TOM MULCAIR, Leader of the New Democratic Party and the Official Opposition, did not shy away from some very blunt questions I put to him on a wide range of questions.
He exuded the kind of calm confidence that you see him demonstrate day in and day out in the House of Commons even as he so deftly tears a strip off Prime Minister Stephen Harper time and time again, clearly unnerving him at times.
He told me: “In all of Canada, but particularly in BC, the NDP is the party best positioned to defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in 2015. We have the experience, the ideas and the commitment to unite progressives.”
He said: “I am proud of the long and proud history between the NDP and Canada’s South Asian community and we will continue to stand side-by-side as partners to make our country a fairer, more prosperous and equitable place.”
Mulcair flayed both the Liberals and the Conservatives for their incompetent handling of Canada’s immigration.
He declared: “When the NDP forms government in 2015, we will treat all Canadians with the respect that they deserve. We will offer an apology in the House of Commons for tragedy of the Komagata Maru, support the entrepreneurial spirit of our diverse communities and prioritize family reunification.”
MALL: What do you think is the reason for federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s popularity in spite of all the negative and distorted propaganda by the Conservatives against him? Where, in your opinion, is Trudeau lacking?
MULCAIR: Like so many Canadians. I come from a working-class family and am proud of my roots. I come from a large family and I have been working since I was 16 years old. I understand from my own experience the struggles Canadians face in trying to make ends meet.
In contrast, Mr. Trudeau has still failed to present a clear plan, or even clear policy proposals, despite the 2015 elections being just around the corner. Mr. Trudeau has yet to present a clear plan to Canadians on the important issues this country is facing.
Canadians I talk with are worried about things like retirement security; taking care of their families; and reuniting with their loved ones — and it’s up to us to hold the government to account for its failures, while also making practical proposals to address these pressing challenges.
We will all have to wait to see what ideas, if any, Mr. Trudeau has on how to move Canada forward on these important issues.
MALL: How does the fact that the federal Liberal Party has been consistently leading in the polls since Trudeau’s election as its leader affect you as Leader of the Official Opposition?
MULCAIR: Polls go up and down, my approach is to stay focused on our job as the Official Opposition — hold the government to account and show we have the experience and practical ideas to replace them in 2015.
As for the Liberal Party of today, it is clearly the same old party – one that for 13 years failed to deliver for Canadians, a government plagued by scandal that offered lots of help for the well-connected friends, but virtually nothing for Canadians.
For too long, Canadians have been told that there were only two parties to vote for — but Liberal and Conservative policies have only led to an increase in inequality.
New Democrats know that Canadians deserve better. And they have a better choice—they can vote for the change they want and with the NDP, they will get it.
MALL: How will the NDP’s immigration policy differ from that of (1) the Conservatives and (2) the Liberals?
MULCAIR: Canada is a nation that was built by immigrants. We take pride in our reputation as one of the most welcoming countries in the world. New Democrats know that new Canadians make our country stronger.
The Liberals left Canada’s immigration system with nearly a million backlogged applications; no progress on foreign credential recognition; and five-year waits to sponsor aging parents. The Conservatives haven’t been any better. For six years they cut family class quotas, worsening the Liberals’ backlog; and slashed immigrant settlement funding and refugee resettlement rates. Their ill-advised cap of 5,000 family reunification applications for 2014 was filled within the first 33 days of this year. Worse yet, Conservative and Liberal failures to overhaul the visitor visa system denies applications with no clear explanation.
Canada needs an efficient, transparent and accountable immigration system.
New Democrats would immediately address family reunification and foreign credential recognition as top priorities. We would study ways for potential immigrants to be assessed and accredited prior to their arrival to Canada.
To address inconsistencies in the visitor visa application system we would allow for appeals of rejected applications and include basic explanations of why applications were unsuccessful. As well, we would ensure that refugees be treated fairly with access to a fair and fast appeals system and improved settlement services.
MALL: The Conservative government has been steadily downloading health care costs to the provinces. What would the NDP do if they were to form the next government?
MULCAIR: New Democrats believe the federal government has a responsibility to provide reliable funding for health care to all provinces and territories so that they can provide high-quality care to Canadians.
However, thanks to Conservative mismanagement of health care and outright refusal to negotiate with the provinces and territories on the health accord Canadians are facing even longer wait times; unequal standards of care from province to province; higher drug costs; and limited access to home and long-term care.
New Democrats want to make sure that Canadians can get the public health care they need wherever they live; and that cost is never a barrier to getting a prescription filled or making sure a loved one is taken care of. Our vision of a modern, well-funded public health care system puts Canadians first in communities across the country and includes:
• better home care, long term care, and palliative care;
• expanded public coverage for prescription drugs;
• recognizing the importance of mental health;
• and improving health care services for Aboriginal peoples and others in federal jurisdiction.
Ensuring that all Canadians have access to quality health care will remain a top priority for an NDP government.
MALL: How different will your environmental policy be as compared with the Conservatives?
MULCAIR: As a former provincial Environment Minister, I fought to protect the environment – from writing North America’s first sustainable development law to enshrining the right to live in a clean environment. Today, I am proud to lead a party that is fully committed to these same goals.
The Conservatives have watered down environmental legislation and given subsidies to their friends in the oil industry. Under the Conservatives, Canada has been repeatedly ridiculed internationally for a failure to make meaningful contributions to stop climate change. Unsurprisingly they chose an Environment Minister who actually denies that climate change is taking place.
Canadians deserve better. New Democrats have consistently proposed ideas to protect the environment and develop a green economy. In government we would continue to advance policies to achieve a fairer, greener and more prosperous Canada. Our vision is based on three key principles:
1. Sustainability: to ensure that polluters pay for the pollution they create.
2. Partnership: all Canadians should benefit from resource development and we must create value-added jobs here in Canada.
3. Long-term prosperity: investing in modern, clean energy technology to keep Canada on the cutting edge of energy development and ensure long-term affordable energy.
Our natural resources are a tremendous blessing but they have to be developed in a sustainable way. The future of our planet is at stake but there’s still time to build a brighter, greener future.
MALL: How would you deal with Quebec separatists?
MULCAIR: In 2011, something unique happened in Quebec. For the first time in a generation, a federalist party won the majority of seats in Quebec.
Voters embraced the NDP’s approach of building bridges and working together to build a better canada, instead not dividing people with the same old debates, like The Liberals and Bloc Quebecois want to do.
I believe Canada is stronger with Quebec. It is our diversity that makes us stronger, that’s the beauty of having a federation.
The NDP believes in Canada. We understand that the vast majority of Quebecers want to remain in Canada. Our goal is to fight for a Canada that includes Quebec.
Together, we will build a fairer, more inclusive country that respects all of its citizens.
MALL: In B.C., South Asians have traditionally supported the NDP at the provincial level but the Liberals at the federal level. The so-called Orange Wave under a charismatic Jack Layton in the last election, led to the defeat of Liberal candidates. But with Trudeau’s charisma, South Asians appear to be moving back to the Liberals at the federal level. How do you intend to counter this?
MULCAIR: In all of Canada, but particularly in BC, the NDP is the party best positioned to defeat Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in 2015. We have the experience, the ideas and the commitment to unite progressives. The NDP is a different kind of party — we’ll always put people first and when we make promises, we keep them.
New Democrats will never act like the old-line Conservative and Liberal parties. We won’t take anyone’s support for granted.
I am proud of the long and proud history between the NDP and Canada’s South Asian community and we will continue to stand side-by-side as partners to make our country a fairer, more prosperous and equitable place.
MULCAIR: New Democrats believe in taking a balanced and principled approach. I believe that a Canada-India trade agreement could offer important opportunities for both countries to advance their interests.
Canada’s vibrant Indo-Canadian community provides Canada and India with a strong connection, but currently the trade relationship between our two countries is not reaching its potential.
For example, the Conservative Government plans to introduce a tariff tax on thousands of items from India including a 6% increase on Saris and 3% on ground and crushed Spices. This will adversely impact many Indo-Canadian small businesses and families. With the introduction of this tax, we could see prices go up in restaurants, textiles and clothing shops, grocery stores and more, making everyday life more unaffordable.
With regards to Sri Lanka, the NDP remains concerned about human rights. I am especially concerned by the recent findings from Dr. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, about a recent surge in violence, harassment, and intimidation against women and girls, religious minorities, human rights defenders, lawyers, and journalists.
I believe that an independent investigation of war crimes allegations is a crucial step towards reconciliation.
That is why Canada must take a principled stance regarding the Sri Lankan government’s continued human rights abuses.
MALL: Any message for South Asians?
MULCAIR: I want to extend my best wishes for a Happy Vaisakhi to all celebrating.
For many, Vaisakhi is celebration of the new harvest and a time for renewal, but it also a time when Sikhs celebrate the inauguration of the Khalsa in 1699. Both are symbolic of our shared values of equality and justice.
The Punjabi and Sikh community have a proud history in Canada, including a brave service in the Canadian Armed Forces and the many economic and social contributions that have been made to our nation.
I believe that the unique heritage, arts and culture of Punjabi’s in Canada is worth celebrating in our collective history has Canadians.
For example, this year, we mark the 100 year anniversary of the Komagata Maru, yet we await an official apology from the Government of Canada.
When the NDP forms government in 2015, we will treat all Canadians with the respect that they deserve. We will offer an apology in the House of Commons for tragedy of the Komagata Maru, support the entrepreneurial spirit of our diverse communities and prioritize family reunification.