SURREY, B.C. — Policing and public safety were the topics of the day on the NDP campaign trail, as leader Thomas Mulcair touched down in a British Columbia community wracked in recent months by a spate of shootings — many believed to be gang related.
Addressing supporters in Surrey, B.C., on Wednesday, Mulcair vowed that an NDP government would devote $250 million to a police recruitment fund during its first four years in office. This up-front investment would be followed by $100 million in annual, ongoing funding, he added.
The money would put 2,500 more front-line police officers on the streets in communities across Canada, he said.
"Gangs, street violence, gun violence in Surrey have now reached epidemic levels," said Mulcair. "Our plan will focus on providing increased, ongoing funding for policing in Canadian communities."
More than 30 shootings have rocked the fast-growing, Metro Vancouver city since March.
Mulcair bypassed explaining where the quarter-billion dollars in initial funding would come from, but said the detailed costing for all the party's campaign promises would be announced at a later date.
"While the crime rate has actually generally declined over the past 20 years, that's small consolation for those who are witnessing alarming trends in certain communities, like here in Surrey," Mulcair told supporters who had gathered to hear him speak.
The details of how the new officers would be distributed across Canada would be ironed out in a joint meeting with the provinces and territories, he added.
The head of the Canadian Police Association commended the NDP's announcement, saying it would have a positive impact on public safety.
"We appreciate the New Democratic Party recognizing the value of public policing in Canada and support this proposed substantial investment in front-line police personnel," said Tom Stamatakis in a statement.
Mulcair also used his time in Surrey to brandish the public-safety credentials of the party's local candidate, Garry Begg.
Begg retired late last year after nearly four decades with the RCMP before putting himself forward to run for the NDP in the riding of Fleetwood-Port Kells.
It's uncharacteristic for an ex-cop to run for left-leaning parties, typically finding more common ground with their right-of-centre alternatives.
"He will be playing a key role in an NDP government," promised Mulcair, to loud cheers.
Mulcair also addressed recently revealed comments he made while serving as a provincial politician in the Quebec legislature.
In 2001, he was quoted as offering effusive praise for former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher's right-wing, union-breaking Conservatives, calling her government a "wind of liberty and freedom."
On Wednesday, the now-NDP leader offered an indirect explanation for his earlier remarks, saying: "There are certain things that work and others that don't. It's not surprising that I'm in favour of the things that work."
His No. 1 priority is to get good services to the public, he said.
"That hasn't changed and that's what that statement was about, making sure that the public gets the best services possible."
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