NDP leader Thomas Mulcair Q&A: on poverty, budgets and the political centre

Cameron French
Daily Brew
NDP leader Tom Mulcair speaks during the French-language leaders debate September 24, 2015. (Reuters)

In Thursday night’s French leaders’ debate, NDP leader Tom Mulcair was the top target of the other party leaders, challenging him on issues like pipelines and national unity, and the niqab. Mulcair fought hard on all those issues, and continues to maintain his position on other issues central to the NDP platform, like a national daycare plan and a $15 minimum wage.

Mulcair recently spoke with Yahoo Canada and explained in greater detail exactly what his party aims to do if they end up in power after the October 19 election, and how he feels about leading a party that has never been in charge federally before.

Yahoo Canada: Apart from the daycare plan, what would an NDP government do to improve the lot of Canadian families?

Thomas Mulcair: We’re also bringing in a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour for people on the low end of the spectrum who come under federal jurisdiction. So that would include things like ports, radio stations, call centers, banks and the like.

And we’ve got undertakings in health care that will help families access family doctors and reduce costs of prescription medication.

YC: You’ve spoken extensively about the economic value of a strong middle class. How exactly would you define ‘middle class’ and what is the best way for poorer Canadians to get into it?

TM: Essentially, the middle class is families like mine. I come from a family of ten kids. We didn’t have anything extra, let me just put it to you that way, and we had to work hard to make ends meet and that’s the case with many many Canadian families.

We’re going to, for example, keep the Universal Childcare Benefit, because we know that that stays almost completely in the hands of those in the lower of the spectrum, and it’s taxed back in the hands of the wealthier families.

My biggest concern about Canada right now is we’ve lost respect for our democratic institutions at home and we’ve lost our reputation on the world stage on issues like climate change.
—NDP leader Tom Mulcair

YC: Which segment of Canadian society needs the most help?

TM: My view of the role of government as a social democrat has always been that a good government is there to reduce inequality and to create opportunity. Contrast what we’re proposing with our principle adversaries: The Liberals are promising year after year of massive debt on the backs of future generations. Mr. Harper has proposed year after year of massive debt on the backs of future generations.

We’re going to take the NDP approach of Tommy Douglas.

Tommy Douglas took over Saskatchewan from the Liberals, who had bankrupted the province, and ran 17 consecutive balanced budgets and brought in Medicare. That’s the type of vision that we have.

YC: What is your biggest concern about Canada right now, apart from the current government?

TM: My biggest concern about Canada right now is we’ve lost respect for our democratic institutions at home and we’ve lost our reputation on the world stage on issues like climate change. Just think of it for a second: we’re the only country in the world to have withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. That’s, again, something that’s going to be extremely problematic for future generations, because only Stephen Harper doesn’t believe the science of climate change. I think it’s one of the most important things that our next prime Minister’s going to have to take care of, and that’s why it’s a priority for me.

YC: Is that more important than poverty in Canada?

TM: It’s not a question of balancing one against the other. We’re the only party that talks very clearly about helping people on the lowest end of the spectrum, like for example making sure that somebody who works under federal jurisdiction will have a decent living wage of $15 an hour no matter where they work, and that we’re hoping that will be a model for the provinces and territories, because we don’t accept that in a country as wealthy as Canada, that you can work full time and still live in poverty.

But (we also) don’t accept that the people who built this great country of ours, our seniors, area living in poverty. So we have a clear plan. It’ll be $400 million a year by the end of our first mandate, to make sure that we help lift hundreds of thousands of seniors out of poverty.

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YC: The modern federal NDP is I think viewed differently from the “socialist “NDP of 30 years ago. You are pumping balanced budgets and mostly steady taxes.

Has the NDP shifted towards the centre over the years?

TM: No. People who know the NDP know that we are the party of fiscal responsibility, and that’s not a matter of opinion, that’s actually a study that was done by the federal finance department looking at all political parties. I gave you Tommy Douglas as an example, but you can go back. Roy Romanow took over from the Conservatives in Saskatchewan, and they had been ruining the province. A whole bunch of them wound up in jail actually. So that’s our proud tradition: leaving things better than when we took them, but we also make sure that we do it responsibly, without burdening future generations.

YC: The NDP has never formed a federal government, as opposed to the Conservatives and Liberals. Are you finding it a challenge to overcome the notion of the NDP as the third party?

TM: No. In fact, people remember the Liberals so well. Mr. Trudeau made the incredible mistake of starting to promenade around Canada with Paul Martin by his side, and that just gave me the opportunity… to remind Canadians that it was Paul Martin who cancelled Canada’s national housing strategy, it was Paul Martin who imposed massive cuts of 24 per cent to all federal transfers and social programs and in health to the provinces.

So quite the contrary, people who remember the Liberals’ 13 years of cutting social programs and health care, they want an alternative.

This time for the first time in 150 years, there is another option. Canadians know who we are. They knew Jack and they know me, and they know that I have 35 of years of experience in government, and that I have an incredibly seasoned team.

YC: You’re obviously constrained in your spending plans by lukewarm economic forecasts. If the economy was roaring and you had more money to spend, what other areas would you tackle?

TM: I’ve been in government for 35 years and I take things as they come. I can’t wish away problems, and I’m not going to invent new ones that aren’t there. What I will say is that I’m going to take the economy in the shape that it’s in now, which allows me to promise Canadians that an NDP government will run a balanced budget, the things that we’ve been putting on the table represent our priorities.

YC: You still have some funding announcements to make. Any hint on the general subject matter?

TM: We’ve got four more weeks to make sure Canadians know that there is a real alternative this time and to make sure that Canadians understand that that different vision translates into a different approach to governing and that’s why we’ve got the experienced team and the plan to replace Stephen Harper.

Watch us go.