OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh rallied caucus and staff members Wednesday by blaming former Liberal and Conservative governments for stripping away "basic things that people rely on" such as health care and housing.
Singh told a packed room in Ottawa that uncertainties related to those key issues are contributing to people's anxieties and fears about "falling further and further behind."
The NDP leader also spoke ominously about the charged rhetoric Canadians may be exposed to in the upcoming election.
"There are some people who are going to use those fears, use those uncertainties and seek to divide us," he said. "They're going to point at... not the folks that are responsible but they're going to point at the people around you. Point at your neighbours, your friends, people who live in your community, your co-workers."
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The former governments responsible for the decisions that have created unequal access to health care and housing "are the ones we should be pointing at," Singh said.
"They've been getting away with it. Well, that's about to change my friends."
It marked the NDP leader's first caucus address as an elected member of the House of Commons. Singh won Monday's byelection race in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South.
Singh's speech had an election-year ring, painting his rivals as leaders with misplaced priorities.
Singh said he understood Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's appeal in 2015 and how Canadians have "cut him some slack" with fixing "the mess" left by the previous Conservative government.
"But we all know he's not doing it," he said. Weaving in the ongoing SNC-Lavalin controversy, Singh said Trudeau is "too busy doing favours for his corporate friends instead of working for your families."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is "going to present the old way," Singh said, suggesting the party doesn't have a progressive agenda that reflects concerns people have about housing, healthcare, and student debt.
"The system the Liberal and Conservative governments have built is rigged," he said.
'No other person looks physically like him': Broadbent
Singh officially takes his seat in the House of Commons in March, giving him just a few months to polish his debating skills before embarking on the campaign trail later this year.
Also on his to-do list before the upcoming fall vote is to cement the party's election planks. One significant challenge the NDP faces is to differentiate itself from the Liberals to progressive voters.
Both parties are courting voters keen on expanded healthcare coverage. While the NDP has long campaigned for universal pharmacare — Liberals have a plan for limited prescription drug coverage reportedly in the works for the spring budget.
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Former NDP leader Ed Broadbent said the Liberals are the party's prime competitor for the progressive vote. He said Singh's enthusiasm and historic credit as Canada's first racialized federal leader give the party an advantage.
"No other person looks physically like him," Broadbent told HuffPost Canada. The Broadbent Institute chair is excited by the "enthusiasm and energy" Singh has.
"He brings youth, he brings vigour," Broadbent said, adding he thinks having Singh finally in the House marks a "big" turnaround for the party's fortunes.