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Interview: Guy Caron on running for NDP leader

Guy Caron is running for leader of the NDP
By: 
Kevin Taghabon

September 1, 2017

Guy Caron is an NDP member of Parliament representing Rimouski-Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques in southeastern Quebec. Caron is currently running to be the next leader of the federal NDP.
(Editor’s note: We have reached out to all NDP leadership candidates to conduct and publish interviews. You can read our interview with Niki Ashton here, and with Peter Julian here. Peter Julian has dropped out of the leadership race.)
 
I’d like to start with the 2015 election. Obviously it was a historic moment. At one point the Toronto Star (had the NDP as as 40% in the opinion polls, around August. The election definitely did not turn out the way that NDP faithful would have wanted it to. What lessons do you draw from that campaign, and how do you wish to differentiate the NDP under your leadership?
 
We were just too cautious. That’s for sure. We were too policy conservative in our approach. We had a very uninspiring platform, for starters. We basically submitted the wrong question. The Liberals actually had the right question. We had the wrong question. The question we asked people was, “do you want to get rid of Harper?” The Liberals knew that we already passed that point. They wondered, “what type of change do you want?” So the focus of the campaign was very different.
That, in the end, I would say was a major hindrance in our strategy. Elements such as having a balanced budget every single year hurt us. It demobilized our base and did nothing to attract new voters. All in all, we have lots to learn from the 2015 election. I think the main lesson is that you have to stay true to who you are. It's one thing to try to simplify your message for those who might not be used to this message. It's another one to bring about new policies that are completely surprising people.
 
We've seen three recent elections that I think the NDP should, and Canadians should, learn from. In the United States , in the UK , and in France . We saw what is similar to what you're describing, in the United States. A very tepid campaign from the Democrats resulted in them losing where they thought they had it in the bag. On the opposite side we see the UK. A very bold platform, things like pushing worker cooperatives, funding for the NHS (National Health Service). Things that really belong in classic NDP politics. And Mélenchon's campaign in France, campaigning for things like a shorter work week. What lessons do you take from these recent elections?
 
I'm not sure if it's as much a question of policy as a question of wanting to be something different than the elite. People know by instinct that the elites are very strong and very powerful. You need to stand up to them if you want to really work for the common good, for the people. That's what Mélenchon, that's what Corbyn, that's what Sanders first and foremost actually have.
The other thing that they had was authenticity. People believe them. People trust them. Not only as people but to do what they said they'd do. This authenticity is not only a thing on the left. Trump is authentic too. You can't tell me that Trump three years ago is different than Trump now. People want to go for the real thing. I think the population has developed a kind of smell test for bogus people, bogus attitudes.
One thing about Tom – I'm not talking about the policies themselves – but one thing that was different on the campaign than before is that some people probably suggested that he change from being “Angry Tom” to “Smiling Tom” . That was not him anymore. People sensed that.
You need to be authentic, and you need to ensure that people will trust that you will stand up for them. You can't say that you'll stand up for them, they might not trust you. You need to find a way for them to trust you. That's what Corbyn, Sanders, and Mélenchon to a certain extent succeeded with.
 
I think you're broadly correct. If you look at their histories they have been very much pushing the same message their entire political careers. So let's open that to you. Why would somebody looking to elect a new Prime Minister in 2019 say, “this guy's been fighting the same fight for however long, we can trust him to continue that battle if he gets the Prime Ministership”?
 
I've been working for the last 20 years and more in the student movement, in civil society. I was chair of CFS (Canadian Federation of Students . I was with the Council of Canadians. I was with the labour movement, with the Communications, Energy, and Paper Workers (CEP). I've always fought for Quebec progressives to work hand in hand with Canadian progressives.
You have to evolve in your life. You cannot be the same person you were when you were 20. But your message, what's driving you, has to stay the same. When I was in the student movement my fight was in the trenches against Lloyd Axworthy, Jean Chretien, and Paul Martin's cuts. That's two years after presenting one of the most progressive platforms ever in Canadian politics. That was the Red Book . Two years after they were slashing everything. I was there, I fought.
After I was finished in student politics I decided to continue the fight, but fight in a different way, by becoming an economist. That's something that we lack on the left, economists who can approach economics from a different perspective, and also simplify it. Make it accessible to everyone. This is exactly why I went into economics, I wanted to be a progressive economist. There's not necessarily that many places you can work as a progressive economist , but there are some. This is what drove me. I've been driven by the same view of politics and the same desire to use government, to use politics for the common good.
 
You mentioned that you were involved in organized labour, that's part of your history. There's been a lot of issues here recently. The for Sears workers for example. Northstar I'm sure you saw, Unifor took over the factory there because Northstar wants to pay 24% less in pensions than was bargained for . On issues like this, on something like anti-scab legislation, what can the labour movement expect from you?
 
This is what I've for before, I've been fighting for it as a member of parliament as well. Before I got elected I was with CEP. One of the files I was working on was having to do with pension restructuring, where pensions were saved. We can do it. They were saved in a way that the company could actually restructure and continue to work. When both sides work in good faith we can accomplish things.
If the other side, such as Sears, such as Northstar to a certain extent, such as White Birch – which was acquired by an investment bank, and I was working on that file when I got elected – when a company doesn't want to bargain in good faith, when they just want to use their power to impose their will, you need protection. That's a market failure, that's a market failure for the workers. That's what government is for. Government is to ensure that people who have less power in our society will be protected against those who have the power. That's what labour legislation is about.
I was dealing, when I was at CEP, with John Rafferty on a bill to place pensions and liabilities towards workers as top priority when you have to pay creditors, when a company is bankrupt or under protection against creditors. This bill needs to pass. The Liberals – and the Conservatives of course – but the Liberals keep standing in the way. Same for -scab legislation. We have been presenting it, I have been supporting it in various ways in the last 10 years. Blocked by Liberals.
This is why, when I see the labour movement sometimes supporting Liberals because they are not as bad as Conservatives...you get the government you are paying for. Their past tells you what the future will be. They haven't changed.
 
I think that speaks to authenticity, which you mentioned before. Some of your opponents in the leadership race have talked about nationalizing, bringing more things into the public sphere, creating a crown corporation for climate jobs. Is this something that aligns with the things you want to do moving forward?
 
I'm not opposed to nationalization but there needs to be a case for it. You can start nationalizing everything, but that doesn't mean it will be better managed. When you nationalize something there is the risk that politics will play a role, which will not necessarily be in the best interests of those who are served by the service that is being nationalized.
I mentioned, for example, the infrastructure bank that I've been opposing since the beginning. I was the one who rang the alarm on that initially. The government is going in that direction because it looks better for them. You're going to trust for the control basically of infrastructure, and you will pay very little, you will pay $25-30 billion. And it will make people believe that you succeeded in investing in infrastructure, which is not true. Others did. Others will control it.
But we do have an infrastructure problem, and we need to solve it. I would suggest the creation of a crown corporation to invest in infrastructure. The sole mission of that group would be to prioritize and to issue bonds that will ensure that we'll have the funds at the same level that you would under this investment bank, to invest in our infrastructure. That would be publicly controlled and the infrastructure would remain publicly controlled. I have no problem with that.
I think there is a kind of litmus test for nationalization. That is, “is it a market failure?” I'm an economist. I'm looking for market failures. Is it impossibly to strongly regulate that market failure to make it work? If it's impossible then you can consider nationalizing.
When you say “nationalizing”, would we re-nationalize Petro Canada? Why? People are talking about nationalizing the oil sands. Fine, but it's not like the past anymore. You can't just nationalize something. You need to compensate, because it's the property of someone. You need compensation. You need to set funds aside to actually pay for that expropriation. This is a decision that needs to be made according to some conditions that you set forth for the common good, and to ensure that the results in the end will be good for society.
 
So the creation of a crown corporation to mitigate market failures is something you're in favour of. Is this something you would look to for a green transition? A couple of your opponents have mentioned such a thing.
 
Once again, it depends. You can invest as a crown corporation or not as a crown corporation. Where government can actually help is by – and we could probably have an hour discussion on this – is to reform innovation and research and development.
I think at this point when we're looking at the green jobs, you need to define what they are. We are moving, and we will have to move towards an economy based on renewables. You need to invest in transit, you need to invest in retrofitting, you need to invest in high-speed rail. That will create jobs. Do you need to invest through a crown corporation or not? Do you need to nationalize something or not? That's a technical question. These investments have to be made, and they have to be made in a way that will help us move in that direction faster and efficiently. Nationalization is a tool, it's not an end in itself. The tool has to be properly applied.
 
On climate, where do you orient yourself? Are there any red lines you would say we absolutely cannot cross? Whether it's infrastructure development for fossil fuels, pipelines, UNDRIP, where does your campaign come from on these issues?
 
It's always hard to say because the decisions you have to make have to be made with the information you have in hand. To say “never” is actually binding yourself for situations that you might not forecast. I do have a very comprehensive climate change platform, which follows the just transition / job creation plan which I called “Workers First”.
The thing about my platform is it's all intersecting. In the jobs creation platform I talk about $90 billion of investment, over and above what's being invested now. For the green economy, for transit, for higher speed rail, for a green retrofit. That will move us in a direction which will be helping the government, public sector, and private sector move in the right direction as fast as possible.
Where we can have the best impact is in setting the right incentives. I'll give you one example. Which province has the most windmill farms in the country? Alberta. People don't know that. And you know who these windmills belong to? They belong to Suncor, they belong to TransCanada. They belong to companies that are in energy. Those companies sense the wind is shifting.
 
Literally.
 
They are hedging their bets. Let's give them the incentive to withdraw their investments from what is creating changes in climate. Let's convince them to put it in green technology. The government won't be able to do everything by itself, we need all the investment that's in the fossil fuel industry to move and to shift towards renewables. We need to give them the right incentives, we need to do it as government, and we need to do our own part in investing as well.
If I had to summarize my climate change justice platform, it's really, “go in that direction.” When you talk about pipelines, we have a role in pipelines that are passing through borders. Fine. Those projects right now, they can't be accepted. What I think we should have, what we have to have as a government when we'll be governing is to reform the NEB, the National Energy Board. Right now it's completely captured by the industry, it's a captured regulator. The consultation process excludes over 90% of the people who want to appear. We need to make it a lot more open than that, so reforming the consultation process.
We need to have a separate process for First Nations and Indigenous people. A separate process that seeks not only to consult with them but to seek their consent. We need to have an environmental assessment process that's taken away from the NEB, which has no expertise in this, and give it to the federal department of the environment along with the provinces which are concerned. You need to make it more rigorous and you need to ensure that the impact on climate change is calculated, or is studied.
If we form government we'll be able to do that. This won't happen if we don't form government. If we form government, eventually, we'll be replaced by Liberals or Conservatives. Unless we can take power forever, which nobody can claim. So in that case you need to ensure that the NEB and the old process will no longer be the rubber stamp it is.
We need to move fast towards the electrification of transport. Government has a role, especially in establishing and creating that trust that's lacking right now, and that's hindering the progress towards electrification of passenger vehicles, freight. If I'm talking about investments in higher speed rail, that has to take away as many planes as we can, especially over short distances. You need to have a comprehensive view of the changes that need to be done. Government can't do it all. The private sector cannot be relied upon to take the leadership. It needs to be us taking the leadership and ensuring that the right incentives are in the right place, and the right disincentives also are in the right place.
 
So what's your position on the Leap Manifesto in light of all of this?
 
The Leap Manifesto is composed of 15 articles. There's about eight or nine things we all agree on because we're all New Democrats. There's one for which I'm the lone standard bearer, which is basic income. And there's five or six which are about energy and climate change. We are having this debate in the race right now. I welcome the debate, I want to contribute to it. I don't think it's that productive to say “for” or “against” Leap. Let's talk about those elements and climate change and how to ensure that we can make the shift without leaving workers behind.
 
Are there any elements in the document that you take opposition to?
 
No. It's a set of values, a set of objectives that we have. If you're asking me if I do believe that we should have an economy that's entirely based on renewables by 2050, I fully agree with that. We just need to make sure that we're not pitting workers against the environment. Unfortunately on this debate, around the Leap, that's what happened.
I'm not saying this out of ill will, but if you don't have a comprehensive view of what needs to be done then somebody will pay for it. It might be people because of the impact of climate change, but it might be workers as well if you don't think of the consequences of those shifts on them. Traditionally, in history, when you have revolutions, the industrial revolution, at a certain point in the information age, it's always been the workers who pay the price.
 
The Leap initiative, about a month ago, launched something called Workers for Leap . The document itself was also 60 different leaders from Indigenous communities, organized labour, activist communities. It was one of these intersectional , emulating the successes of the anti-WTO stuff from the 1990s. You mentioned basic income (BI), and this is something on which you stand apart from your other New Democrat colleagues in the leadership race. If you could describe for us how the public coffers could get so dense, what your plan is to raise enough money to be able to implement a basic income scheme.
 
Basic income, the way I'm proposing it is basically for all those who are below the low-income cutoff. You currently have about six million people in the country under the low-income cutoff. You ensure that through the tax system you compliment any income they have, be it labour income or support program income. Through monthly payments done the same way as you can do with the Canada child benefit or Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors – which are forms of basic income which are targeted – then you make sure that everyone has enough to get to that low-income cutoff.
The beauty of the low-income cutoff – unlike the low-income measure that's going to be used by the Ontario government – is that it changes from place to place depending on the size of the city. So in Toronto it would be $25,000 – that might have to be adjusted because of the real estate situation. Currently for cities over 500,000 it's $25,000 . For cities of less than 30,000 it's $18,000 . It's a scale that's modified depending on where you are because the costs of living are different because of the size of the city.
With all of this, if you are able to give enough for everyone to meet their basic needs you have no more poverty, to that level. People don't have to worry about their basic needs. They're a lot more productive. The income experiment told us that it decreases crime rates, divorce rates, hospitalization rates, all good things for the community.
Students will be able to access it. A student in Toronto will be able to access – immediately, unconditionally, if they are independent – $25,000 a year for their studies. First Nations, Indigenous people will have access to it. And the cost of it will be between $30 and $35 billion. That's been estimated by a few studies including one by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives a few years ago. This is something that we can do federally, and we can do it in the first budget.
If you are looking at everything else that we are talking about in this campaign, be it healthcare, be it education, be it tuition fees, improving social programs, all of these require negotiating with the provinces. You can't do it on your own. In this case, with $30-$35 billion you can actually eliminate poverty, and ensure that you are decreasing economic insecurity for the challenges that you are facing in the future, be it the transition towards renewables or be it increased automation of our economy.
When you are sure that people are looking for a job but they can't find one, it's not because they are lazy, it's because there are not enough proper jobs. They are not going to be poor because of that. This is what I'm proposing.
 
And the $35 billion...?
 
I've prepared a tax reform which is on my website as well which is in three points. The first point is to bring back balance in the tax system. Right now we're taxing income massively. Not as massively as other countries but the large brunt of what we get is massively through income or consumption taxes. Very little through capital. I don't know if you read Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century . Basically he says the increase in economic inequality is not because of labour income. It's not because of the CEOs or the difference between CEOs and ourselves. It's because of the return on capital, on the wealth that you're making. That's the driver of income inequality.
So let's start attacking, addressing the issue of unproductive capital. Dead money, for example, let's do something about it. I'm proposing a wealth tax, an estate tax, inheritance tax. I'm proposing a financial activities tax, not to be confused with financial transactions. But it's basically a surtax for those financial institutions who are contributing basically to the financial economy but not much more. And closing a few loopholes, such as stock options yes, but also decreasing the ceiling of RSP contributions. And taxing the money that goes into tax havens before it gets there. An exit tax basically, because you're doing nothing.
Tax havens and offshore taxation has to be addressed, and it will have to be addressed either through a renegotiation or rescinding of the tax treaties we have with those countries such as the Cook Islands and Bahamas and so on. There's no two ways about it. It's extremely difficult because that money much of the time goes there legally. It's not illegal to send money there as long as you paid your taxes beforehand. What's made legal or legitimate after is that you don't need to pay taxes when it comes back on the money you make in that country through international investments. That's because of the treaties we have.
Over and above this, we need to move very quickly in a direction for the long run, which is to completely reform the tax system that we have. Basically scrap it and start from scratch. Why? Because we have a system that's mostly been designed in the mid-1950s, the mid-20th century. Before computers, before globalization. We live in a very different world but we still have the same tax system we had then. We need to change it. We need to simplify it. We need to make sure that there will be principles that will be safeguarding against increasing income inequality and unfairness. And you need to ensure that the principles of the green economy are included, integrated into this tax system.
This is not something that I will do. This is something that, we really need to have a panel, or blue ribbon panel, whatever, that pulls in people from labour, business, tax experts, academia, First Nations. They can sit down and build that new system.
I'm kind of tired of always saying, “well, you know, Switzerland does this right, we should import it.” Or, “Norway does this well, we should do it.” Let's do something ourselves that they will want. They are facing the same challenges as we do. The tax system is one way we can address it.
 
Some of the arguments from the left against a basic income are that it disempowers organized labour on one hand. Finland's biggest labour union came out a few months ago in The Independent saying basic income is not the solution that we need. And it disincentivizes employers from providing a livable wage. Finally, rent seekers in the economy – whether it's food producers, landlords, internet service providers – once we start receiving a basic income will raise the prices of all their goods and services accordingly. How do you respond to these criticisms?
 
The first two points that you made, how is that different than now? This is the situation that we have now. So you're against basic income because it won't change those two elements, even though it will solve one big problem about poverty, which is not having money. That doesn't make sense. To me that doesn't make sense. I mean, it's not one or the other. You can fight for basic income as much as you can fight for $15 and Fairness . There is no exclusionary principle that says we can't do it. So let's ensure that we can eliminate poverty, we can reduce economic insecurity, and at the same time let's continue to work for better job conditions, better minimum wage. We can do all that.
There is an interesting point about wages. People assume that it will decrease wages because it will provide an incentive for the Wal-Marts of this world to bring down their wages to minimum wage saying, “you have basic income, that will take care of it.” First of all, I think two of my opponents right now are calling for an increase to the working income tax benefit. That's the same effect. Why do you attack basic income on this but not the working income tax benefit which goes towards those who have low incomes? That's a wage subsidy as well.
I would actually submit to you that in all likelihood basic income would increase wages. Why do you have low wages? You have low wages because people are desperate enough that they will be taking the first crappy job at minimum wage to be able to survive. Employers know it. So they offer a crappy job at minimum wage. If you no longer have to worry about survival, if you are sure that you will be able to lodge yourself, feed yourself, and clothe yourself, you don't need to take that crappy job at minimum wage. You can afford to wait for a job that's a better fit for you. So employers will actually see that job, see that it doesn't attract people, and be forced to increase their wages.
It could be used as a wage subsidy, possible. Could it raise wages? I just made the case that it might. We will not know until we apply it. Everything else is theoretical. I refuse to let an idea like basic income, which has so much promise, lie down because we're theoretically afraid of what might happen.
 
You mentioned that we have a lot of the same struggles as in Europe. I think that's appropriate. If you see what happened in Germany this weekend, anti-racist protesters essentially shut down the rallies . The same thing happened to (far right organization) La Meute, yesterday they were trapped in a parking lot (. Some people in our organization organize a rally in Vancouver yesterday . The same thing happened in Boston . There's obviously a lot of activism against racism. This movement is growing a lot. So is the far right. How do you plan to quell the xenophobia and economic anxiety on the one hand that feeds the far right, as well as provide allyship to the movements fighting against racism?
 
By the way in Quebec City it wasn't that successful. You followed what happened in Quebec City, it was taken over by the Black Bloc, and basically the anti-fascist demonstration was declared illegal. If you're talking to progressives in Quebec right now they will tell you that it was a black eye to their movement and not to La Meute. So we have to be careful about the way that we're doing things. And I'm not accusing the protesters because by a large they were there for the right reasons, the same as Boston. But they've been infiltrated by people who just like to use this type of gathering for .
I think much of what we're seeing now, that's the long run answer. Short run in this situation, we need to ensure that is not acceptable, we need strong statements by our leaders. This is your responsibility. Trudeau hasn't been seen in two weeks with the refugees crossing in Quebec . It's unconscionable. That especially after the comments he made initially on Twitter, saying, “you're all welcome here, come.” Then you make people believe that when they come, they will just stay here. You need to have very strong statements, very strong institutions. Something as simple as explaining that what we're facing right now is not illegal immigration. It's refugees who are asking for asylum. They might get it, they might not. Explain it.
By not fighting the ignorance you're feeding it. But all in all I think it really reflects by and large the economic problems that we're seeing. Thirty years of privatization, deregulation, trade agreements that leave so many workers behind. Those workers, unionized or not, are the ones who placed Trump where he is. The Rust Belt, all those manufacturing states, they placed Trump in power. They've been marginalized, they've been taken for granted politically, they've been ignored. So they turned to somebody who said, “I'm going to listen to you, I'm going to be fighting for you.” Even though it's somebody like Trump who has no intention of doing it for them. If we don't put an end to this economic marginalization, to this social marginalization that takes place, the situation will not improve. It will actually worsen.
I think what we're forgetting on the left many times is that part of the solution goes towards building a different type of economy, and being able to implement it which means being able to sell it to people so that they can trust us. That's been our problem as the NDP, we're not trusted with the economy. We're “tax and spend”. We don't know how to manage. things people believe of us. We never fought back, we never pushed back. You know, when I'm looking at the fact that we have close to $7 billion in debt in this country, not a cent of this is owed by an NDP government. Then I'm looking at what they do, what the Liberals and Conservatives, who are supposed to be such great managers, do with files such as procurement. CF-18s, the F-35s, they have no idea how to manage. Yet we're the ones who are bad managers.
One of our priorities is to ensure that people will trust us to steer the economy in the right direction. That will go a long way, once we get there, to reduce marginalization and reduce the ability for those right wing groups, those racist neo-Nazis, populist right – I always refuse to use the word “alt-right”.
 
No, it's idiotic.
 
All of those, they feed off despair. We need to reduce the despair.
 
One of the things that I noticed from the pictures coming in from Germany this weekend was that there are giant flags of official parties. Die Linke, SPD, the Green party. That's big part of their culture there on the left. I've been to many mobilizations against these kinds of groups in Canada and I have never seen any party flags whatsoever. Maybe you could give us an insight into why nominally progressive parties and the NDP don't tell their members, “there's this thing that we oppose, you might want to be aware of it and mobilize against it”?
 
I think we do it but through social media. We were looking at Vancouver yesterday and I've seen tweets and entries from Jenny Kwan and Don Davies and others. We might not do it in the way of flags, but it's done through social media. I never realized it, or I've never noticed it before. We do it for peaceful protests which are more positive such as Pride, yesterday I was at Pride in Montreal. We had our NDP banner with a message for Pride. We do the same in Toronto or in Vancouver, or for any positive protest.
I guess there is a fear of attaching that flag to something that would be seen as negative. If you protest against a group that promotes very negative things, do you really want to bring a flag there? I don't know, I'm just extrapolating. But you're right, the work has to be done for us to promote and to help the mobilization in those events. If it can be done successfully or at least partially successfully through social media, this is being done right now.
 
You mentioned the budget. The Liberals recently released a pretty hawkish war budget . Can you comment on that?
 
I'm opposed to it . This is to appease Trump. It's clear. There is no need to go in that direction. We have foreign policy that's very unfair right now. Why are we in Libya? We're supposed to be scaring the Russians? We were supposed to be defending Ukraine. We haven't lifted a finger. I don't think we're really that scary. Same thing for the Middle East. We're not supposed to be in a mission there, or engaged, yet we're celebrating snipers. Everything that we're doing overseas is unclear. There is no clear mandate. There is no clear debate. There is no clear idea of where we're going. There is no way that we can just give money and agree to what Trump is asking for.
If there is money to be invested I would do it first and foremost in procurement, and ensuring that we do it right. CF-18s are falling . Same thing for much of our navy as well. We need to replace those, not to be more warlike or anything but because we have family, we have friends, we have people who are in the Forces right now who's life is in danger every time they use that equipment. So we need to do it right.
 
You mention that this is just appeasement to Trump. There's this impression that Trudeau is this global progressive, like Macron. It's really not true, and from inside Canada we can tell. How would your government look when it's going toe to toe with the sleeping giant underneath us, or any sort of antagonistic government?
 
Just stand for what you believe in, but you do it respectfully. Look at the other side, you talk about Trudeau. You know about Angela Merkel releasing the fact that Trudeau signed on to the Paris Agreement but decided not to really work towards it to appease Trump. This is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. We should be standing for what we believe in.
I'm not saying moralize the US and every time say, “you're going in the wrong direction”. They are the elephant, we are the mouse. But that doesn't mean that we have to cop-out and basically do as they wish. If we don't agree, we don't agree, and we'll disagree respectfully.
I used to like saying that Trudeau has the right approach to the US. He stood up to the President and to Congress. But that was the father . In our relationship with Cuba, when there was an embargo and there was lots of pressure in the 1970s not only to bend to the pressure, there was actually an official visit by Trudeau, the father, to Cuba. It's done respectfully. We have our own policies, we have our own priorities, we don't have the US's priorities. Just do it respectfully and ensure that that message goes across well. There's no two ways about it.
He is there temporarily. By the next election he will have – maybe if he's still there – one year left into his first term. Will he be elected a second term? We don't know. But the priority is really to think of ourselves and ensure that we do the right thing for people here.
 
Where do you think the NDP has been lacking on the issue of Palestine? And why do you think as a social democratic party they've been so reluctant to speak our in favour of Palestinian human rights?
 
The way I see it is, we have a treaty situation there of course for a long time. Canada has always played the role of an honest broker. Until Harper came and decided to go full fledged on the side of Israel. That compounded it, and we were not the only country doing that. At the time George Bush did the same as well. Obama did not really move away that strongly from that.
I think there is a fear that we will just do what Conservatives did but on the other side. No one can deny that the current Israeli government is not only...it's not only that they are not doing anything about the illegal settlements, they are promoting them. We know the whole situation in Gaza as well. But in terms of being constructive as a country that's outside all of this, we're on a different continent. Where can we actually work best? Is it just to stand on one side or the other? Or is it to try to bring a solution and work on the ground with people who can work with us?
Paul Dewar in the past and Hélène Laverdière have done great work to keep the links and develop the links and enrich the links we have with our Palestinian allies. Especially in Ottawa, but there as well.
There's one thing that's missing. The same way that for ten years in Canada we fought against the perception in the world that Harper was Canada, I don't believe for a second that Netanyahu is Israel. There is an opposition in Israel as well. We need to link up with them. That opposition wants to work with Palestinian allies as well. That's the second part of the equation that we need to include. If you're just going with one side it's going to be very hard to build a movement on-site that will challenge Netanyahu, that will challenge the Likud, their party.
Take the Labour Party for example. They have policy against illegal settlements. They have policy for a two state solution, working proactively with Palestinian allies. We haven't been in touch with them for years.
 
Your government would be?
 
Absolutely. The same way that Harper and the Conservative MPs are proud to stand with Netanyahu side by side, I would do the same with Labour, and with all those parties in Israel who want to work in the same direction as putting an end to these settlements. Sincerely negotiating in good faith to in the end have a true two state solution, where both states will have respect for each other, and will put an end to all this tension. We need to pursue and deepen our relationship with our Palestinian allies, which is something that's being done right now. But we need to find allies in Israel as well, to work with both and provide a challenge to Netanyahu. In the end there is no progress that will be possible as long as Netanyahu and the Likud are in power.
 
You would repeal Bill C51 correct?
 
Yes.
 
Have you seen the surveillance state become too unruly? How would you reign that in, besides C51?
 
You're talking about privacy?
 
Yeah, mass surveillance, national security, all the buzzwords we hear from the right as excuses for the erosion of civil liberties.
 
You have to abide by the rule of law, you cannot make it too easy to . Because of September 11 we pushed very, very far. Besides the invasion of privacy, we've been bolstered by the Patriot Act basically to go in that direction. We've made it too easy to get warrants, when warrants are even warranted, which is not always the case for our agencies to move in that direction.
You know what was interesting in the debate on C51? I heard testimonies from CSIS and from the RCMP. They didnt want that law.
 
It was the same thing in the States. When Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act, the FBI said, "we don't want this."
 
No, they don't want it. They didn't want it, and we said so often that they didn't want it. What they wanted was resources. If you have someone that's on a watchlist – and I assume it's for good reason – if you don't have the resources to ensure tailing or surveillance on that person then you're inefficient. Now I'm not saying that everybody should be watched the same way , that's a different issue. I think we'll need to get a better sense of balance. We'll be less macho in our approach, less jingoistic. We need to ensure better protection for privacy and private life.
The Patriot Act is not helping. Especially combined with our ability to transfer data to the US where they become subjected to the Patriot Act, is not making it easy for us to ensure that protection. But we need to try.
 
You would still be in favour of pushing forward for proportional representation ?
 
Oh yeah. This is my first act. The reason why I'm so strongly pushing for this is because of what Trudeau did. He promised it. He sabotaged every attempt of going in that direction. People don't believe him. By extension people who believe in moving away from first past the post and maybe towards MMP , they might not believe us. Unless we make a very strong statement and we tell them exactly how it will work. I'm not going to go through another committee. We had a committee that provided good results for a year and a half. Let's move towards MMP with regional lists, as transparent as possible. Two elections, and then let's have a referendum asking people if they want to keep it, or do they want to move back to first past the post. That will be the first bill I'll be tabling as Prime Minister, or, in the event that we have the balance of power in a minority government, it will be a non-negotiable condition for NDP support.
 
You've mentioned that you are in favour of eliminating student fees for post-secondary tuition, but that this process might take up to 10 years. Why is that?
 
Provincial jurisdiction. This is why I said basic income will help students a lot faster thank trying to eliminate tuition fees. It's the provinces. Niki had the wrong answer at the debate in St. John's. When the question was asked, "how much will it cost to eliminate tuition fees?" Niki said $3 billion, Peter said $9-10 billion. None of them were right. Peter was closer, but Niki's way off. It's currently, the amount of tuition fees paid in this country, college and universities – public institutions, I'm not talking about private institutions – is $9-10 billion. So in that regard Peter was right. It will cost between $15 and $20 billion to do it.
Why? Because it's not a matter of giving provinces the money that is paid in tuition fees. University: Quebec, Manitoba, and Newfoundland have the lowest tuition fees in the country at about $3,000 per student. Nova Scotia has the most expensive tuition at about $8,000 per student. What do you think will happen when we negotiate? Do you think Quebec will be happy, or Manitoba will be happy with $3,000 per student? Seeing Nova Scotia being rewarded $8,000 per student for not making education accessible? Everybody will want $8,000. That's the principle of federalism in this country. It costs about the same to educate a student in a university. Everybody will want $8,000.
Same for colleges. Ontario is an average of maybe $2,000 per year. Quebec is free. Quebec doesn't get transfers? Quebec decided to not have tuition fees. They will want what the top province will be getting. We're talking about not $9-10 billion, we're talking about $15-20 billion.
What do you do about this when you need to negotiate the increase that would have taken place in tuition fees? You need to negotiate that for the next 10 years, maybe 15. You need to look at what universities have in terms of plans for expansion that would have taken place. There are so many things to negotiate. Don't tell me that you can actually come and just give money to the provinces and it will be solved.
I heard so many people telling me, “you know, we can do it federally because we had the Canada Health Act.” And you know why? Because we used to pay 50% for healthcare . We tricked the provinces into getting medicare, and then we moved away from it. All the responsibility is on their shoulders. Do you think they will make that mistake twice? They will not make that mistake for post-secondary education. This is why it's a lot more complicated that just to say, “we'll just be paying tuition fees instead of the students”. Basic income, I don't need to sit down with the provinces. I can implement it in the first budget. Students in Toronto will have access to $25,000 each. Which one is easier? Which one can be done? Which one is realistic? Which one is the most inspiring and the easiest to understand?
 
A lot of money in public coffers in the United States gets spent on military expeditions and international adventures that are completely unnecessary. We don't have the exact same problem, but we still have a war budget that eats up a lot of public resources that could rightfully be used. Do you see us anywhere on the planet where we don't need to be and what would your position be broadly in terms of foreign policy?
 
Peacekeeping for sure. We have traditional roles in peacekeeping. We need to be able to pull our weight. Trudeau promised to get back in the game, peacekeeping, we still haven't seen anything. That's over two years. We've been in Libya. We've been in Syria and Iraq. It was thought that we'd be very involved in Mali. It's one thing to be helping where we can be helping. There are things where the solution is less military than either diplomatic or I would say, in the case of the fight against ISIS, the military is not...it's more of a psychological war than it is a military war.
When we said no to getting involved in Afghanistan , the war in Afghanistan after September 11, everybody praised that decision because it was the right decision to make. Right now we're not just training troops in Syria and Iraq, we're participating, we're on the front lines. We have snipers on our side. Why? What's the endgame? You really think you'll be able to dislodge an idea, which is what ISIS is? An idea borne of the fact that people there have been basically supported where they haven't been supported before by governments in place, or by the Western governments.
We need to rethink our interventions. It's natural that we do it with peacekeeping and the United Nations. I'm still in agreement with staying in NATO. Not necessarily doing everything they ask us for but we can actually, by being inside, effect what we choose to do. If you're on the outside you're always on the outside looking in and you have no power. But you need to ensure that everything that's done is done for the right purpose. As our past involvement in the past 50 years in the Middle East has shown, every time you get involved in something, usually the result ends up being worse.
Every decision needs to be taken case by case, in terms of intervention. But in the end I think most of our interventions, the primary fact that has to drive it is humanitarian grounds. Not meaning that we should just have humanitarian missions of people giving help, but you can actually have the military involved for humanitarian reasons. Rwanda would be an example. But that should be our driver and not geopolitics.
 
What movements do you see in Canada that provide you with inspiration? Public figures, thinkers, politicians that you admire? What has informed your political development?
 
I'm really inspired by what happened in BC . I see lots of similarities between John Horgan and myself. John is not a “selfie” guy. He's a good guy. I met him, and he's very engaging personally. But he's not the guy you'll see in...
 
Not the poster boy?
 
That's right. So I really like the way that he's doing things right now.
I don't tend to admire lots of people. If there was someone who shaped who I am right now, especially on economics, it would be John Kenneth Galbraith . He was born in Iona Station . He studied at the Ontario Agricultural College, which became the University of Guelph. That was before the Second World War. Then he went to Stanford, and then he went to Harvard to teach. Then he worked with Roosevelt. He had such a rich life. This is a guy who, as a Canadian in the US, was managing the wage and price board during the Second World War. He was not even 40. He was an advisor to Roosevelt, to Truman. He was an ambassador in India for Kennedy. But he was also the progressive icon of his time. There was Milton Friedman, and there was John Kenneth Galbraith. I'm inspired by what he did, and his life is absolutely incredible. He died at 96. So he wrote an autobiography in 1979, and he passed in 2006. He could have written another biography. I would say that he has been the main driver of my philosophy on economics.
Otherwise, I'm inspired by people who are inspiring . It's so easy to be caught in despair and the negativity of our times. We forget about those who are the great and sometimes unacknowledged figures that should be honoured.
 
 

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