Delivering Community Power CUPW 2022-2023

Five vital issues facing the Left in Canada: Questions for NDP leadership contenders

Canadian Politics

CD approached the candidates running for the NDP leadership with what we felt were some of the most important questions facing both the party and the country. Here we present our reasons for asking these particular questions, followed by the answers from all the candidates.

Please note, some answers were edited for length to ensure equal space for each candidate.

Questions for the NDP leadership contenders


What is your view of the Leap manifesto and how NDP policy should take on the challenge of climate change in our extractive economy based on oil and mining?

The Leap Manifesto addresses inequality, poverty, racism and imperialism, among other issues. But it correctly fixes attention on the defining crisis of our time: climate change and the massive challenge of making a transition within the next few decades from a fossil- fuel based economy to a clean-energy, green economy. The ultimate cause of climate change is capitalism’s unquenchable thirst for economic growth. There can be no doubt that capitalism and its values must be confronted everywhere — in the workplace, the marketplace, the state, the cultural system — but this is the long war. In the meantime, and starting now, all efforts must be mobilized to prevent fossil fuel companies from digging and transporting new pools of carbon and to shift resources on a massive scale to renewable forms of energy. A platform that does not give primacy to placing the economy on a war footing to fight climate change is not worth its salt.


How would you reverse the trend towards record wealth and income inequality with reference to basic income, the tax system, minimum and maximum-wage laws?

We chose this question in light of the sharp rise in inequality over the past three decades. It’s true that inequality in Canada is not as extreme as it is in the US, but we are heading down the same path. The top 10 percent of Canadians own half the wealth. The top 1 percent receives 12 percent of all taxable income, up from 7 percent in the early ’80s. In the past 30 years, productivity rose by 50 percent whereas real wages rose by barely 10 percent. Canadian CEOs earn 189 times the average wage, up from 105 times in 1998. This state of affairs is the cumulative result of several decades of neoliberal policy: tax cuts for the rich and corporations, privatization, deregulation, frozen minimum wages and welfare rates and anti-union legislation together with mergers and corporate acquisitions. Since measures such as progressive taxes and improved minimum wages are bound to produce short-lived and modest results, any genuinely progressive policy must take on the structure of ownership and the profit system.


What is your view of Canada’s role in the global economy and global politics, especially in relation to the US? Should Canada withdraw from NATO and NAFTA and seek alternative trade and defence relationships?

The Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, followed by NAFTA, has reinforced and even enhanced Canada’s role as a northern extension and resources and energy periphery of the US economy. Canada’s membership in NATO has helped mould Canada as a junior partner in the American empire with a foreign policy subordinate to US corporate interests. Together, NAFTA and NATO preclude Canada from establishing economic and foreign policy relationships independent of the US. The rise of Trump makes the termination of this subservient role all the more urgent.

By allowing foreign corporations to sue the federal and provincial governments on the grounds that their policies constrict their profits, NAFTA gives US corporations veto power over Canadian environmental regulations and makes it impossible for future governments to turn private industry and banks into public utilities. It also prevents another made-in-Canada energy policy like the NEP that gives priority to Canada’s need for oil over the demands of the American military-industrial complex that currently consumes most of Canada’s oil exports.

Donald Trump was right when he declared that NAFTA should be ripped up, but obviously not for the reasons that he listed. We believe Canada needs to withdraw from NAFTA because, given the power imbalance of its partners, it is bound to enlist the Canadian economy in Trump’s mission of “America first” and because it gives big business the power to overturn the outcomes of democratic decision-making. The Canadian economy should be centered on national, regional and local needs rather than being driven by external trade.


What would you do to combat the Israeli occupation (recognized as illegal by the UN) of Palestinian land?

One of Justin Trudeau’s promises when he took over the reins of government in October 2015 was that he would end Stephen Harper’s one-sided approach to the Middle East conflict. But it quickly became clear that his policy towards Israel and Palestine was identical to Harper’s. Both continue to maintain rhetorical advocacy of a two-state solution even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has flatly stated that he would never accept an independent Palestinian state. In Trudeau’s first 18 months in office, Canada voted against resolutions critical of Israel on 16 occasions.

As shown by a poll conducted by EKOS Research Associates from Jan. 25 to Feb. 2, 2017, Trudeau’s stance is clearly out of tune with public opinion: 61 percent of Canadians believe that the Canadian government is biased towards Israel, and Canadians overwhelmingly reject efforts to paint criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. The survey found similar results in “all ethnic categories including ethnically identified Jews.”

On June 5, 2017, Palestinians marked 50 years of occupation—the longest occupation in modern history. In this time, thousands of Palestinians have been forced off their land to make way for the creation of illegal settlements that exclusively house some 800,000 Jewish Israeli settlers.

When the Liberals, NDP and most other seemingly progressive organizations venture to criticize Israeli violence against Palestinians they are sure to equally condemn Palestinian violence against Israelis. This posture of equivalence is untenable. Israel’s military budget ranks with the top 15 in the world and exceeds by a wide margin the combined military budgets of Iran, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine. Moreover, Israel is the only nuclear power in the Middle East.

Last February, Trudeau’s government backed an opposition motion in Parliament condemning the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. The Palestinian call for BDS is an anti-colonial, non-violent form of international protest against an enormously violent occupation. The BDS movement has support in every province; in unions like CUPE Ontario, CUPW, CSN and, most recently, the Canadian Labour Congress; in the United Church of Canada, the Quakers, the Mennonite Church of Canada; Independent Jewish Voices; Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East; and student organizations in just about every campus across the country.


How would you approach questions of occupation and the right to a self-determined sovereignty for Canada’s First Nations and for Québec?

The right to self-determination is a core democratic principle that needs to be respected and should never be a matter of political expediency. Such rights need to be more than vague abstractions and should include not only the political right to establish sovereign entities, but also the right of peoples to control their own economic fates, overriding trade treaties and the needs of corporations to dig mines and push through pipelines. Canada’s Indigenous Peoples and the Québec nation were both incorporated into the country by means of military conquest. They should both have the right to democratically change this conquered status.

Winnipeg, 2014: Protest against Israeli assault on Gaza. Photo: Greg Galinger.

The candidates’ answers

Niki Ashton

LEAP: Catastrophic climate change is one of the fundamental issues of our time and the LEAP manifesto is a progressive document that addresses many of the underlying causes (and) identifies the imperative of converting to a carbon-free economy. At the NDP convention I supported the motion to consider the LEAP manifesto in terms of our policies as a party.

I would go one step further: I have called for the establishment of a public agency for renewable energy. In many ways, this is a 2017 version of public ownership in the energy sector. We must also ensure that we promote investment and employment (and) we reject pipelines like Energy East and Kinder Morgan that threaten First Nations rights and the environment.


Wealth, income and taxes: Inequality is growing at an increasing rate, even faster than the US We need fundamental change to deal with the root causes of unemployment.

The tax system is rigged against the average Canadian (and) has contributes significantly to inequality. We need to ensure that the millionaire and billionaire class pays their fair share. We need system that includes a significant estate tax, higher corporate taxes, full taxation of capital gains, more progressive income taxes, increased taxes on the banking system and the end of tax subsidies to the fossil fuel sector.

The tax system should be progressive enough to effectively limit maximum incomes and massive accumulation of wealth. The federal government should increase minimum wage to $15 and beyond and establish a policy of a living wage where Ottawa provides significant funding to areas under provincial jurisdiction. Tackling inequality must also include opposing job-killing trade deals and privatization, offering national pharmacare and dental care, reversing the trend to part-time and precarious employment and working with Indigenous communities to end third-world living conditions. It must also end post secondary tuition and provide student debt relief.


NATO and NAFTA: We need to reassert that Canada has an independent foreign policy. We must be a force for peace and reject the massive military spending increase proposed by the Liberals. We must end involvement in offensive military action, rejecting Liberals plans for “hard diplomacy” or offensive military missions, including Afghanistan.

NATO is an anachronism. It is being used to bypass collective security under the United Nations in offensive combat missions around the world and as an excuse to increase military spending.

Canada must stand up against job-killing trade deals such as that proposed with China. We must be tough on NAFTA, standing up to Trump by defending the interests of Canadian workers being prepared to withdraw from NAFTA unless there are major changes that focus on fair trade and the promotion of labour and human rights. We cannot allow corporate rights that override national sovereignty.


Israel and Palestine: We must stand up clearly and resolutely to support Palestinian rights and for Palestinian statehood and reverses the Harper-Trudeau support for illegal settlements and occupation. I have taken a strong position and supported the Palestinian struggle, including the recent hunger strike for basic rights for Palestinian detainees and in recognizing the Naqba. As New Democrats, we must not only stop the disqualification of pro-Palestinian candidates, but fully support the rights of people, organizations and communities that take direct action through BDS and other non-violent forms of resistance.

First Nations and Québec: We must recognize the impacts of colonialism and fully support and recognize the right to self-determination and sovereignty of First Nations and fully adopt and implement UNDRIP, which includes the principle of free prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples. I fully support the NDP’s Sherbrooke declaration, which provides a clear blueprint for the recognition of the right to self-determination of Québecers. At the same time, it’s important to recognize the common cause that we have in seeking fundamental change with progressive Québecers, including social movements and the resurgent Québec solidaire.

I believe we can and we must work with Indigenous peoples and Québecers for fundamental change in our political and economic systems to achieve social, environmental and economic justice for all.

Charlie Angus

LEAP: Canada must meet our international obligations under the Paris Accord by diversifying our economic base to a low-carbon future and restoring public confidence that our environmental and economic policies will achieve that. We must work with labour, Indigenous people and rural regions to ensure that environmental, economic and Indigenous justice become intertwined.

I will introduce legislation that lays out the hard targets on emissions, at a level consistent with honouring our obligations. I would also create a National Carbon Budget Council of independent experts and stakeholders to ensure we hit those targets by providing policy options, taking into account every lever at our disposal. The national Carbon Budget approach has been successful in the UK and it can work in Canada.

We need to fund major diversifications projects, which is why I have been meeting with labour organizations in Alberta for their input and ideas on the best ways forward. As the party that represents both the pit-truck driver in Fort Mac and the bike courier in Vancouver we need to work together on moving to a low-carbon, economically sustainable future.


Wealth, income and taxes: Liberal and Conservative pro-corporate policies have thrown the whole system out of balance, increasing precarious work, reducing pensions, and lowering wage rates. I will start by creating a tax bracket for those making over $250,000. I will re-adjust tax advantages to the growing numbers of working class and working poor, close tax loopholes, and ensure consequences for companies exploiting off-shore tax havens, including a five-year ban on federal contracts for guilty corporations. We will increase capital gains and reinvest the money in a creative economy trust fund to encourage workers in the precarious/creative economy to create new employment.


NATO and NAFTA: Canada should be using its influence to promote peace, co-operation, and a progressive economic model. Including labour, civil society, and Indigenous groups in trade negotiations would help ensure stringent labour and environmental protections in trade deals. Trudeau’s turning to Brian Mulroney for help in NAFTA negotiations does not bode well. We need a strong leader in the House to take on the Trudeau government to ensure that Canadian workers are not sold out a second time.

Our defence policies and role abroad must focus on humanitarian support in crisis areas, as well as playing a diplomatic role to defuse tensions and bring belligerents to the bargaining table. Israel and Palestine: The only way to end the occupation is to push for the peace process. That means doing the hard diplomatic work of building the right conditions, bringing the players back to the table, organizing other countries to help, and offering aid in any way we can. Only then can a lasting peace and a stable, democratic two-state solution be established, that puts an end to settlements and respects the human rights of civilians.


First Nations and Québec: I would continue to make the Sherbrooke Declaration the cornerstone of the NDP policy. Québec is a distinct society within Canada, and a measure of asymmetrical federalism is warranted to ensure that the Québec government can continue in its traditional role as a defender of the French language and Québec society. An NDP federal government would also ensure the continued respect of the rights of linguistic and cultural minorities within Québec.

We need a new nation-to-nation relationship with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, especially focusing on action by Canada’s federal government to stop failing Indigenous children and communities. We must also implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, honour the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, establish an Indigenous Children’s Ombudsman, audit and dismantle Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development and return federal programs and money directly to Indigenous governments, with an eye to ultimately repeal the Indian Act.

Guy Caron

LEAP: I agree with the underlying principles of the Leap Manifesto and I am the only candidate also calling for action for a basic income. My proposal involves a BI model geared toward low-income Canadians.

A priority of an NDP government under my leadership will be to reform the National Energy Board overhauling the consultation process, which currently excludes over 90 percent of citizens who wish to share their views. A separate and dedicated consultation process must take place to listen to Indigenous communities.

The unqualified NEB should stop carrying out environmental assessments. This should be done by Environment Canada, along with the appropriate provincial and territorial departments. To ensure public confidence in any assessment process, the three-year time limit needs lifting and should include a robust study on the impact of any future energy project on climate change.

We must look holistically at the problem of climate change. Much attention has been correctly paid to oil and gas extraction (26-28 percent of relevant emissions but far less attention has been devoted to transportation (24-26 percent). A New Democrat government under my leadership will help provinces and territories speed up the electrification of transport, particularly with regard to freight.


Wealth, income and taxes: Basic income is at the core of my proposal to restructure and modernize our country’s economy. The implementation of a progressive version of basic income can eliminate poverty minimizing economic insecurity arising from the further automation of our industries and the transition to a green economy. Basic income must supplement public services—not replace them.

My tax fairness plan will tax monies funneled into offshore havens and eliminating tax shelters for the wealthy. We also need a Financial Activities Tax levied on corporate profits and on the large bonuses of CEOs and banking executives. Our current tax rules are far too convoluted with countless loopholes enabling tax evasion and other abuses. The reforms I propose could serve as a model for other OECD countries facilitating joint international efforts to fight tax evasion. I’m for a $15 per hour minimum wage in federally-regulated industries, to complement a basic income and ensure that Canadians don’t need to live in poverty.


NATO and NAFTA: Pierre Elliott Trudeau defied the US by travelling to Castro’s Cuba. His son’s decision to kowtow to Donald Trump’s wishes by increasing Canadian military spending is unconscionable. It sends the message that our country lacks an independent foreign policy.

It is important to participate in NATO so that we can influence its direction and decisions. But, this does not mean blindly participating in any proposed mission.

All trade deals must be evaluated according to three criteria: 1) does the deal protect and promote human, environmental and labour rights? 2) Does it ensure reciprocity in economic access and benefit? 3) Despite different impacts for particular industries does our economy as a whole benefit?

We need to renegotiate our so-called “free-trade” deals into “fair-trade deals,” including NAFTA. Workers who may suffer from such deals must be assisted through retraining and matching programs. I will not allow any worker to be left behind.

Israel and Palestine: I will work with both Palestinians and Israelis who want to bring about peace to find a solution to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, and to the conflict as a whole. I will stand proudly with both Fatah and Israeli progressives to fight the illegal policies of Benjamin Netanyahu including fighting illegal settlements and as an advocate for multilateral action towards a viable two-state solution.


First Nations and Québec: I support the Sherbrooke Declaration (which I assisted in editing) which establishes Québec’s status as a nation with the right to self-determination and the need for an asymmetrical federalism as the default relationship between Canada and Québec.

Indigenous sovereignty must also be based in the same right to self-determination and I think the autonomous sovereignty achieved by the Naskapi Cree Nation under the James Bay Agreement, could serve as a model for future negotiations. A Caron government will implement all of the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and immediately sign UNDRIP.

Jagmeet Singh

LEAP: The CCF-NDP has a proud tradition of activists challenging the party, a history of lively and urgent debates from the Waffle Manifesto to the New Politics Initiative to LEAP advocates. This kind of critical debate is vital.

My Green Economy and Climate Agenda spells out how the path we take to a low-carbon Canada is as important as arriving at our destination. My plan will reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent of 2005 levels by 2025 rather than 2030. This would put Canada on a path to a 90 percent reduction by 2050, meeting our Paris targets. My plan creates a Climate Change Accountability Officer and calls for disclosure from publicly traded companies of climate-risks, ensuring that governments and businesses remain accountable.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) must be respected. This is why I oppose the proposed expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline and the building of the Energy East pipeline. No climate plan can leave workers and communities behind nor trample the rights of Indigenous communities. We need income security during economic transformations providing good green jobs offering as many options as possible so workers, their families, and communities for a better future.


Wealth, income and taxes: My Income Security Agenda would radically revamp our tax system and introduce three bold new social policies.

I am calling for a reversal of corporate tax cuts; two new high-income tax brackets; a new state tax; and taxation of capital gains. The revenues would fund a Disability Guarantee—a progressive, basic income for Canadians with disabilities.

My Working Canadians Guarantee is a plan to triple the wage subsidy for low-income workers. My Canada Seniors Guarantee would re-allocate existing seniors benefits so low and middle-income seniors receive more.

My Better Work Agenda uses federal procurement to promote good jobs, reviews existing federal labour law, ends temp agency abuse of workers and unpaid internships, and establishes a $15 min wage indexed to inflation. I will create a national framework for enshrining Community Benefits Agreements in federally-funded infrastructure projects.


NATO and NAFTA: In renegotiating NAFTA, Canada cannot repeat the errors of past agreements. Workers and the environment must be priorities. Why should agreements provide effective enforcement mechanisms to protect the property rights of corporations but deny the rights of workers? We are a trading nation. But we need agreements that support policy in the public not corporate interest. We also need to ensure that Mexico is treated fairly. I support the NDP’s current position to remain in NATO.


Israel and Palestine: I belong to a community that has lived through trauma and that continues to experience political injustice. Trauma is ongoing and intergenerational. So as leader of the NDP, I will stand in solidarity with all people who have experienced oppression. This is why I am committed to pursuing a real nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous peoples. I deplore the resurgence of antisemitism and stand for Palestinians’ right to freely determine their political status. I stand with concerned Canadians and the UN calling for an end to the occupation and violence targeting civilians. We must stand for peace, economic opportunity and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.


First Nations and Québec: The federal government is failing to meet its promises to Indigenous peoples on education, critical housing and water infrastructure, UNDRIP, and to adhere to the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruling to implement Jordan’s Principle and end racial discrimination against First Nation’s kids.

I call for the immediate introduction of the Indigenous Languages Act, a National Council for Reconciliation and the construction of a Residential Schools National Monument.

I recognize Québec as a nation and support the one key thing that flows from which is the right to democratic self-determination. This is fundamental.

This article appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Canadian Dimension (Canada 150).


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