Tom Mulcair On the Record
The Bluffs Advocate reports on its recent interview of Mulcair
By Neil Walker
Tom Mulcair in person is magnetic. Meeting him for a short interview also shows his human side; just before we were to speak, he and his wife, Catherine, shared a quick kiss and she then left. So here I was, having been offered an interview opportunity with the person who looked like a good bet to be the next prime minister.
A major coup of Mulcair and his caucus was deciding not to support Bill C-51, An Act to enact the Security of Canada Information Sharing Act and the Secure Air Travel Act, to amend the Criminal Code, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service Act and the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act and to make related and consequential amendments to other Acts also known as Bill C-51, Anti-terrorism Act, 2015. At the time Mulcair and his party took a position opposed to C-51, polls revealed that 80 per cent of Canadians approved of the bill. Many felt that the NDP was politically foolish to stand against such apparently popular legislation. Subsequent events completely vindicated the correctness of the NDP's voting against the bill, unlike the Liberals who voted with the Conservative government. Thus, my first question was to ask Mulcair whether he would repeal Bill C-51. His reply was unequivocal.
"Yes, we will repeal Bill C-51. We went through the whole process, we've listened to the government's arguments. There's nothing in that bill that is not already covered by existing legislation."
Further discussion revealed that the NDP would undo other actions of the Conservative government.
"One of the basic things about government decision-making is that it has to be fact-based decision-making. Mr Harper prefers decision-based fact-making. That's a fundamental difference between us as well. The muzzling and firing of scientists—we talk about the muzzling but he has also fired hundreds of scientists—is so outrageous and so damaging to our ability to run the country effectively but it goes with decisions such as getting rid of the long-form census [and that] means you have deprived the government of the ability to develop programs. Of course we will reinstate the long-form census because you need that sort of information. . . . You can't run a country as part of the G-7 and not even have basic information on populations, on demographics, and income . . . and build programs effectively.
"Mr Harper has made it eminently clear throughout his career when he was leading different groups [that] he dislikes government and that is one of the reasons that he is so bad at governing. So he can't deliver a fighter jet to the Canadian military [and] for the first time in history he can't deliver grain to market. Hell, he can't even deliver the bloody mail. . . . He's just not a good manager; so we do have a lot of really good people in the NDP and that's part of who we are."
Mulcair supports proper funding for Medicare. He emphasized his party's support for free universal healthcare. Not only does he believe that this is an economic advantage for Canadian business, he also sees affordable childcare as an economic advantage.
"When I met with the Canadian Medical Association last summer, we were very clear. We would never take the same approach which Mr Harper and Mr Flaherty took which was to . . . dictate to [the provinces] that the six per cent funding rule had been abolished with no consultation. We're going to work with the provinces and territories and make sure that this fundamental program [thrives]. [It] is not only good for society as a whole, it's really good for the economy to have free universal public medical care. Ask any Canadian employer today if they want to go to the American model. I know the answer and the answer is no. They like our system; they look at the unfunded medical liability for companies in the States and they notice it shackling them and making life very difficult for them.
"The same thing for our plan for affordable childcare: it is not only good socially and for families, it's really good for the economy. On Medicare, we would make sure that first of all, we go back to the six per cent peg and we avoid Mr Harper's drop and then we sit down with the provinces and territories and we start working towards the future."
When I introduced the idea of pharmacare, Mulcair was very careful in the wording for his support for it.
"On pharmacare, yes, some provinces have rather detailed pharmacare, and that's an integral part of what has to be looked at when we sit down with the provinces and territories because if, in the 1960s, healthcare was synonymous with hospital care, today, healthcare is often synonymous with having access to medication to avoid being hospitalized. The irony of course is you get your medication very often in hospital but you won't get it outside the hospital. And it costs a lot more to be in hospital, so this is the holistic approach that we have to take to finding solutions for the future. But you can't do that one way, you can't dictate that, you have to sit down with the provinces and territories. Just last week the council of the federation was out meeting in Newfoundland and Labrador and Mr Harper again refused to attend—he's invited every year; he just won't go. We plan to have two meetings a year with the council of the federation; I really look forward to them."
Unemployment among the young is a major problem for Canada. In addition, Canada needs an industrial strategy. We asked how the NDP would get Canada off its dependence on petro dollars.
"Since Mr Harper arrived in power, we have lost 400,000 well-paid manufacturing jobs. You are quite correct to point out youth unemployment as a huge issue right now. Youth unemployment stands at a staggering 17 per cent which is incredible and we've got to do something to change that. Deeper in those statistics . . . here in the GTA more than half the families cannot rely on a single full-time permanent job.
"Now I didn't just say there is 50 per cent unemployment, but what I did say is that Mom and Dad are often criss-crossing each other going out to a second if not a third job at 15 to 20 hours a week where big employers like some of the large grocery chains won't hire full-time any more. They like that precarious [job market]. As the CIBC says, most of the jobs being created today are part-time, precarious, low-paid service sector jobs. That's not enough for a family to live on.
"So we've got to start thinking about the fact that families are working harder than ever before but they are having more and more difficulty getting by. Household debt is at an all-time high and these are things that we're the only ones to address. So we want to get to the next generation of well-paid jobs. We want to kick-start manufacturing. We want to reduce taxes for small and medium-sized businesses to help them create jobs. They create 80 per cent of new jobs in Canada. So these are some of the core things we are working on."
Mulcair has been active in promising support for transit and other urban infrastructure.
"[Municipalities] need a reliable, full-time partner in Ottawa. We will create a ministry of urban affairs. We will have a minister responsible for urban affairs. We're not going to duplicate all the infrastructure of the provinces but what we will do is make sure there is a single wicket where there is a person responsible for working on key issues like housing, transit. These are key issues of infrastructure for our towns and cities across the country. It starts with transferring more money from the existing gas tax to help give them some of the oxygen they need."
I asked Mulcair how the NDP stands on creating a national smart power grid to enable the sale of cheap water power among provinces.
"What's interesting is that in the past couple of years some provinces have started working on that together. It took almost two years for Québec and Ontario to hammer out a deal for selling to each other's grids, but it's just been done; they've just completed that deal . . . so it shows that it can be done. And that's really good news. There's some talk in the papers today that Ontario wants to start talking with Newfoundland and Labrador. . . . What we need to do is to replace some of the very polluting sources of electricity production in Canada and it's the low-hanging fruit for reducing our green house gas production in our country. We're still burning a lot of coal and we need to replace that with green renewable energy.
"It goes with your previous question, how do we produce the next generation of well-paying jobs? Across the world, over the next 15 years, there's going to be five trillion dollars spent on green renewable energy. Canada's not even a player; we don't have a federal government that believes in a role for government in helping create conditions for our businesses, our polytechnical institutes, our engineering faculties to come together to create the synergies to be part of that. But we do. We believe in a positive role for government in helping make that happen. And so that's another concrete difference between us and the Conservatives that a lot of Canadians are reacting positively to."
Does the NDP have an anti-nuclear power platform?
"No, we don't have an anti-nuclear platform. . . . Of course in all the years of using it we've never found a safe way to store the nuclear waste. We don't have a solution to that. So to that extent it's not sustainable and it always has to give us pause whenever we look at it. We do not have an official position in the party against it but when Québec's only extant nuclear reactor was up for refurbishment the economics were such and the non-sustainable aspect of what to do with the waste, were two of the things that led me personally, as the Québec lieutenant at the time to work with certain environmental groups to try to convince the government not to continue with it and they decided not to continue with it. Sometimes the sustainability and the economic issues play right into it as well.
"But right now, for example, here in Ontario, a lot of electricity is being produced by nuclear energy."
I pointed out that Ontario is planning on spending billions on refurbishing nuclear plants in Ontario.
"Those refurbs really have to be looked at carefully, but that's provincial. The regulation of the nuclear industry is federal but I remember the numbers from Point Lepreau which was the sister nuclear reactor to Gentilly Deux which was the one at Bécancour across from Three Rivers. And the economics were just . . . but now there's a lot of nuclear waste sitting there right on the site of Gentilly Two. It's an issue we have to find an answer for before going any further down that path."
In terms of the NDP's forming government, some have said that there is not sufficient depth in the caucus for the NDP to fill all the important ministerial roles that come with government.
"We've got a tremendous team in our caucus and I would invite you to compare my front bench with Mr Harper's front bench, what's left of it. . . . because a bunch of them have already quit and the ones left are no great shakes, so look at my front bench, the depth of experience, people like Peggy Nash, people like Charlie Angus, Dave Christopherson and Nikki Ashton, one of our bright young stars, Nathan Cullen, who has been doing an amazing job on the finance portfolio, Peter Julian's amazing as well. Lots of people with experience in business, experience in government, we've got several people who have been in cabinet, so, I mean we have completed that team now and we're ready to form government. We're recruiting good people now and may have a couple of interesting announcements in the next few weeks."
At this point, we had to leave the interview as Mulcair was due on air shortly. We wished each other well and he went off to his next media appointment.
Conclusion? Tom Mulcair is ready to form government and has a coherent, do-able platform. How it will stand up on October 19 is anybody's guess, but all three major parties have such platforms and can only count on their leaders' ability to impress the public and get their platforms across clearly. All three major parties have significant numbers of workers in the field putting up signs, others canvassing potential voters in person and by telephone and professional strategists advising leaders about every aspect of their performance.