Jagmeet Singh listens as an attendee asks a question about dual citizenship at an event put on by the federal NDP leadership contender at Penticton’s Craft Corner Kitchen Monday afternoon. Dustin Godfrey/Western News

NDP leadership frontrunner hits Penticton

Jagmeet Singh spent an hour and a half in Craft Corner Kitchen speaking with local NDP supporters

Following a debate among federal NDP leadership candidates Sunday, perceived frontrunner Jagmeet Singh paid a visit to a Penticton restaurant Monday evening.

Singh spoke to a crowd of about 40 supporters at the Craft Corner Kitchen — the same place Premier John Horgan campaigned at in the spring with the B.C. NDP — on topics ranging from auto insurance to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

In his introduction, Singh, a member of provincial parliament in Ontario, spoke to his experience with racism growing up.

“As I grew older, there was a lot of physical confrontations, people would approach me and physically want to fight me because I look different,” Singh told the crowd. “But what it taught me, though, because I thought that was really unfair to be treated differently just because of the way I looked, it made me sensitive to unfairness. I started noticing it around me.”

With North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations currently underway, Singh said he is interested in, beyond free trade, seeing more fair trade to and from Canada, protecting workers and the environment in trade deals.

“With respect to local industries like the wine industry, agricultural industries, in general we need to make sure that our trade agreements protect agriculture, protect local economies, there’s a big issue around supply management when it comes to our dairy farmers,” Singh said.

“We need to protect what we have here in Canada and make sure that our local economy is protected in any agreement.”

Prompted by an attendee on his policy regarding post-secondary tuition fees, Singh said he estimates for publicly funded university would run from $10 billion to upwards of $20 billion per year, to which another attendee interjected, it would be a “pretty good investment.”

Related: NDP leadership hopefuls fight it out for support at last debate

Related: Federal NDP triples membership

“Incredible investment. Exactly,” Singh said, noting one of the major developing resources in the digital age is data and information.

“When a corporation funds research, they own the research. They own that knowledge, that information, so it can’t be used by the public good; it can’t be something we share and give to our entrepreneurs so that we can take advantage of it, developing technologies.

“If we publicly fund universities, then all the research would be publicly funded, we can share that information, we can use it as a public good.”

Singh also took advantage of his adeptness at social media, taking selfies with the crowd and with individuals, and he appeared at ease with the crowd.

“I’m just hanging out here in Penticton with a couple of friends,” Singh called into his cell phone’s video recorder, as he spun around to reveal a cheering crowd beside him.

The event followed the final debate among federal NDP leadership hopefuls in a race of four candidates in which Singh claims to have raised the most new memberships.

Singh is widely believed to be the frontrunner for the race, also garnering plenty of caucus endorsements — while South Okanagan-West Kootenay MP Richard Cannings was present for the event, he declined to endorse Singh or any other candidate.

Related: Federal NDP leadership candidate coming to Penticton

While Cannings indicated he is inclined toward a “big tent” style of NDP, which would appeal to a broader base — both Guy Caron and Singh fall under that tent — he said he also had respect for the two more activist and roots candidates Niki Ashton and Charlie Angus.

If Singh wins, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, once the subject of age-related attack ads, would be the oldest leader of the three major parties, with recently elected Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer also early in his career.

Following his appearance in Penticton, Singh headed to Merritt.

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