Value of safe, clean water driven home for NDP leader Jagmeet Singh during recent Island trip

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh and his brother, left, newly elected NDP MPP for Brampton-East Gurratan Singh, spent a few vacation days on Manitoulin last week and popped by The Expositor Office in Little Current for a copy of the paper with long-time friend and Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. The Singhs were awed by the beauty of Manitoulin Island, a place they had never before visited. photo by Lori Thompson

MANITOULIN––Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh spent three days vacationing on Manitoulin Island with his brother, Gurratan Singh, NDP MPP for Brampton-East, with Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MPP Michael Mantha as tour guide. The Singhs had not previously visited Manitoulin but they will certainly return.

Mr. Mantha took them to Dreamer’s Rock, the Cup and Saucer hiking trail, Providence Bay and Misery Bay Provincial Park. They enjoyed hiking, swimming and cycling on our wide paved shoulders.

Jagmeet Singh had difficulty choosing the most outstanding moment. “The Cup and Saucer is really iconic so that hike was really amazing,” he said. “I love cycling. For me it’s a personal thing. One of the reasons we chose Manitoulin for this short trip was the amazing reviews we heard about how friendly it is to cyclists, and we found that it’s so true. The roads are awesome for cycling. There’s wide, paved shoulders in lots of areas. Even the cars that do pass, they give you wide berth and they seem to be quite comfortable and accommodating to cyclists, so I felt really at ease.”

Visiting the Island and taking in its scenic, natural treasures has given him a different perspective. “One of the things when you spend time out here you can really appreciate the beauty of the lake and how important it is to the way of life out here,” he said. “I’ve always been a strong defender of the environment but when you spend time out here you really appreciate the water and how  important it is to protect it. To be stewards of these lakes, to support conservation and protection of diversity of nature. Biodiversity but also just protecting the water and keeping it clean and keeping the levels at a level that is sustainable for the environment.”

Jagmeet Singh is troubled by the new Ford government in Ontario to disregard the importance of environmental stewardship. “What we’re seeing right off the bat is some troubling signs about the direction the current government is headed in. They said they cared about everyday people but everything we’re seeing contradicts that. The new proposed tax cuts actually benefit the wealthy; they don’t benefit everyday people. They’re focused in on proposals that ignore some of the important things that matter to the province (such as) a commitment to moving towards sustainable energy and protecting the environment. They’re seeming to disregard the importance of that. It’s a troubling trend where the priorities aren’t actual priorities that everyday people care about, such as protecting the water and protecting the environment: not just making sure we have a safe place for today but also for future generations. It doesn’t seem that those priorities are being respected.”

“We’re concerned but we’ve got an incredible team, one of the largest oppositions in the history of the province if not the largest,” he continued. “Andrea (Horvath) is my older (previous) boss, I’ve got an incredible love for her. She’s got a great team. Michael Mantha here in Algoma-Manitoulin and Gurratan here, newly elected in Brampton-East. It’s going to be a strong opposition to hold the government to account.”

Added MPP Mantha, “One of the things that’s especially concerning for me, being a member from Northern Ontario is the combination of the Ministry of Energy with the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines and the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. It seems like it’s a huge step backwards. Their priorities have been clearly identified and it’s not going to be First Nations-based. They’ve clearly sent out a signal that that’s not going to be a priority for this government. They’ve clearly sent out a signal that the environment is not going to be a priority for this government. They’ve distanced themselves from climate change. They’ve actually removed ‘climate change’ from the title of the ministry. There are some serious alarm bells, so going back and working with new colleagues and veteran colleagues in the largest opposition at the provincial level, I’m quite encouraged and I’m eager to go back. Quite frankly, we’re back next week for the first few days. We’ll be hearing the throne speech. It’s going to be a very interesting new government. Yet working with new voices and new ideas is going to be quite refreshing for all of us.”

Gurratan Singh also spoke of NDP support of environmental protection. “As the official opposition we are steadfast in our opposition in our support to protect the environment. That is now our job to fight for the communities across Ontario so if the Conservatives are taking a direction to have a negative impact on the environment now, our job is to hold them accountable and do whatever we can do to fight this. After travelling and seeing firsthand the beauty that is present on Manitoulin Island, it really gives you an appreciation beyond just reading about it. When you experience it; when you walk into the water; when you walk in the forest; when you see the Cup and Saucer and see this beautiful expanse of forest ahead of you; you really feel that we are stewards of the planet. We ran on a platform that we want to protect the environment as much as possible. It’s definitely upsetting to see the direction the Ford government is taking. We don’t share that position but we’re in a position now where we can hold them accountable in that fight to protect what we so desperately need to protect.”

Many Islanders have been concerned about the use of pesticides in our environment over the past few years and MPP Mantha spoke to this. “I’ve been proud to take my position in the previous sitting of the house and reading Island petitions in the house and raising some of your concerns. You’re right: the hands of the municipalities are tied. We need to be using organizations like AMO and returning some of that power to localized community leaders so they have that power to say yes or no or these are the conditions. A lot of the use of pesticides has now become a standard operating procedure. It’s taking away from opportunities of creating an economy or jobs. Let’s look at different ways of doing things and let’s not just make it an easy decision.”

Keeping our water clean and healthy is important not just here on Manitoulin but across the country, and is of special concern in First Nations, feels Jagmeet Singh. “The first basic thing is that everyone in this country should have access with clean drinking water,” he said. “That is probably the most direct and stark, massive inequality in our country. Many of us in this country have access to clean drinking water but many don’t. That to me is unacceptable. The government talked about addressing it but in the last budget didn’t put any money into the budget for it.”

Jagmeet Singh also stressed how important it is to work with our First Nations on a nation to nation basis. “What we put forward in the last session just recently was a bill that called for the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” he said. “Parliament put forward a bill that would implement that in Canadian law. That bill has passed but we need to ensure our laws reflect that. We believe our First Nations are sovereign nations that should be treated as that. We put the government to the test and said, now that the bill has passed will you look at energy projects, at job creation with this lens; that it’s got to be done in a way that’s consistent with this declaration with the informed consent of the nations that are impacted? They voted against that. We’re putting forward not only a bill that says let’s respect the right, the identity and the values of the first peoples of this land. The government voted for the bill but then voted against the motion to implement the bill. That’s what we’re going to continue to do, put forward concrete steps towards reconciliation.”

The Expositor also spoke with the NDP leader about health care, trade wars and other concerns. See next week’s paper for more of our conversation.