NDP leader lands in New Brunswick, says he's sorry for not visiting sooner
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May also in N.B., says it's her third trip this year
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made his first visit to New Brunswick on Monday and apologized for not getting there sooner.
The party is rounding out its slate of candidates in the province and Singh was in Bathurst to introduce Daniel Thériault, a longtime activist in Acadian organizations. Singh called him "a star candidate" for the riding of Acadie-Bathurst.
But Singh faced questions from reporters about why he hadn't visited the province earlier in his first two years as NDP leader.
"We're absolutely taking New Brunswick seriously," Singh said, adding it was a mistake not to visit sooner. "I'm really sorry. I'm sorry I didn't get here earlier. I'm happy to be here."
Asked for an explanation, he said his mother taught him to not make excuses when apologizing.
Singh's lack of earlier visits was criticized by Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who made her own appearance later in the day in Fredericton. The two parties are competing for left-of-centre votes in the Oct. 21 election.
May pointed out that it was her third trip to the province this year.
"Anyone that thinks that they have what it takes to serve their country as prime minister needs to know the country, needs to have gone to all parts of the country to listen," she said.
Facing local criticism
Last month, New Democrat Yvon Godin, the former Acadie-Bathurst MP, said he was "not proud" of Singh's absence from the province and said it was hurting the party's prospects.
But Godin, who represented the riding for 18 years, was at Singh's side on Monday and said it was "a great pleasure" to introduce him.
Singh urged a small crowd of NDP supporters to rally behind Thériault.
"Here in New Brunswick, with our complete team of candidates, with our star candidate Daniel Thériault, we are confident that we can move forward, but we need your help."
He said the NDP is the only party committed to policies on health care and employment insurance that respond to people's needs.
Provincial party problems
Singh's visit comes during a tumultuous year for the NDP in New Brunswick. Last week, Radio-Canada reported that the party's Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe candidate, Luke MacLaren, had to apologize for old social-media posts that were offensive.
The provincial party has also been in the doldrums, winning a only five percent of the vote in last year's election and failing for the fourth campaign in a row to elect a single MLA.
The party also lacks a permanent leader. The only candidate who came forward for the position earlier this year, Joyce Richardson, was disqualified.
She later organized an exodus of former provincial NDP candidates to the Green Party, and her son Jonathan, another defector, suggested voters in northern New Brunswick were reluctant to support Singh because of his Sikh heritage.
The only bright spot for the NDP was that the exodus was revealed to be smaller than advertised after several apparent defectors said they were not switching to the Greens after all.
Singh said Monday he didn't believe Jonathan Richardson's comments about his background being a liability.
"People in Bathurst are welcoming and open-hearted and beautiful people who just want someone who understands them," he said. "They're people who just want a fair deal."
Singh also pushed back at the Green Party's apparent momentum in New Brunswick. The party captured 11.8 percent of the vote provincially last year, more than double that of the NDP, and elected three MLAs.
Singh said the NDP has "a really solid position" on abortion rights and national unity, "something I can't really say for the Green Party."
He was referring to one Green Party candidate who is anti-abortion and another who declared himself a Quebec sovereigntist.
May said in Fredericton that the Greens' position is "the same solid position" as the NDP's on both issues.
"What I find disturbing is that the NDP keeps saying there's something funny about our position, because it's the same as their position. I'm all for recycling … but the NDP has to stop recycling the same lies every day."
Singh said the delay in getting NDP candidates nominated was because of his commitment to "do things a little differently," including recruiting more women. But eight of the party's 10 candidates in New Brunswick are men.
Thériault said his announcement had been put off so it would have a more dramatic effect.
"It was part of our strategy to delay the announcement. We wanted to have a good impact."
Thériault is a former director of the Festival acadien de Caraquet and other arts organizations and was also head of the Acadian Cultural Federation of Nova Scotia. He is the brother of former Caraquet Liberal MLA Bernard Thériault.
With files from Ashley Burke