been in power for six years and all the things that matter to people have actually gotten worse not better."

Earlier in the day, Singh defended his party’s environmental plan at a stop in Quebec.

“Our commitment is we have to fight this climate crisis with everything we have,” Singh told reporters at a campaign event at Université de Sherbrooke.

Singh has accused Trudeau throughout the campaign of giving large carbon emitters exemptions and letting them off the hook. The NDP leader has positioned his party as the one most concerned about the environment and has criticized Trudeau’s climate strategy as being too soft on big polluters.

The Liberal plan imposes a direct price on carbon polluting or requires provinces to have a cap-and-trade system. It uses what's known as an "output-based" pricing system, under which companies are issued emissions credits based on their level of output and sector. If they emit more than their credits allow, they have to pay.

The government describes the system as one that ensures "a price incentive for industrial emitters to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and spur innovation while maintaining competitiveness."

Singh said the Liberals' strategy is not good enough to tackle the climate crisis. He said the NDP will make the carbon tax more fair and roll back loopholes. But the NDP's plan has been criticized for lacking detail.

The New Democrats say climate experts were consulted in building the platform. 

“We will listen to experts," Singh said. "We will listen to the evidence."

The NDP also pointed to the climate policy report card from Protect Our Winters science alliance, which gave the party's plan an A- and the Liberals plan a B. The group describes itself as a community of "enthusiasts, professional athletes and industry brands uniting the outdoor community to advocate for policy solutions to climate change."

The New Democrats have some climate activists running for the party, but Kathryn Harrison, a University of British Columbia political science professor who specializes in climate policy, said that may not be enough. 

"I think that’s been undermined by missteps including Mr. Singh’s equivocation on the fate of Trans Mountain if the NDP (wins), lack of details on how they accomplish their more ambitious target, and being less than forthcoming on their plans with respect to carbon pricing," Harrison said in an email.

Harrison added the messaging about big emitters is "disingenuous" and could undermine public support for the kinds of actions needed by households, too.

She said the Liberals maintain top marks with the suburban voters that could make or break the election when it comes to climate. They have been able to run on their policy record, including net-zero legislation and carbon pricing. 

They've also received an endorsement from climate scientist and former British Columbia Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver as well as other expert support.  

She added the Conservatives have the weakest plan, both in terms of targets and policy ambition.  

The NDP and Singh are sticking with an offensive approach to the final days of the campaigns and have set their sights west, heading to Saskatoon Friday night. Following stops in Saskatchewan, the New Democrats will head to Alberta.

The party has said the campaign has shifted in those provinces where COVID-19 rates have rapidly increased and public health orders have been reinstated. There will not be any rallies; instead Singh will meet in small closed groups with health-care workers and young people.

Singh has said it's still important to campaign in the region so people know they have a choice, especially as they deal with surging infections and hospitalizations.

"We are here for you," Singh told supporters in Quebec.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press