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Interview: Peter Julian on running for NDP leader

June 28, 2017


The United Steelworkers organized a debate with the five federal NDP leadership candidates in Toronto on June 22. The following is an interview with one of the candidates, Peter Julian, BC MP for the riding of New Westminster – Burnaby.


Kevin Taghabon: What is your position on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP)?


Peter Julian: My position on that is the same position as the entire caucus. The federal government should be signing it, implementing it. The other elements are extremely important at the same time. We talk about UNDRIP and the process of reconciliation, but also the emergency supports that need to be brought in to Indigenous communities. That's what I outlined today. There are crises of mental health and addiction, of affordable housing, drinkable water, that need to be addressed immediately. It's a parallel track. It's signing and implementing UNDRIP, but it's also addressing issues in Indigenous communities. And more importantly, looking at the fundamental issue of [UNDRIP's] free prior and informed consent [clause]. That's what we're seeing around energy projects, that being pushed aside. Free prior and informed consent is extraordinarily important, and we're not seeing that from this government or from the previous government.


One of the things the current government campaigned on was the ability to put UNDRIP into law. When they came into power, they said it was too hard, and they wouldn't be able to do it. How is this incorrect?


If the process of reconciliation teaches us anything it's that we have to change the government relationship with Indigenous communities, but also non-Indigenous communities. It's about changing our structures, so that there's no longer this heavy government that bulldozes projects through and neglects the needs of the population. In a sense, the process of reconciliation, and the process around UNDRIP, is something that benefits whole communities, because it changes the governmental relationship. That's why it is so exceedingly important to address the emergency concerns, to undertake the reconciliation process that we need to undertake as a nation, and also make sure we've got UNDRIP ratified.

One of the things that [you, other leadership candidates] talked about today was the creation of crown corporations that are responsible for green transition. Are you interested in nationalizing any other industries? Some of your opponents have said that they are interested in taking over key industries.

Here's one very good example for public ownership: establishing, reestablishing the postal banking network. This is a very important “incursion” the banking sector would say, and the credit union sector would say. What it does, under public ownership, is provide access to banking services right across the country. There's a key example. A second key example is the [energy] Smart Grid that needs to be put in place, and I've outlined a transition plan. It starts with Alberta and Saskatchewan, retraining energy workers. The Smart Grid starts in Alberta and Saskatchewan and that is something that would be under public ownership as well.

What that does again is democratize sources of energy. We've seen in Northern Europe, in Germany, the Baltic Countries, and Scandinavia, having a Smart Grid in place has allowed energy cooperatives, municipalities, communities to actually feed into the grid. They now have hundreds of sources, and it'll do the same thing in Canada. What we see then is public ownership also fuelling other types of ownership that helps to benefit whole communities.

You bring up cooperatives. This is part of the [current] Labour Party in Britain. Corbyn was one of the few [Western party] leaders pushing for this idea of worker cooperatives and the right of first refusal. When a company is going under, they can give the workers the option to take it over. It sounds like you support [cooperatives] in the energy sector. Would you support them outside of that?

I'm a strong supporter of the cooperative movement. I come from the social enterprise and non-profit sector. Before I was elected to Parliament I ran the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. That social enterprise has won a number of business excellence awards. I believe we're wrong-headed when we say there's only one model of business and economic development, the private sector. The private sector has a role. But when we talk about collective forms – public ownership, the cooperative sector, social enterprise, and the non-profit sector – can play very key roles. What we need is a national government that actually understands that.

The capital gains tax came up today as well as the estate tax. Canada is one of the only industrialized countries that does not have an estate tax. One of the other leadership candidates said anything above $4 million would be part of [their] estate tax. Is that adequate to you?


I'd say $5 million. I campaigned even in 2004 on the estate tax that [Jack] Layton wanted to bring in. The point that I raised when I got elected in that election was: the United States has an estate tax, and there's no long line up of limousines at the 49th parallel of Americans trying to flee out of the United States. Or a long line of yachts in Coal Harbour in Vancouver that are trying to get out because there's an estate tax in the United States. It just makes very good sense. In order to invest in people we need to make sure we have the resources and wherewithal to actually do that. 


Would you also support a capital gains tax at the same rate as earned income?

I think the capital gains issue has to [be] focused [on] as well. There's [mis]use of the capital gains provisions right now, but there are also some areas where capital gains have led to jobs. That's where there has to be a linkage. Where the use of capital gains actually results in more job creation, I'm not opposed to it. But I think it needs to be tightened up substantially.

With small businesses it's the same. We have a small business sector. The definitions are so loose, it's being abused, profoundly. I also believe in raising the corporate tax rate. Canadians for Tax Fairness have endorsed our proposals around the financial transaction tax, raising the federal corporate tax rate as well. In part because companies in Canada benefit from a huge subsidy, which is our medical system. It's been evaluated at about a $3000 subsidy per employee. A Canadian company hiring an employee has a subsidy of $3000 through public medicare that an American company doesn't have. An American company has to of course pay for it's own health care coverage. There has to be a tax rate that actually takes into consideration what we have, which is a tremendous subsidy to Canadian business that is not replicated by a corporate tax rate that is fair. 


The most expensive public building in history was the [recently built] CSE (Communications Security Establishment) building in Ottawa. It was over a billion dollars. We're obviously spending a lot of money on national security and surveillance. The Journalistic Sources Protection Act failed to pass in the House of Commons a few days ago. This government is not going to be repealing Bill C51. It doesn't seem that this government is serious about tackling the issues of mass surveillance [and] protecting the privacy of citizens that goes hand in hand with our Charter Rights. What would your party look like on those issues?


It is not mass surveillance that is going to protect us. That is a wrong-headed myth that is put out by the Right. They love surveillance and control. One of the key elements that communities that are vulnerable right across the country have been calling for is support to counter radicalization. Those communities have received no support at all. When you talk to [Department of] Justice officials, police officials, they actually indicate that the penchant for violence in terms of the collective violence in North America is above all from the right wing and white supremacists. Most of the violent incidents that we see have come from white supremacists. 


We saw this in Quebec, Nova Scotia, Charleston, South Carolina. These are all examples. The Liberal government is piling on surveillance. They are at the same time reneging on their commitments. If we actually want to build safety and security in this country it takes a whole different approach. That's making sure vulnerable communities have the resources they need, ensuring that we have mental health supports and addiction supports. The man that went up to Parliament Hill [in the 2014 shootings] had been identified in my community in Burnaby, BC by the local Mosque as somebody who had profound mental health issues. They sought support, they sought supports for him. He was on a waiting list for months. These are mental health issues that can be treated in a much more effective way. There is another clear cleavage between where New Democrats stand and where Liberals and Conservatives stand. 

What are the movements you see growing in Canada today that you draw inspiration from for your campaign?

The environmental movement, absolutely. What we're seeing is young Canadians involved in unprecedented numbers. The push [against] pipelines that are being promoted by the Trudeau government. They're saying “no, this is not the way we want to do this.”  I get inspiration from them and also the movement to end tuition fees.

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