The leader of Canada’s official opposition was in Whitehorse this week, testing out his campaign speech for the 2015 federal election.
Tom Mulcair gave a public lecture at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on Tuesday night before a crowd of hundreds, and he brought some former parliamentary backup.
Former Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page joined Mulcair on the stage to discuss the state of democracy and finance in Canada. The double-header lecture was sponsored by the Yukon NDP.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants Canadians to think we need to accept less, to look out for ourselves at the expense of others, Mulcair said.
“Mr. Harper is telling us that he doesn’t care. He’s too smart to come right out and say it, but James Moore isn’t,” the NDP leader said, laughing.
“(Industry minister James Moore) asked, ‘is it my problem that my neighbour’s child doesn’t have enough to eat?’ And then (Moore) answered his own question and said, ‘I don’t think so.’
“Well, I do,” said Mulcair.
“I don’t think it’s normal that in a country as rich as Canada, 800,000 children go to school in the morning without having enough to eat.
“I also think that we’re paying a much greater price for that than what it would cost to fix it,” Mulcair said.
But in order to have that conversation, Canadians need access to the information, the raw data and business cases that the government is currently denying them, he said, echoing Page’s sentiments from earlier in the evening.
Mulcair recapped many of his now well-known campaign promises, including bringing in a national daycare program similar to Quebec’s, and his utter resolution to abolish the Senate once and for all.
Under an NDP government, Mulcair would create a new and improved form of the long-gun registry, he said.
One of his very first moves would be to bring Canada back to the Kyoto Accord table.
In explaining his stance on resource extraction, Mulcair spoke about Yellowknife’s Giant Mine - which he accidentally said was in Whitehorse - as an example of the mistakes of the past.
“We can be forgiving of the people who did that, because that’s the way you did mining a couple of decades ago. Nobody is going to forgive this generation for continuing to do what we’re doing in extraction without making the polluter pay,” he said.
Throughout the speech, Mulcair often invoked the names of past NDP paladins including Tommy Douglas, the father of Canadian medicare, and Audrey McLaughlin, who he said held the party together through some of its toughest days.
There were plenty of references to “Jack and I” having fought the last federal election together, a not-so-subtle nod to the late Jack Layton and the so-called Orange Wave.
In an interview on Monday, Mulcair offered his thoughts on more Yukon-specific issues.
The Yukon Party’s current fight with First Nations over the Peel watershed land use plan is an example of how governments have been getting things wrong with Canada’s indigenous communities, he said.
The Taku River Tlingit lawsuit over the Atlin campground is another example, one where “the federal government has not been living up to its negotiations,” he said.
“You’re going to continue to see an increase in these cases as long as we continue to refuse to get it right,” he said.
Canada’s resources are a “blessing,” but more needs to be done to ensure they are developed sustainably, he said.
Even though jurisdiction over resources falls with the provinces and territories, “the federal government can play an accompanying role ... All parties have to work together.”
For a more business-like crowd on Wednesday, Mulcair adjusted his speech a little, touching on themes for small businesses and families at a luncheon hosted by the Yukon Chamber of Commerce.
He promised to take a hard look at ATM and credit card fees, and to do away with the rampant “price fixing” that he said occurs at gas stations across the country.
“Every Canadian pays their fair share of taxes except Canada’s biggest companies,” which use loopholes in tax laws to avoid paying a single penny of tax in Canada, he said.
That line raised some eyebrows among the territory’s business community.
Northern Vision Development CEO and chamber interim chair Rich Thompson asked Mulcair to clarify his stance, saying, “What we hear is that our business doesn’t get the respect it deserves from your party. When we hear that businesses don’t pay their fair share, we have a negative response to that because that’s simply not true.”
Mulcair explained that his concerns about tax-evading companies are leveled at only the largest multinationals, not responsible Canadian companies. He also elaborated on the need for stronger regulatory regimes, not to forestall development but to help companies gain much-needed social capital for projects to proceed.
In an interview on Monday, Mulcair explained in greater detail.
The Conservatives thought that by gutting regulatory regimes like the navigable waters act and the fisheries act, they could guarantee project approvals faster, he said. They were right, but only because they didn’t understand the importance of social capital going hand-in-hand with regulatory approval.
“The day that we say a project is good to go, then it will actually mean something other than the fact that the Prime Minister’s office has decided that it’s good to go,” he said.
Knowing that a project has been properly vetted will help the public rest easier, which in turn lets them believe in the companies proposing them. That social licence then prevents the kinds of antagonistic relationships and protests that spring up around projects like the Northern Gateway pipeline, he said.
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