The NDP’s leader visits Canada’s most conservative province

by Nathan Raine

Mulcair - photo by Darrol Hofmeister

nation2Rumours that Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper will find an excuse to pull the plug and call an early election seem to grow every day, but even if he doesn’t, we’re less than a year out from Canada’s supposedly “fixed” federal election date of Oct. 19, 2015. That means all of the major parties are shifting into campaign mode, as evidenced by the recent stops NDP leader Thomas Mulcair made in Saskatoon and Regina.

In an interview during his Saskatchewan trip, Mulcair laid out a few of the initiatives that will form the NDP’s election platform — and, he hopes, move his party from its current third place standing in the polls and into Canada’s next federal government.

Child care is extremely expensive in Canada, at an average of about $1000 per month per family. How do you plan to make child care more affordable?  

We want to bring in a million affordable, quality child care spaces in Canada, and the way to do that is work with the provinces and territories. We’ve defined “affordable” as being no more than $15 a day. We think that that’s fair, and we can work with the provinces and territories on a shared-cost basis: we put up 60 per cent of the money [and] the provinces 40 per cent. In a country as advanced as Canada, it’s high time that we carry through on the 30-year-old promise: the Conservatives promised it in ’84, the Liberals promised it in ’93 and in every election since, and even Stephen Harper started promising it in 2006, meaning at least he understood it was a good promise. But it’s not something that any of them ever did.

How would affordable child care benefit the country?

That’s a great question, because not only does it benefit families but it also benefits the economy. If you look at the studies done by someone like Pierre Fortin, of the Québec model and system, when that was brought in it cost a lot. But for every dollar put into the system, $1.75 comes back to the government in terms of increased revenue. For example, in the first few years of the Québec program, a full 70,000 women were able to reintegrate into the work force — and one of the reasons for that is that all of the sudden they could afford to have their kids taken care of, and they often had professions that they could go to. So, better for their lives, better for their kids, better for their future.

But often, especially if you’re talking to a single mom, she also might’ve been on some other form of government support that she no longer needs. So it was a great system across the board and it produced a fantastic result. We want the same thing across Canada.

Veterans’ issues are another of the initiatives you’re addressing. Why have so many of their benefits been abandoned?

That’s one of the great paradoxes of the Conservative government. They talk such a good game when they constantly evoke “our brave women and men in uniform,” and yet they close down nine offices that were providing services to our veterans. So they talk a good game, but when [veterans] need help, it’s not there. I wrote to Mr. Harper in January, asking him to make the mental health of our vets a personal priority because we’ve been going through a series of suicides, and he didn’t even respond. So I don’t think it’s a subject he even cares about. We’ll re-open those offices. That’s a firm undertaking.

Missing and murdered aboriginal women is another problem the Conservatives have ignored. You’ve stated you would plan on launching a national inquiry.

It’s a huge problem, and we’ve said that from day one, our government would work with representatives of First Nations, sit down with First Nations women, find the terms and the candidate of a royal commission of inquiry into murdered and missing First Nations women in Canada, and then within the first 100 days of our government we would actually have that commission up and running. And that would be a big event.

Why hasn’t this been a priority by the Conservative government?

I think that that is a decision tainted by racism — and that if there had been 1,200 missing and murdered women in Ottawa, which has about the same population as [that of] indigenous people in Canada over the last 30 years, we could have had an inquiry a long time ago. So I do think there is neglect, refusal to come to terms with the reality of the problem, and racism.

Saskatchewan has new electoral boundaries which provide for some fully urban ridings in Saskatoon and Regina. Cause for optimism for the NDP?

It’s a great cause for optimism. We plan to take half the seats in this province at a minimum, and all of them if we can! We’re going to be running strong candidates across the province and hoping to win them all. Of course that’s our goal, but we know that the redrawing of those boundaries has made it a much closer race for us — because the way it was drawn before, we wound up with over 35 per cent of the vote in the province [in 2011] without any seats. So we’re going to change that.

You’ve been the strongest performer of the leaders in the House of Commons, but polls still have the NDP in third. Is this frustrating?

Not a bit. We’ve never been in a better position heading into an election. We’ve never had numbers like this a year out from a general and federal election. We’re really obviously aware of the challenges that are involved in facing a celebrity leader, but the question is, who is going to be able to govern Canada?  And that’s the real question people are going to be asking themselves. People want change. I know what I hear when I go from coast to coast to coast: they want change. And this time around they’re going to be able to vote for the change they want, and actually get it by voting NDP.