As part of our special election coverage, Btchcoin interviewed representatives from each major party who are in charge of economic and financial policy. In this three-part series, we ask these politicians questions crowd-sourced from you, our readers.
On October 4th, Btchcoin Managing Editor Claire Robbins spoke with Minister Patty Hajdu. The interview, transcribed below, has been edited for clarity and concision.
- Heather, Okotoks, AB, Student
“I’m studying to be an occupational therapist, and I’m wondering what this government’s plan for increasing employment and skills development opportunities for people with disabilities?
Minister Hajdu: First of all, this is a really great question, and this government is really focused on it because we know people living with disabilities have some of the poorest employment outcomes despite achieving some of the highest levels of education in this country, which really speaks to stereotypes, and both physical and cultural barriers.
We’re trying to make sure services and supports reflect the additional costs that people with permanent disabilities take on – that’s why we increased the cap on the Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Students with Permanent Disabilities from $8,000 to $20,000. It was actually Minister Carla Qualtrough, who herself has a disability, who really did the work on advocating for this.
I think it’s also important to note everything we’ve done in terms of providing incentives to employers and unions to develop specific approaches to attract and retain minority groups and especially indigenous women and people living with disabilities to the trades. We’ve put aside $46 million for the Skilled Trades Awareness and Readiness program, which will specifically help promote trades employment for people with disabilities.
We’ve also modified existing programs to ensure greater employment and inclusion for people with disabilities. So for example, in the paid student internship program, wherein we subsidize 50% of the costs for employers of 70-80,000 paid student internships across Canada, we actually rebate a further 60% if the student is a person living with disabilities.
We also passed the Accessible Canada Act, which aims to create a barrier-free Canada across the country, and makes sure more spaces in Canada are truly accessible – and our new platform commits actual dollars to ensuring that renovations can be made so public buildings are barrier free.
Lastly, we’re increasing the income level for the Canada Workers Benefit (a refundable tax credit intended to supplement the earnings of low-income workers) for people who are living with disabilities. No one should ever have to ask “can I afford to work?” – and no one should be worse off for working.
- Anastasia, Toronto, ON
“I’m an immigrant, and I love that this government is committed to altruism, but the cost of bringing in so many newcomers to Canada concerns me – how does will your government balance the plan to accept more immigrants, and particularly elderly family members, with the cost to government?
Minister Hajdu: First of all, I really want to clearly reject the notion behind this question: immigrants are not burdens to our economy. The premise is flawed. This is a myth the Conservatives and the PPC have been fueling, and it’s not just untrue but it’s hurtful.
In fact, the ‘cost’ of bringing in immigrants is far outweighed by the benefit they bring to our economy. As the employment minister, the comment I hear most often is that there’s actually a lack of skilled labour for employers to fill or grow their business.
We’ve proposed to bring in 350,000 newcomers by 2020 – 70% of that growth is in economic immigrants (skilled professionals). Family reunification, or bringing in elderly family members, is an important component of keeping those skilled, professional people motivated to stay and work in Canada – being far away from family can detract from their mental wellbeing.
Under Harper, the average waiting time for family reunification was two years, but we’ve brought it down to six to eight months, which is much easier for families to deal with. They cut and slashed the Immigration and Refugee Board which completely slowed it down, so we invested $74 million to restore it. You really can’t talk about being ‘tough’ on anything if you’re not willing to invest in the services that make this country run – this slash and burn approach was characteristic of the Harper government and really slowed down out government.
We’re working closely with the rural and smaller cities to bring skilled immigrants to their regions – including by partnering with local business councils and unions. Good examples of how these initiatives have succeeded are the Rural Economic Pilot and the Atlantic Immigration Pilot, which have really helped the economies of rural and Atlantic areas.
But again, I just want to emphasize that the premise flawed: immigrants are not a burden to this country – far from it.
- Emily, Taber, AB,
“How will the government support the transition of older adults to achieve a dignified retirement even if they have a lack of retirement savings, without digging into the next generation’s tax burden?”
Minister Hajdu: So the Canada Pension Plan has provided a dignified retirement to Canadians for decades, but it really hasn’t kept up with the pace of inflation and the cost of living.
I think it’s really important to highlight the steps we’ve taken to improve the CPP. With the Enhanced Canada Pension Plan we were able to get all the provinces to agree to enhance the plan by up to 50%, which is a massive agreement, and really not that expensive for the government because there are personal, employer and government contributions, and the government will phase them in slowly.
I think when we look back at this government in the next generation, we’ll see how this increased the value of the CPP, and really made a difference in how Canadians plan for retirement.
We increased the value of Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement which is a really important tool to help seniors living in poverty. We’ve also developed a Co-investment fund to create affordable housing and communities – for example for increased supported living facilities – there are opportunities to make sure seniors have better housing options. Universal pharmacare is another piece in reducing senior citizen poverty – the cost of medication is often prohibitive for seniors, and the patchwork quilt of coverage is insufficient. After our expert inquiry led by Dr. Eric Hoskins, we’re committed to moving forward on universal pharmacare as a way to reduce the cost of living for retired people.
We often look at the cost of helping people rather than looking at the cost of not doing anything and leaving people in poverty.
We’re also making it easier for people to who are lower income to save for their retirement, if we are reelected we will make sure not to tax people on the first $15,000 they earn, saving them $600.
- Kathryn, Toronto ON, Personal Finance Advisor
“What’s the plan for childcare? It’s so expensive that it often costs as much as what an average woman makes in a month!”
Minister Hajdu: Having been a single mother myself and struggling with childcare, I’m really passionate about this topic.
We did expand childcare spaces in the last mandate by granting funds to the provinces, but it is increasingly difficult to control the way in which those funds are used. We initially made those agreements with provincial governments who were more progressive about women’s issues unlike Kenney and Ford, whose policies are frankly attacking women.
The CCB has been an effective instrument to help families afford childcare, and we’re increasing the amount granted for the first year of a child’s life.
We’ll also move forward with 250,000 new spaces for childcare, with some of those spaces specifically dedicated to childcare hours outside the typical 9-5, for people like shift workers, and we’ll be looking to implementing that with the provinces in a way that actually goes towards our desired policy outcomes.
We plan to lower fees for afterschool care by 10%, by collaborating with local communities and childcare providers, and we’ve estimated that more than a million families will benefit from this.
When women have these childcare options, they’re more likely to return to work, and be more productive. We’re really working with the provinces to ensure there’s more equity across the country for adequate and affordable childcare.
- Nabeela, Montreal, Student
“What is your stance on unpaid internships?”
Minister Hajdu: We’ve moved forward with our plan to ban unpaid internships – the law is currently in the regulatory stage, which means that right now we’re consulting with unions and employers to ensure they understand how this will change their operations. Of course, the exception to this rule is for internships done as part of a school curriculum – but again, we want to move Canada away from the unpaid internship model. Unpaid internships really are exploitation of youth labour.
We’re also creating funding for paid internships to ensure that there’s a cultural shift in Canada towards normalizing paid internships. We’ve provided almost enough funding to provide a paid experience for each student if they want one. This benefits not only students, but actually the employers and the schools, by accelerating the link between formal education and the actual needs of the workplace.
- Erin, Calgary, AB, Communications Professional
“Western Canada’s economic downturn has negatively impacted young people and those fresh out of school – how will your government support energy workers out west?”
Minister Hajdu: This is a really great question and it gets to the heart of our energy policy – we’ve been talking a lot about the transition out of fossil fuels and into renewable energy, but can’t have that conversation without making sure we’re taking care of those working in oil and gas and their families.
So while we are transitioning to a greener economy, we still approved a pipeline, because we’re not going to put people at risk of being without work. At the same time, we want people to be able to transition into green jobs, so we’re committed to ensuring people can learn skills that will help them get those employment opportunities.
We’re helping the private sector make this shift too – we’ve created incentives for employers to purchase new green equipment, and committed $155 million to clean growth initiatives.
This is an all hands on deck transition, and we refuse to leave energy workers and their families behind.
- Sukhi, Toronto, Non-profit professional
“What steps are you taking to make home ownership more affordable for first time buyers?”
Minister Hajdu: So we’ve moved forward with the national housing strategy, which has been very gratifying to work on having previously worked at a large homeless shelter in northern Ontario. Especially because the strategy works to ensure more housing in indigenous community.
In terms of housing in bigger cities, we’re working to increase stock to drive down prices.
For young people, the First Time Homebuyers Incentive covers eligible homes under $500,000 (or $800,000 in more expensive markets). The program basically works by giving an interest free loan to cover 5% or 10% of the down payment, which can be paid off within 25 years. We know this will really bring down the cost of a mortgage, which will help first time buyers.
Btchcoin: “The conservatives have talked a lot about how they think the mortgage stress test is bad policy – do you have anything to say to that?”
Minister Hajdu: The conservatives love to talk about debt until they’re blue in the face, but they’re willing to indebt young people until they’re close to breaking. They just don’t know what it’s like to be unable to pay your mortgage.
I lived through the 1990s and luckily I didn’t have a mortgage. I was pretty young and pretty broke, but I watched a lot of my friends and a lot of people lose their homes. The truth is this kind of market fluctuation is really out of our control and anything from global affairs or a financial market crash can put people at risk of being unable to pay their mortgage. So it’s extremely irresponsible to have the Conservatives promoting this idea that young people should be allowed to take out huge amounts of debt, putting them at risk of getting in over their heads when the financial market takes a turn.
- Ali, Management Consultant, Ottawa
“Canada’s aging demographic is likely to continue to drive Canada to have low interest rates – which could make it difficult in the long run for younger generations to save for retirement. What is the government’s plan to support young Canadians in preparing for a different retirement than their parent’s generation?”
Minister Hajdu: So as we talked about earlier, the CPP Expansion we did with the provinces will really benefit the next generation’s retirement prospects.
We’re also working to make education more affordable so that young people can expand their future earning potential – through increasing student grants and investing in universities and trades programs. We’ve also made the 6-month grace period after a student graduates interest-free and we’re proposing to expand that interest-free period to 2 years to give students a head start out of school.
And for new parents who have recently graduated, we’ll suspend their payments until their youngest child reaches the age of 5 so they have a chance to build savings.
Our platform is completely up front, to make sure when people are aware of how they can plan their education and savings.
- Bronwyn, Vancouver, Startup professional
“I know you were previously the Minister of the Status of Women – what will you do to ensure the economy is more gender equitable?”
Minister Hajdu: This is a really big question – and we’ve never had a government with this much of a focus on women paired with actual pragmatic action on gender equality.
In the past, the work of the department of the Status of Women was decimated under the Harper years – there was only $34 million for the department. When we were elected we committed to restoring the capacity and funding of women’s advocacy groups across the country.
In terms of tangible policy, we’ve made significant investments – from encouraging and subsidizing the entry of women into non-traditional sectors, to ensuring women get appointed to Canada’s public board and tribunals. A lot has been (rightfully) made of the gender-balanced cabinet, but with boards and tribunals and crown corporations, these were bodies that were previously 70 or 80 or even 100% led by men, whether that be judgeships, transportation boards, or immigration boards, and we’ve made that balance closer to 40/60.
We also ensured the budget of Canada goes through a gender-based analysis for the first time so we can actually understand when we spend money how it will affect women and gender minorities.
Encouraging women’s entrepreneurship is another piece of our plan to make the economy more gender equitable. Whether women are starting a business or hoping to grow their own, we’ve committed to supporting those entrepreneurs.
Our strategy to end gender-based violence is also important – we’ve attached $200 million to that strategy, addressing violence, launching the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women inquiry with extensions, which was very important very difficult and important piece of work.
Lastly, we’ve specifically put aside $20 million for LGBTQ+ community and advocacy groups, most of which may have never had government support or recognition.
Btchcoin News: Anything else you’d like to add?
Minister Hajdu: The last thing I’d like to add is that this is shaping up to be a conservative or liberal government, and you have a Conservative leader who will not stand up for the right to choose. To have a leader of a major party refuse to answer that question – actually no, he has answered the question, he will not support a woman’s right to choose, is unacceptable. This party will always stand up for the right of a woman to choose, and we have a leader who has been brave and courageous about sticking up women’s reproductive rights, which are fundamental to women’s inclusion in the economy. The other option is a leader who has undermined women at every step of the way.