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Singh sets his sights on prairie Conservative-held seats hit hard by COVID-19

EDMONTON — Jagmeet Singh met with health-care workers and criticized the COVID-19 pandemic responses of provincial governments in Saskatchewan and Alberta Saturday as the federal NDP campaign focused on Conservative-held seats in the Prairie province
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EDMONTON — Jagmeet Singh met with health-care workers and criticized the COVID-19 pandemic responses of provincial governments in Saskatchewan and Alberta Saturday as the federal NDP campaign focused on Conservative-held seats in the Prairie provinces.

"We wanted to come here because it's that serious," Singh said during a campaign stop in Edmonton.

The party leader said people across the Prairies are being hit extra hard by the fourth wave of the pandemic because their governments have failed them.

He threw his support behind health-care worker unions who have called on Alberta Premier Jason Kenney to request military assistance for a health-care system they say is on the verge of collapse.

Singh aims to wrest prairie seats away from federal Conservativesin the two provinces that have historically voted blue.

His campaign stops in the provinces were much smaller and he met with only a handful of people and local candidates while staying outside.

Asked whether it’s appropriate to continue campaigning as the regions bring back significant public health orders to tackle the spread of COVID-19, Singh defended the decision.

"A leader has to show up," he said.

Samantha Waller, an intensive-care nurse in Edmonton, told Singh about the dire situation she faces at work. There aren't enough resources and patients are dying, she said.

"I got into health care on the foundation that I wanted to help people," she said in an emotional plea.

Another intensive-care nurse, Cathleen Cobb, echoed those concerns.

"It feels like we haven't been able to do enough for anybody," Cobb said.

People should be angry at the conservative premiers, Singh said during an earlier campaign stop in Saskatoon. Health is under provincial jurisdiction and Singh did not say how a federal NDP government would have dealt with the situation or the premiers differently.

He did take aim at Justin Trudeau, saying the Liberal leader abandoned the provinces in the fourth wave.

Singh has kept his sights on the Liberals throughout the campaign, arguing the New Democrats are a viable alternative and discouraging people from strategic voting. Despite running a campaign that outwardly prides itself on positivity, the New Democrats have been very negative about Trudeau.

Singh said Canadians have to make a choice, leaving the party with little choice but to point out mistakes and bad decisions of other leaders.

The New Democrats' popularity level hasn’t moved much in the last week of the campaign, with the party lagging behind both the Liberals and Conservatives in opinion polls.

Singh did not answer repeated questions about whether he’d support the Liberals or Conservatives if Monday's election results in a minority government. He would also not say whether he believes the party that wins the most seats should get the first crack at government.

The NDP said Singh is ready to grow the party’s seat count to fight in the House of Commons for what Canadians need.

With that goal in mind, the New Democrats are trying to capitalize on voters who are mad at provincial governments for their handling of the pandemic.

Some may come over to the NDP, but pollsters are also watching to see if others get behind the People’s Party of Canada, splitting the vote on the right. That could allow some NDP candidates to squeak in a win.

During the whirlwind tour Saturday, Singh also visited the Regina Indian Industrial Residential School with candidate Tria Donaldson before having a sit down with a handful of Indigenous supporters at the Moose and Bannock restaurant.

The riding of Regina-Lewvan was previously held by former NDP member of Parliament Erin Weir. The Conservatives have held it since the last election in 2019.

Singh has made allyship with Indigenous issues a key point of his campaign. During the sit down, Singh was told that Canada's reckoning over residential schools and unmarked graves cannot be the end of action.

Attendees pointed to the ongoing apprehension of children through the child welfare system, language rights and self determination as pressing issues still in need of attention.

"It's time for Indigenous communities to thrive," said Chasity Delorme.

Singh will take the NDP campaign to British Columbia for the final push before election day.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 18, 2021.

Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said former NDP MP Erin Weir lost the riding of Regina-Lewvan in 2019. Weir did not lose the race, but was out of office prior to the 2019 vote in which the Conservatives won the riding.