MONTREAL — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh was barely a minute into his speech Monday announcing a deputy leader from Quebec when he invoked the memory of Jack Layton, who famously led the party to its 2011 sweep of the province that propelled the party to Official Opposition status.
"I share the dream of Jack Layton to unite the progressives of Quebec and the rest of Canada under the same banner," Singh said
Since Layton's death just months after the 2011 election, the party's fortunes in the province have tumbled. The NDP is polling fourth in Quebec, Singh has so far failed to connect with voters, and high-profile Quebec MPs including former leader Tom Mulcair, Helene Laverdiere and Romeo Saganash will not be seeking re-election in October.
In response, Singh is relying on Montreal MP Alexandre Boulerice — who was first elected to Parliament during Layton's 2011 Quebec orange wave — to help the party recapture the imagination of Quebecers as it targets the province's 78 federal seats.
As the new deputy leader, Boulerice — a francophone and former union adviser — will be in charge of recruiting candidates and making the case for the party in Quebec.
Boulerice is known for his combative political style and strong oratory skills in the House of Commons. Singh said his decision to name Boulerice deputy leader shows his desire to "do things differently in Quebec." He told reporters to stay tuned for a series of Quebec-specific announcements in the coming months.
Singh said NDP policies to provide low-cost housing, to increase taxes on the rich and to respect Quebec cultural products make him "an ally" of Quebecers. But he and Boulerice also revealed that the environment will be a major issue the party will use to differentiate itself from the Liberals, who are leading in the polls in Quebec.
Singh justified his strategy by noting the success in last October's provincial election of the left-wing and sovereigntist Quebec solidaire, which ran on what he called a "bold" environmental platform. The party's radical policies included a promise to ban the sale of gas-powered cars by 2030.
Quebec solidaire increased its seat total to 10 from three and "really captured the imagination of Quebecers when it comes to the environment," Singh said. "There is a deep, romantic connection with the idea of protecting the water, the land, the air. The young people in Quebec believe strongly we need to do more to fight climate change."
Boulerice criticized the Trudeau government's decision to purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline and what he called its inadequate action to combat greenhouse gas emissions. "We will present a plan on the environment that will clearly show the time of half measures is over," he said.
The NDP leader also hit the government on the SNC-Lavalin affair. Former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould claims she was subjected to relentless, inappropriate pressure to stop the trial of the engineering giant on bribery and fraud charges related to contracts in Libya.
Singh said if he were prime minister, he would have never let SNC-Lavalin hold sway over his government.
"We don't believe that if you are powerful, well-connected (and) have donated illegally to our party, that you should be able to call up the prime minister's office and have laws changed to get you off of criminal responsibility," he said. "We wouldn't have done that."
The party's next announcement for Quebec will be on Wednesday, when Singh plans to introduce the NDP's candidate in the Montreal riding of Laurier—Sainte-Marie, currently held by Laverdiere.