Singh says Bill 21 is discriminatory but stops short of committing to court challenge

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says Quebec’s secularism law is undoubtedly discriminatory, but won’t commit to federal intervention if elected prime minister.

In an interview with CTV National News on Thursday, Singh said he’s waiting to see how the current court challenge of Bill 21 plays out before making that decision.

“It’s being fought in court right now, and it’s important that it’s fought in court. As a lawyer I know that these decisions can be very complex, and so I wouldn’t assess anything before we know what happened,” he said.

Singh says the law, which prevents public service workers like teachers, judges and police officers from donning religious symbols on the job, is discriminatory. But he said he’s less concerned about “labels” than he is about action.

“It’s important to note that calling things different labels doesn’t help in the battle against systemic racism. What I want to do is make sure people know that they should be valued and they should belong for who they are,” he said.  

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, on the other hand, says he disagrees with the law but won’t go as far as to call it discriminatory. He has, however, said that he’s keeping the door open to a court challenge at a later date if need be.

Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has said that as prime minister, he would never challenge a law passed by a provincial legislature.

In the same interview, Singh skirted around questions about whether he’d keep or sell the already-purchased Trans Mountain pipeline, given he is openly opposed to it.

“I've always learned, my mom always taught me, that we need to make sure we make good decisions, and a good decision is only made when you know what you're what you're up against. We don't know what Mr. Trudeau has done, and we don't know the situation. Until we're in government, we'll know that better,” he said.

He added that an elected NDP government would end fossil fuel subsides and make more “realistic” emissions reduction targets – although at least one environmental economist has questioned the plan’s feasibility in terms of its impact on Canada’s GDP.

The NDP has vowed that by 2030, Canada would have carbon dioxide emissions at 50 per cent below 2005 levels. By comparison, the Liberals are promising to cut emissions 40 to 45 per cent below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, while the Conservatives want to follow Canada’s reduction target under the Paris Agreement – which is lower than the government’s current goal.

Here is the full text of Singh’s interview with CTV News National Affairs Correspondent Omar Sachedina.

Note: This transcript has been edited for length and grammar.

Sachedina: Your platform pledges more than $200 billion in spending over the next five years and relies on new taxes on the so called ultra-rich and also corporations as well to generate more revenue. Do you not run the risk of killing innovation at a time when economic growth is so important for Canada's post-pandemic recovery?

Singh: No, not at all. What we're looking at is just fairness. It's about making sure that the folks that are using offshore tax havens, and loopholes that mean that they're not paying their fair share, start to pay their fair share, and so it's just a really a question of fairness. When we see workers that have struggled in this pandemic, small businesses that have shut their door, but we see the wealthiest 44 billionaires in Canada increase their wealth by $78 billion, and continue not to pay their fair share, it's something that Canadians say doesn't sit well with them.

Sachedina: I want to move on to the Trans Mountain pipeline now. You say that you’re against it, you’ve said that repeatedly. But you won't say what you'll do with it. Don't voters deserve to know what your plan is?

Singh: Well voters know where I stand and they know where I stand on theenvironment.

Sachedina: But they don’t know what you’re going to do with it.

Singh: They know where I stand on the environment, and they know the things that I would concretely do right away. They know that

I would end fossil fuel subsides, while Trudeau increased them to the level of Mr. Harper.

Sachedina: Specifically on the pipeline, which you know is now a taxpayer-owned asset: If you're elected, what will you do with it? Will you keep it or will you get rid of it?

Singh: I've always learned, my mom always taught me that we need to make sure we make good decisions, and a good decision is only made when you know what you're what you're up against. We don't know what Mr. Trudeau has done, and we don't know the situation. Until we're in government, we'll know that better.

Sachedina: You want to assess the decision of whether to keep it or sell it. What’s the criteria there, what will you be looking at?

Singh: All the parameters involved with making a decision, what's in the best interest of Canadians, what's the state of the asset, what's the best decision possible we can take?

Sachedina: I want to move on to Bill 21, this is an issue where for you, the personal and the political really collide, right. If you were in Quebec, you would not be able to be a public prosecutor, even a teacher. The Liberals are at least open to intervening in a legal challenge, are you?

Singh: What I've said about this bill is that it's being fought right now in court. It's a bill that's divisive and I don't support those types of bills.  

Sachedina: The question was very direct, Mr. Singh: will you intervene, are you at least open to intervening?

Singh: My position is it’s being fought in court right now, and it's important that it's fought in court. As a lawyer, I know that these decisions can be very complex, and so I wouldn't assess anything before we know what happens.

Sachedina: Is it racist?

Singh: Calling people racist or labelling things as racist is less important to me than actually getting the results, and the results for me would be a society where people belong, where we don't have police violence based on someone's colour of their skin, where people are not being treated differently because of who they are. That's what I want to achieve.

Sachedina: If you think it’s discriminatory –

Singh: I don’t think it is, it is.

Sachedina: Then why are you not at least open to the possibility of challenging it legally?

Singh: We'll see what happens with it, you know I've seen a lot of court cases and the results are very complicated and the rulings can be very complex so we want to know what the results are.

Sachedina: We are now just a few days away from September 20th. If it is a Conservative minority, and you hold balance of power, will you work with that scenario?

Singh: I'm going to flip that up because I'm not going to accept defeat. I'm fighting to become prime minister and as prime minister my goal is to tax the super wealthy, to invest in people.

Sachedina: But the likelihood of that happening is, is not great at this point. There are two front-runners right now, if it is a Conservative minority, would you be willing to work with that government?

Singh: It doesn't change that I'm not going to accept that frame. I'm running to become prime minister. As prime minister, I would achieve what I promised to do, which is to invest in our child care, to invest in solving the housing crisis, to invest in our health care, to tax the super wealthy. I want Canadians to know they've got a choice, if they want these things to happen, you got Mr. Trudeau who is all for show, says a lot of great things all for show, but it’s to protect the interests of the rich. Or you’ve got New Democrats, who are going to fight for you, want to make sure the super-wealthy pay their fair share, and invest in solutions that people need.

With a file from The Canadian Press


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