NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made history Monday as he asked his first questions to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons.
Raising questions about affordable housing, climate change and the SNC-Lavalin affair, Singh became the first racialized leader in Canada to take a seat in the Commons.
Singh placed his hand over his heart and was greeted with a warm ovation from all sides as he walked into the Commons before the daily question period.
Singh took his seat, along with two other candidates elected in federal byelections held on Feb. 25, Liberal Rachel Bendayan and Conservative Scot Davidson.
Singh's first words as an elected MP were about last week's terrorist attack in New Zealand.
"I want to begin by expressing our solidarity with the people of New Zealand who are mourning the attack on Muslim brothers and sisters... in Christ Church," Singh said.
He then launched into his first question about housing in his new riding of Burnaby-South.
"I met a mom in Burnaby. She bought a home, but cannot afford to live there anymore. Her daughter has a good job, but only gets by because she lives in the basement. Her son does not see a future. Like too many Canadians, he has lost all hope," Singh said.
"However, the prime minister is telling families like theirs to wait for help. I believe that better is possible. Will the government commit to building half a million new affordable homes?"
Trudeau responded by congratulating Singh for his entry into the Commons, before touting the government's record on fighting poverty.
"I hope (Singh) and his party will support the work our government has done to lift hundreds of thousands of children across this country out of poverty," Trudeau told the Commons. "We lowered taxes on the middle class and raised them on the wealthiest one per cent and indeed to end boil water advisories in so many communities across the country with more to do. These are the things we will continue to work on and we look forward to his support in creating a better and fairer Canada for everyone."
"I think about growing up as a kid I would never imagine someone that looked like me running to become prime minister," said @TheJagmeetSingh after taking his seat as an MP and becoming the first racialized party leader in Canada's House of Commons.
Singh asked three other questions in French and English about climate change, and the recent controversy over the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, which has plunged Trudeau's government into a political crisis.
On climate change, Trudeau said that his government was taking action after previous Liberal and Tory governments had not done so.
"We have put a price on pollution. We have proceeded with a historic plan to protect the ocean, to protect the land," Trudeau said in French "We have made record investments in renewable energy, in greener solutions for our businesses and entrepreneurs."
The prime minister added that the government would continue its efforts, saying that the only way to protect the environment is to create economic growth at the same time, prompting a rebuke from Singh.
"Environmental leaders don't buy pipelines," Singh said.
In his last two questions, Singh pressed Trudeau to launch a public inquiry into allegations that the prime minister had pressured former attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin so that the Quebec engineering firm could get a plea deal instead of going through a criminal trial on corruption and fraud charges.
Trudeau, who has suggested that jobs would be at risk at SNC-Lavalin if it is forced to undergo a trial, responded by saying the issue was about the economy. The prime minister said that Canadians have created over 950,000 jobs since his government was first elected in 2015.
"We are of course going to make sure that we continue to maintain the trust and confidence that Canadians have in their institutions and why we are happy to answer all the various questions going on," Trudeau said. "We will continue to stand up for jobs."
Speaking to reporters outside the Commons, Singh said he felt "humbled" and "blown away" by the role he has been granted.
"I take that responsibility really seriously and I’m going to use every opportunity I get to make sure that Canadians know I’m on their side," he said. "I’m going to fight for housing, for fighting climate change, make sure Canadians have access to medication. I’m going to make sure I use this role with the weight and responsibility that I feel...
"I think about growing up as a kid I would never imagine someone that looked like me running to become prime minister. That would never be in the world of my imagination. Standing in the chamber today asking a question directly to the prime minister, I think a lot of maybe young people out there who didn’t see themselves reflected might believe that if I could run the country maybe I can do anything. If I could have in some way broken down some barriers for people I would have done something good in my life."
Editor's note: This article was updated at 5:00 p.m. ET on March 18, 2019 with additional quotes from question period in the House of Commons. It was updated again at 5:50 p.m. with comments made by Singh to reporters.