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.
In September, Contributor Nabeela Jivraj conducted a phone interview with MP Peter Julian of the federal NDP party. The questions are somewhat different from those with the Conservatives and the Liberals due to the timeframe in which we received crowd-sourced questions and when we conducted the interviews.
The interview has been transcribed for clarity and concision.
Btchcoin: I wanted to talk to you a bit about the state of income inequality… for you, what does tax fairness entail?
MP Julian: A few decades ago we started to see the dismantling by successive federal governments of a social safety net. And now, we’re dealing in a time where there’s profound inequality- two Canadian billionaires have about as much wealth as about a third of the Canadian population, and we are dealing with record family debt loads, not only the worst in Canadian history, but it’s the worst in the industrialized world.
So what we’ve seen is a profound to drive towards inequality that has to be addressed. That’s where I think the NDP’s solid economic base is founded in addressing those issues. The starting point really is building a fair income tax system.
The parliamentary budget officer reported last month that there’s 2.5 trillion dollars from Canada’s wealthiest and most profitable corporations that swirl around the world- they go to tax havens, they work through tax loopholes- and his conservative estimate of what that means for the Canadian public is that about $40 billion dollars a year in tax revenues that should be serving the common good, is basically stolen from Canadians. That is really the source of our difficulties.
The centerpiece of how the NDP would do things is putting in place a fair system, putting the corporate tax rate at levels that are much more sustainable for society, by closing loopholes and shutting down the sweetheart deals with overseas tax havens so that wealthy, profitable Canadian corporations actually pay their fair share of income tax.
Btchcoin: Thank you for that. In a different vein- did you want to say something about the NDP’s stance on a federal minimum wage?
MP Julian: Thank you, and that’s another great question. We stand for an immediate rise in the federal minimum wage. The 15$ an hour is a start towards getting close to a living wage. The number of employees in a federal jurisdiction is small in comparison to the number of many of the employees in a provincial jurisdiction, but what [a federal wage] does is it sets a standard- and what that does is contribute to pushing up the wage levels for provincial governments as well.
I live in New Westminster- our municipal government has actually established a fair wage policy, which means it’s a living wage. A “living wage” because of the cost of housing and because of the impacts, particularly on millennials, of low salaried service sector jobs at the same time as there are often crushing levels of student debt, and a complete absence of affordable housing. We need to ensure that at government levels there is a living wage, and that the incentive and the pressure is put on the private sector as well, so that people can work full time and not live in dire poverty.
What Jagmeet Singh has announced is a New Deal for people that would do the same thing in a current context. So a much higher federal minimum wage that puts pressure on the provinces and a drive led by the federal government for living wage policies is fundamental for that. It doesn’t address all other issues, but when you have a fair tax system, and when you have wage policies that are obligatory, that means that people can work and not live in profound poverty. Those are important first steps to addressing the chronic and profound inequality we’re addressing in our country.
Btchcoin: Thank you. I was reading recently about the NDP promise to create 300,000 new jobs. So – how do you foresee that taking place practically, and what does the NDP propose to ensure that a high quantity and high quality of future jobs in Canada can come into place?
MP Julian: That would be in addressing the climate emergency. So it is part of a first step in pushing for a transformation of the Canadian economy to deal with the climate crisis, and that means major investments in clean energy, major investments in public transit, major investments in energy efficient housing. That would also mean investments in our grid system as well, to allow us to move to a clean economy.
So we’re talking about 300,000 jobs in energy development to start a clean energy revolution.
In addition, the public investments we’re planning would create 4 million jobs over the next 30 years. Investing in clean energy, and public transit, and energy efficient housing in the system, all of those things help to create a phenomenal number of jobs.
So how do we ensure that the quality of jobs is kept? That lies in addressing precarious work. For many of the people I know, including my son, in his twenties- there’s a heavy debt load, struggling for affordable housing even though he’s working full time. It’s a real challenge. One of the ways that we address that is by making sure that these public investments are looking towards the creation of full time, sustainable jobs- not temporary, not precarious work, but full-time, sustainable jobs.
Secondly- the living wage policy, and raising the minimum wage – those are all things that contribute.
Thirdly – looking at all the other components of working, and ensuring that things like Pharmacare and dental care are included as part of a universal single payer plan.
In addition, we want to make sure that unions have the ability to unionize. The right- which has basically governed this country the last few decades (and I make no distinction between liberals and conservatives in that respect) have tried to discourage labour union participation. And the reality is, without the labour unions, we wouldn’t have the middle class we have today. It’s the labour activists who are fighting for better wage jobs, ensuring pensions, ensuring benefits came with those jobs, ensuring that health and safety standards were improved.
What we really need is a federal government that takes leadership to create an economy that actually works for people. Those are the steps that help to create an economy that doesn’t just work for the CEO’s- because CEO’s have just amassed incredible riches through a low taxation regime on for-profits, and it’s ripping apart the social safety net. What we need is an economy for everybody that makes sure that nobody is left behind, and that’s the intent of the new deal for people- and the steps that we take towards clean energy and a clean energy economy to address the climate crisis.
Btchcoin: From the millennial perspective- even within our cohort there are growing disparities with respect to access to education, or access to capital to take on different jobs- so what is the NDP’s stance on unpaid internships?
MP Julian: We simply oppose unpaid internships in anything other than the educational setting. There’s a role for brief, educationally-related internships only- but the idea that you get out of school and you work for long periods for some of the most profitable corporations on the planet unpaid, is nothing less than indentured servitude. We would eliminate unpaid internships- simply make it impossible for big corporations to abuse (particularly millennials) in this way.
Btchcoin: Something that was addressed in the most recent budget was the home-buyer incentive program- mostly targeted at this demographic as well (millennials). So what is the NDP plan to address the rising cost of living- and the national trends of gentrification and commercialization that are increasing rent prices? Even if you’re not thinking of buying a home- just renting is often becoming increasingly difficult.
MP Julian: This strikes to the heart of this ripping apart of the social safety net that we’ve seen over the last twenty years. When the former liberal government ended the national housing program, that started a series of events that led to the housing crisis we have today.
Germany, 30 years ago, had about 16 percent of its overall housing stock being created as affordable housing- and it’s the same today in Germany. Canada has fallen from 16 percent of the overall housing stock to 3 percent. Affordable housing, subsidized housing- all of those things that used to be a fundamental part of the housing market have virtually disappeared- except for the work of some municipalities and the BC provincial government.
We have just not seen affordable housing being built in the last few decades, so we need to jumpstart this- and the New Deal for people commits to the federal government building 500,000 units of affordable housing over the next ten years, which helps to address that huge deficit that the Liberals created by ending the national housing program. It is perfectly within the scope of what Canadians are capable of doing- after the second world war, when young people at that time were coming back from overseas, we built 300,000 units of housing across the country within very few years, because the governments at the time understood the importance of having affordable housing. We need to have that commitment from the federal government now.
Btchcoin: Something that we think about a lot when we’re writing for our readers, is the electoral system in Canada- and how its working or not working for us. So our question is do you believe the current Canadian electoral system needs to be reformed in favour of proportional representation- why or why not?
MP Julian: Yes, I do. And why? Because we live under a gentle dictatorship- and we’ve seen this under the Liberals, and under the Conservatives before. With the first past the post system- whoever can get 35 percent of the vote, gets 100 percent of the power. Under Mr Trudeau, through the Prime Minister’s office, everything is dictated to Liberal MP’s, they have to toe the line. So all the commitments that Mr Trudeau made in the last election- to bring in proportional representation, to address in a meaningful way the crisis taking place in Indigenous communities, to move to clean energy- what we’re seeing instead (in my area of the country anyways) is a massive pipeline, that Mr Trudeau’s willing to spend $17B to build, but one that’s going to fuel climate change, threaten the whole variety of industries including tourism, fisheries on the BC coast.
And no Liberal MP can stand up against that, because with first past the post it’s the PMO that has all the power, despite the fact that Liberals got less than 40 percent of the vote. When you consider the fact that many Canadians don’t vote, they actually really were supported by barely a quarter of the Canadian population. So proportional representation means that there is no longer that power concentrated in one person, and in one office’s hands.
For all those reasons I’m a strong supporter of proportional systems, so is my leader, so is the NDP caucus- and if we’re elected to govern in October, we’ll be moving to change the system as Mr Trudeau committed to, and then broke along with so many other promises, with 100% of the power.
Btchcoin: Moving up to the election in October- what do you foresee as the most divisive issues for Canadians, that you feel your party needs to gather support around to kind of bring Canadians together on those issues?
MP Julian: Well there’s a disturbing trend to push hatred. We’ve seen this with Donald Trump in the United States, and the idea that you target scapegoats- whether that’s immigrants, or we see a rise in misogyny and racism and antisemitism and islamophobia, homophobia and transphobia- they’ve all risen in parallel. All of these hatreds are things that we’ve seen right wingers try to bring to the fore.
That is something that Jagmeet Singh, having fought against racism and hatred all his life, is very well positioned to speak out against and to get us to a higher level of where we need to be, and where Canadians, I think want our society to evolve.
The second element is an economic one- you’ll see Mr Scheer and Mr Trudeau pointing fingers at each other, but both of them represent the same economic principles- and its those principles that have devastated millennials. All the issues that we’ve talked about have not been addressed under Liberal governments, or Conservative governments.
Look at this election where you have Mr Trudeau and Mr Scheer both wanting to build a massive pipeline that will fuel climate change, and the only reason they’re doing this is because the oil lobbyists in Ottawa are putting pressure on them to do it. It doesn’t lead to any significant job creation, in fact in British Columbia- it’s 60 full-time jobs once the pipeline is constructed. That is a massive boondoggle to spend 17B$ of public funds, money that should serve a common good – to reduce and eliminate tuition fees, to move post-secondary loans to grants, to make sure people have affordable housing, that there are adequately waged jobs – and instead we’re spending 17B$ on the pipeline.
When you couple that with the $40B a year that both the Conservatives and Liberals have bled by establishing such a profoundly unequal income tax system. If there was a $40B robbery, it would be headline of every newspaper, and top of the newscast for weeks, and yet, in Canada we’ve seen under successive Conservative and Liberal governments- this kind of theft take place from Canadians with absolute impunity.
So these two issues- of people seeking to divide Canadians through hatred to serve their own agenda, and as a way of masking the profound economic inequality, those I think are very related, and very important issues that we will be addressing throughout the campaign.
Btchcoin: As a final question- I do know you have a lot of experience working within the political machine and in community organizing- and is there anything that you would want to add kind of as words of wisdom to young people today, or something you’d tell a younger version of yourself if you were living in 2019, that we can leave with our readers?
MP Julian: That change only comes, if you push for it, and the political players- the oil lobbyists- do not want millennials voting. It’s a fallacy of our democratic system, there’s some pretense that we want you to vote, we want millennials to vote- but they actually don’t, which is why they talk about superficial issues, rather than more profound issues. If millennials turn out to vote in the next election in numbers greater than any other generation that’s voting, then the House of Commons will be changed fundamentally.
What I often get when I knock on doors and I speak to millennial voters- many of them are discouraged from voting, they don’t feel that it makes a difference- or they feel that they can protest by not voting, and that somehow will lead to change, and I would profoundly disagree with both of those assertions. First off, millennials coming out and voting is something that scares the hell out of the oil lobbyists, the bank lobbyists, the corporate lobbyists, who have created this system that fundamentally penalizes millennials- because they know if millennials get out and vote, things change, and governments can kind of shut down the privileged status that they’ve had.
Btchcoin: I hope that’s what we see in the upcoming election, so thank you a lot for all of your comments, I really appreciate it and I know our readers will as well, so thank you!