Guy Caron says he has created a plan that will allow people to imagine what the economy would be like under the NDP.
The plan includes a guarantee that everyone would get a minimum income. It also comes with pledges to make major investments in a clean economy, to tax foreign products with lower environmental standards, and to begin a phaseout fossil fuel-dependent cars with new zero-emissions regulations.
All in all, the NDP leadership contender told National Observer in an interview that his plan demonstrates that New Democrats can manage finances and the economy better than Liberals and Conservatives.
He said that successive Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa are responsible for racking up nearly $700 billion in debt.
And he believes Canada will suffer greatly if the country does not put ambitious environmental policies into place.
"So yes, we'll be investing in the green economy, we'll be investing in renewables, that will create jobs. But over and above, we will minimize the disruption that this transition toward renewables will be creating and we'll also be very imaginative in looking at different ways of creating jobs...
"We need to look at very different ways of telling people that we get it, we understand it and we understand you and that will be the challenge for 2019."
Caron represents the eastern Quebec riding of Rimouski—Neigette—Témiscouata—Les Basques in Ottawa for the NDP. He's also one of four candidates in the race to be the next NDP leader, to be decided by the end of October, 2017.
As an economist who worked with the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada for several years, Caron was first elected as an NDP MP during the 2011 "orange wave" in Quebec. He is running to succeed Thomas Mulcair, in a field that includes fellow MPs Niki Ashton and Charlie Angus and Ontario NDP MPP Jagmeet Singh.
Caron explained how his environmental and economic policies will help Canada transition to a greener economy, which he says is necessary.
“We are behind in terms of research and investment in renewables. We need to catch up with those European countries and we need to be serious right now on this. If we're not, that gap will continue to increase and in the end, it's our economy that will suffer greatly,” he said.
Caron is opposed to several major crude oil pipelines, including Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain expansion, and TransCanada's Energy East and Keystone XL projects, though he does praise pipeline supporter and Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley for her leadership on "tackling greenhouse gas in a very serious fashion" and "working toward diversification of the economy."
Caron's proposals include reforming the National Energy Board, which he says is "captured by the industry," and excludes Canadians and First Nations.
“We have to remember that we would eventually be replaced by another government, be it Liberals or Conservatives and we need to ensure that the NEB and the whole set of processes are no longer just a rubber stamp operation but really a rigorous examination of all those projects,” he said.
He has also recently unveiled an 11-point plan to address climate change that would include opening Canada’s doors to climate refugees as well as slapping a border tax on products that come from countries with lower environmental standards when it comes to regulating carbon pollution.
He has called this proposal: "Climate Justice: A Progressive Agenda for Change". It would be rolled out over a 10-year period, including billions of dollars of investments to electrify the transportation sector.
In this interview, he also discussed foreign policy and the need for more trust and accountability regarding policies for Indigenous people.
Here is an edited transcript of National Observer's interview with Guy Caron, the first of a series of interviews with NDP leadership contenders prior to the party's vote.
The election's results were disappointing for the NDP after being the official opposition, so what will you bring that's new to the leadership race?
"It's undeniable that it was disappointing and we have lessons to draw from that last election. I think by and large, we gave the perception that Liberals ran a campaign that was to the left of us even though we had progressive ideas such as universal daycare, universal pharmacare, $15 minimum wage. But I think what really hurt us and where we looked more conservative than the Liberals basically is this idea that we would have a balanced budget every single year.
"I do think that we have to learn from this especially in the context where we are the third party now to prepare a platform for the next election that will be bold and inspiring at the same time.
"This is actually what I had in mind when I started revealing my policies, the first one being basic income. When you're looking at the challenges of the future, you're looking at increased automation that makes it very possible that we'll have less jobs than people ready and willing to work. We have to look at the challenges, where we need to transition from this economy to an economy based on renewables rather than fossil fuels. This is why we need an element that will decrease economic insecurity such as basic income. (Basic income) will actually reduce poverty, economic insecurity, income inequality and (it will) be a very useful tool for the challenges of the future. So these are the types of ideas we need to put forth to demonstrate to people that we're going nowhere with Liberals and Conservatives and so that people can see and imagine what the economy would be like under the NDP."
How could basic income strengthen the NDP's image?
"We have a problem with the NDP and we've had it for a long time. We have this image of a tax and spend party, we have this image of a party that can't manage. You know what? This is not the NDP that said those things about itself, it's Liberals and Conservatives who for 40-50 years have said that about us and we never really push back.
"So we need to demonstrate that we will be the party that will be managing the economy, that will be managing the transition that we will be going through in the next few years way better than the Liberals or the Conservatives who are managing it for their friends on Bay Street or managing it in a context where they don't see those challenges such as a transition toward renewables. We need to make it clear that we'll be that party, that we can manage the economy, that we'll be the best party to do this transition with as little pain as possible.
"Let's face it: everybody right now is hurting because in the last 30 years, we have lived by the mantra of privatization and deregulation and trade agreements that leave so many people behind. Liberals are still telling us we need to privatize, in this case our infrastructure, and we have to get used to the ‘job churn’ because this is a reality today. We are seeing that (the privatization and deregulation) are not working well for the majority of Canadians and this is why we need to demonstrate that there is another way. There is an alternative and the alternative is presented by us and this means by me and the plan I'm putting forth."
How would you go about creating jobs? How would the NDP under your leadership approach its economic policies?
"It's very funny when we hear (that) the NDP doesn't know how to manage. But when you're looking at the current debt in this country, which is at almost $700 billion, and not a single cent of this is because of an NDP government. When we're looking at things such as military procurement, where they can't manage such a file and that's been for the last ten years, I don't think they have any lessons to give us in terms of managing the economy or a very important file.
"I do think that for the next elections, we'll need to listen more to the concerns and the priorities of Canadians. And among those priorities, we hear about healthcare, we hear about the environment and we also hear about job creation, and we hear about more economic security. We need to tell Canadians we hear them and we are proposing solutions but ... not only in the forms of social programs, or increased transfers to the provinces but really in terms of ideas that will directly echo the problems that they are talking to us about.
"So yes, we'll be investing in the green economy, we'll be investing in renewables, that will create jobs. But over and above, we will minimize the disruption that this transition toward renewables will be creating and we'll also be very imaginative in looking at different ways of creating jobs ...
"We need to look at very different ways of telling people that we get it, we understand it and we understand you and that will be the challenge for 2019."
You worked as an economist, how would that be an advantage for your party if you were to win the leadership race?
"I worked in the last six years to give the party credibility on economic issues in finance (while sitting on the parliamentary finance committee). ... People have recognized (my) credibility and (my) knowledge and I do it from a left wing perspective, I do it from a progressive perspective. I can make (Canadians) benefit from that expertise, once again (by) managing the economy differently (than) Liberals and Conservatives and not doing it for their well-connected friends but doing it for (everyone), especially for those who are struggling right now to get by and are stuck in those precarious jobs."
You recently announced a very ambitious proposal for a climate change policy. How would a government under your leadership implement these policies and still maintain economic growth, especially in ... provinces like Alberta for example?
"Alberta is already doing the job. When looking at (NDP Premier) Rachel Notley right now and she's not only tackling greenhouse gas in a very serious fashion, fighting against methane, closing those all old plants, but she is working toward diversification of the economy. She's working toward a just transition for the workers that will be effective (with) this diversification. So we need to help her, we need to move in that direction and diversify the Alberta or Saskatchewan or any economy that will be impacted by that move toward renewables.
"If we don't do it, then we will not get the by and large social acceptance, social license for those changes. So this is where we need to go and we need to support those efforts and by and large, we will — through those efforts — create other opportunities that Albertans, that people in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland, will also enjoy as well. We are behind in terms of research and investment in renewables, we need to catch up with those European countries and we need to be serious right now on this. If we're not, that gap will continue to increase and in the end, it's our economy that will suffer greatly."
You stated you were against pipeline projects such as Kinder Morgan, Energy East, and Keystone XL. If a pipeline like Energy East were to be approved, what would you do if the NDP formed a government under your leadership?
"The priority right now, if we form a government under my leadership, would be to reform the NEB.
"The NEB is a captured regulator, it's completely dominated by the industry and we need to ensure that there's a reform that's well tackled, not only the structure of the organization but also the consultation process which currently excludes over 90 per cent of those who wish to be heard. A parallel process needs to be set up for First Nations, Indigenous people, so that we will not only consult with them but seek their consent. And the environmental assessment process needs to be removed from the NEB, which has no expertise in this, and needs to be given to the (federal) department of environment, involving the provincial environment departments and ensuring not only the process is more rigorous but includes a study on the impact of those projects on climate change."
"And the reason why we need to move in that direction is we will be forming government by that time and we have to remember that we would eventually be replaced by another government, be it Liberals or Conservatives and we need to ensure that the NEB and the whole set of processes are no longer just a rubberstamp operation but really a rigorous examination of all those projects."
So it’s about more than specific pipelines, but the entire process itself?
"Absolutely and that will be crucial in the future because if we don't make those changes, it's one thing to be in government but it's another one to ensure that those who will be following us will be subject to a more rigorous examination of those projects."
Quebec used to have a strong NDP base, how would you rebuild and regain momentum in the province?
"What we need to do — and I'm very well placed for that — is to ensure that, we were able to get through Quebec because of not only the policy and the work Jack Layton did at the time but also because we had an understanding of Quebec that we expressed through the Sherbrooke declaration (which says that a 50-per-cent vote in favour of Quebec's secession would trigger talks at the federal level, adopted by the NDP in 2005). That helped a lot because before we had that, our position, several provincial relations were in a place where the NDP was not present.
"Now in 2016, the lack of a Quebec specific platform hurt us, and we need to ensure that in 2019, we'll have regional platforms along with our national platform. And that will be the case for Quebec as it will be (the) case for British Columbia, for the Prairies, for Atlantic Canada and for Ontario. We need to have those regional platforms so that we will indicate that we understand the issues that each region is facing even in Quebec.
"I spent 20 years of my life working with different companies and organizations in ensuring that Quebec progress works hand-in-hand with Canadian progress and that makes me a leader that's very well placed to continue and to grow in Quebec."
If you won the leadership race (how) would it benefit Quebec in particular?
"They will have someone who understands their issues and their concerns, and that will be the case for Quebec as it will be the case for most regions, because (of) my past experience in the student movement but especially (because of my regional policy work) in civil society and the labour movement ... so I have the knowledge of all the regions and even more so in Quebec obviously because I am from there.
"Now, when you're looking at 2016, the problem is that we didn't have a Quebec platform so we were stuck trying to sell universal day care, universal pharmacare in a province that already had it. But we need to assure Quebecers that we get their issues and that we will be there for them,(whether) Liberals are forming the majority of Quebec MPs right now are not. I can tell you that Liberals right now are basically invisible in Quebec. They are invisible on most of the important (issues) such as softwood lumber, such as ... dairy and supply management. If you're talking to the stakeholders (in those issues) they will tell you that they really have no help from Liberal Quebec MPs on this. If there's something I heard from our Quebec NDP MPs in the last Parliament is that we were there for their concerns, we were there for their priorities and we did the work locally and province-wise. So this is what we need to get back. (...) The disappointment (from the Liberal government) can lead people back to the NDP after what they've seen from us in the previous four years."
How would you see Canadian foreign policy under an NDP government under your leadership?
"We need to get back to the position where we are seen across the world as the honest broker. We have lost that under the Conservatives, and under the Liberals we're seeing a lack of focus on foreign policy. ... We are in Syria but it's a non combat mission but yet we are praising snipers who are acting in the Middle East. What direction are we heading toward? We heard that we would be getting back to our peacekeeping role but we're not seeing much of that right now.
"So under Conservatives, it was clear that we moved from being the honest broker to having very entrenched positions in various parts of the world including the Middle East. Under the Liberals, we have a very confused foreign policy. We need to get back to the time when we were the honest broker and we were a credible and trusted intermediary for conflicts situation and that will also help us to gain the credibility in our peacekeeping role."
Are you interested in pursuing a chair on the Security Council?
"Of course, that's important for the reputation of Canada around the world. ... The idea is not to gain a seat just to gain a seat. It's to gain a seat because it will actually help us establish ourselves as a trusted voice (and) as an honest broker. It shouldn't be a question of prestige. It has to serve a purpose and this is why we'll seek it."
How would you approach policies for Indigenous people if you were the next leader of the NDP?
"We need to regain the trust that's been broken by Conservatives but also by Liberals. If you look at what's been promised by Liberals in the last platform, we see that currently their actions are not matching their words. Basically, when you're talking about the promise not to appeal the decision of the human rights tribunal around child support services case, we see that those appeals are still going on. We're still fighting those decisions in court. When you're looking at the need to address the housing and water issues (in) communities, there's been very little work done right now, especially (regarding) the large infrastructure need we're seeing in these communities. When you're looking at another promise which was a cap on social services such as education and healthcare, the cap is still there.
"So basically the government has been breaking its (word) and we need to recapture that trust from First Nations and Indigenous people. And the way we see it is that not only we need to tell them what we'll be doing as a government but we need to tell them exactly how it will happen in the first year, second year, third year and fourth year of the first term so that they will have measurable outcomes by which First Nations and Indigenous people can keep us accountable. That's the only way I see that we can regain the trust that's been broken and hasn't been re-established by the Liberal government."
So accountability will be key in your policies?
"Accountability and ensuring that people can at all time(s) see what we're doing because right now Liberals are doing very little but they are saying, 'Just wait we will get to it soon.' But that's postponing the inevitable and honestly we have no guarantee it will be done, at least not before the next election."