A recession is reckoning day for conservative ideology, says Jack Layton.
“(The Conservative Party’s) view is everybody should be on their own,” said the federal New Democratic leader on Saturday night.
“(They think we should be) free-floating individuals that are not connected to a community, that are not engaged in a common project together but competing with one another, and whoever gets to the top, wins, and something trickles down and we get what’s left.”
“But when you run a society entirely that way, you’re going to end up with massive inequality, unfairness and injustice.”
That inequality is becoming more obvious to Canadians, and the NDP is banking on job losses and corporate greed to put more voters in its camp.
Layton’s pitch was the keynote speech of this weekend’s Political Action Conference, organized by the Yukon Federation of Labour, which brought together politicos and social activists from across the Yukon to refine tactics.
The Toronto MP didn’t waste a chance to remind his audience, which included Green Party members, the NDP was born during the Great Depression as the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation.
The NDP can’t do anything about the troubled US financial sector, which Layton targeted in his speech.
But strengthening Canada’s social safety net would counteract the slowing pace of commerce, he said.
“I don’t think there’s much that we can do to generate demand in the US,”
he said. “But there’s a lot we could do to generate demand here in Canada.”
Layton honed in on housing.
“We’ve got a homelessness situation here that requires affordable housing to be built,” he said. “We’ve got sawmills all over Canada that are shut down because the demand for housing construction in the US has dried up. We could fire up those sawmills, create the wood material to build housing and be dealing with the problems of homelessness, inequality and creating construction.”
The January 27 budget did announce $200 million for social housing in the North, but Layton wants a National Housing Program that would include making homes more energy efficient.
“If we could begin to establish energy-efficiency renovations of existing buildings on a massive scale, we’d be creating all kinds of work and we’d pay for it out of the saved fuel costs.”
More stimulus from Ottawa would fend off any further damage from the US slump, he said.
“Tens of thousands of housing units
across the country—that would be generating all kinds of demand and it would backfill for the loss in trade that we’re experiencing due the weakness of the American economy,” he said.
This is also an opportunity to expand federal health-care coverage to pharmacare and home care, said Layton.
“We would start, in the case of pharmaceuticals, by making sure that no family experiences the catastrophic economic impact of medications they’re supposed to take,” said Layton.
The NDP pharmacare proposal presented during the last federal election would need to be tweaked because those cost estimates were made in the context of balanced budgets, he said.
A pharmacare program could begin with those people who are left most vulnerable as jobs disappear and it becomes harder to pay for medication, said Layton.
“We’ve suggested there be bulk buying of the most commonly prescribed drugs and have companies compete (for pharmacare),” he said.
It’s already being done in Australia, he said.
“They do this in Saskatchewan, but they’re only a market of a million people. If we did it in a market of 30 million people, it would have an even bigger impact.”
After leading the NDP in three elections, Layton isn’t contemplating abandoning the helm.
“We were in the single digits (in 2003),” he said. “We had two per cent support in Quebec and 13 members of Parliament and now we’ve got three times that many. And we have seats in Quebec, Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.”
“I think we have more and more Canadians voting for us; we’ve got 2 million Canadians voting for us now.”
Layton is also visiting the Yukon to shore up support after the NDP finished in fourth place in the last federal election.
“We have won and held the Northwest Territories, which they said was going to be Liberal forever, and we came within 600 votes in Nunavut,” he said. “In the Yukon, we obviously have some work to do.”
“It’s one of the reasons I’ve been here a few times.”
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