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Q&A: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh on party’s 1 million jobs plan, possible election

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh made a campaign-style stop in London, Ont., on Thursday to tout the party’s recently unveiled plan to create one million jobs.

The goal is one that the Liberals and Conservatives have also pledged to reach. The NDP’s plan, which was made public this week, also comes as the country marches toward a likely election this year.

The NDP blueprint focuses heavily on past promises, including better supports for workers through a national pharmacare program, 10 days of paid sick leave and higher minimum wages.

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The plan calls on an NDP government to create economic activity through the construction of 500,000 homes, a promise made during the 2019 election, and bolstering Canada’s domestic manufacturing capacity.

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Singh held a news conference outside of London’s Goodwill Industries on Horton Street to discuss the plan and take questions from reporters.

Later, he spoke one-on-one with Global News Radio 980 CFPL’s Mike Stubbs about the blueprint and the possibility of an election this summer. An edited transcription of their conversation can be found below.

Mike Stubbs: Right now Canadians are trying to look at signs that an election is coming soon — trying to figure this out. I have to say, having a federal party leader talking about jobs in one city one day, and another city another day — that has us scratching our heads a little bit. What do you think? Is this starting to lay a little foundation, here?

Jagmeet Singh: Well, it looks like it. I’ve been saying from the beginning that I’d rather continue to do the work that Canadians elected us to do. I want to make sure people get the help they need in the [COVID] recovery, and I’m calling on Trudeau to do that. Let’s get back to Ottawa in September and do the work. But, it looks like he’s more interested in power and wants a majority. If that’s the case, then we are ready to fight an election whenever it’s called.

MS: You told Global News last week when you were asked about COVID-19 concerns (and) an election that you wouldn’t really have a problem ending out the next two years. Do you still feel that way?

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JS: Yeah, I think that the most important thing is to get work done for Canadians, and there’s lots of work that Justin Trudeau talked about, promised that he would do, and we’re saying, let’s do it then. If you want to bring in pharmacare, we already tried once bringing in a pharmacare bill that Trudeau teamed up with the Conservatives to vote against. We’re willing to keep on fighting to get people the help they need. Canadians elected us for a four-year mandate, we’ve got two years left, so let’s do that. Let’s get to work and let’s get some of these things done.

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MS: One of the things that you have mentioned is you want to see ‘better work for workers.’ Help us understand what better work for workers means.

JS: In this pandemic, we all were so thankful for essential workers — the workers that kept things going when we couldn’t work, when people were going through shutdowns and were at home. But we saw these front-line workers continue. People were doing all sorts of things to appreciate those front-line workers, and those workers were like, ‘you know, we appreciate being appreciated, but really, we want to have good conditions at work. We want to be safe. We want to be well paid.’

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At the federal level, what can we do to make that happen? We can instate legislated guaranteed paid sick leave for federal workers. We can make sure that workers have a minimum wage that’s decent … We can put in place protections for all workers by bringing in universal pharmacare, so no one has to worry about whether their job has benefits or not. Everyone should get medication coverage, and dental care should be a part of our health-care system, so no one has to wonder, ‘will I get dental care if I get this job or do I have any benefits?’

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MS: We know that this pandemic is going to be costly for years to come, maybe generations to come, and trying to pay off what it has cost. It would be great to have all of those things that you’re talking about, (but) how do we pay for them?

JS: Really fair question. Lots of people always wonder how we do that. One of the reasons why people are really worried about this is because they’ve seen after a difficult time … governments do one of two things: either they cut the help that people need … or, we see increases in taxes. Neither of those are things that we should be doing. Workers have already struggled. Small businesses have already been forced to shut down … So we’re proposing a third option.

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The ultra rich made out like bandits in this pandemic. The richest 44 billionaires in Canada increased their wealth by over $70 billion. We know that Amazon, and companies like that, made record profits, but pay virtually no tax here. We can fix that. France has actually led the way by putting in a tax on the revenue that some of these web giants make in the country. If you make money off of Canadians, you should be paying taxes here. A lot of companies aren’t doing that, and we are proposing a way to fix that, and also putting a tax on those that are extremely wealthy, on the ultra rich, so that we can actually increase our revenues, pay down our debt and continue to deliver services.

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MS: You mentioned Amazon. We’re still waiting to find out in this area whether or not we may have some kind of Amazon facility coming to Talbotville. We’ll find that out one way or the other in the near future, but we still want it to come here. We think, ‘OK, that could replace some jobs that we saw leave when the Ford plant left and closed.’ If we’re going to tax companies, any concern that those companies might say, ‘yeah, that Canada … I don’t know if you want to go there. There’s a lot of other pretty places in this world.’

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JS: We can’t live with fear and allow companies that are foreign international companies to make money off Canadians and not pay their fair share. What we’re doing, in effect, is disincentivizing Canadian companies, because if you’re a Canadian home-bred domestic company, you do pay your fair share … We know that other countries are already starting. France, like I said, (a) very significant G7 nation, has said ‘we’re going to tax the revenue of some of these companies.’ I think that’s the way to go.

We know that there’s a significant market here. Companies will want to come here. We’ve got lots of advantages: a well-educated workforce, we’ve got health care that’s great, we’re close access to the United States. There are lots of advantages. But we’ve got to make sure these companies pay their fair share. I’m not afraid to call that out and to do the work necessary so that we can take the burden off of families and middle-class folks that are wondering if the burden is going to fall on them. I think it shouldn’t.

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MS: If we do get an election sometime in the next few months, we still have families who are dealing with job losses because of the pandemic, or time that they were not able to go to work. There are supports that are winding down. If your party should come into power, what do you think should be done for people and families who are starting to do some of that math, that winding-down math, and are starting to feel kind of concerned?

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JS: That is a very serious concern for a lot of families. I want to point out a couple of things. First off, there are a lot of sectors that are not open. There’s a lot of folks that work in tourism or who work in festivals, and large gatherings that festivals require … are not able to go back to work. The tourism sector, which is a significant sector in Canada, is also shot right now. So for a lot of people, they cannot get back to their work, and for them, we need to continue that support.

The other thing that we’ve noted, is small businesses have seen a very difficult time, where the big box stores have done well. The policies that the Liberals put in place and the Conservatives, frankly, provincially, have benefited the big box stores but have hurt small businesses. Our plan is we need to continue supports for small business, specifically, as long as they need to get through the pandemic and into the recovery.

For families, the Liberals are proposing to cut the help they receive right now. One-point-eight million Canadians still are on the (Canada Recovery Benefit). They’re going to cut that by $800 starting in, basically, a couple of days. That, to me, is callous and the wrong thing to do. We would continue the support that Canadians need as long as we need to. We would put the burden on the companies that took public money and misused it. We know lots of companies that took millions and millions of dollars and ended up laying off staff or paying out dividends to their shareholders. That’s who I would go after, not workers that can’t go back to their jobs.

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MS: A lot of countries right now are looking and saying ‘we’ve got to find a way to get companies or spending going for what is within our borders.’ That was something you’ve talked about, the idea that infrastructure and infrastructure projects need to be using products like Canadian-made steel. How do we make that happen when costs for anybody are always going to be key, and bottom lines are always going to be such a big thing?

JS: When it comes to our public spending, we’re going to spend a lot of money on infrastructure, which is a good thing. That is actually important. Lots of cities need improvements to their roads and bridges. We need to build more infrastructure, we need to build more public transit. When it comes to building public infrastructure with public dollars, there is no doubt (that) when we’re using Canadian taxpayer dollars, we should be putting that towards Canadian-made steel, aluminum. In doing that, we will create more jobs. I think it’s the right thing to do and it’s defensible. We obviously need to work within the agreements that we’ve signed, but there are ways to ensure that we spend our public money on products made in Canada.

–With files from Matthew Trevithick and The Canadian Press

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