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Harper Team 'Lousy' Managers of Canada: Mulcair

NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair on his 'cap and trade' climate plan, economic 'realism,' playing to win, and more.

David Beers 9 Dec 2011TheTyee.ca

David Beers is editor of The Tyee.

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Mulcair: 'We have to convince Canadians that we're capable of managing a G7 country.'

As the Harper Conservative government was being attacked at the Durban summit for dawdling on climate change, federal New Democratic Party leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair yesterday announced his "comprehensive cap and trade plan" to reduce Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. Standing by his side approvingly was University of Victoria professor Andrew Weaver, a lead author of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

The plan, according to a Mulcair campaign press release, "would still be industry-focused and based on the principle that 'polluters pay,' but it would expand beyond the 700 largest emitters in Canada to cover all major sources of climate change pollution. This new plan would also cap climate change pollution at the source and avoid complicated monitoring systems that are prone to loopholes."

For Mulcair, who is striving to broaden his reputation among New Democrats beyond the guy who left the Quebec Liberal party to spearhead the NDP surge in Quebec, the event helped strengthen his claim to being the eco-wonk who can lead to his party to victory over the Tories.

Mulcair sang the praises of cap and trade when he visited The Tyee's offices earlier this autumn, adding, "I'm a little bit less convinced of the carbon tax." Our conversation stretched past an hour and touched on such issues as the oil sands, Harper's political acumen and even the tensions between ideological purity and pragmatism within the ranks of his own party.

Mulcair laughed off Tyee columnist Murray Dobbin's charge that he was an "unrepentant capitalist," saying, "I make no apologies for the fact that we live in a society where markets play an important role. I also know that governments have to play an important role in regulating those markets. So, on the one hand I'm a realist, and I make decisions in the real world, but on the other hand I'm also quite capable of espousing a vision that things are done differently, especially in terms of sustainable development."

And he said Dobbin and others get him wrong when they call him a "Big L Liberal" because he was a force in the Quebec provincial Liberal party before moving to the federal NDP. The consistency, he said, was in his commitment to federalism rather than separatism in Canada. He said he's proud of what the Liberal government achieved in Quebec when he was an MLA with "a very strong track record in terms of sustainable development. The legislation we brought in Quebec went so far as to change Quebec's Charter of Rights, to ensure that people have the right to live in a clean environment, respectful of laws and regulations, which was a handle to ensure that enforcement is carried out."

Mulcair waxed admiringly of the economic record created by Gary Doer when he was the NDP premier of Manitoba, but said it was a "tragedy" that Doer now promoted the oil sands in his latest role as ambassador to the United States. "It's shameful [for the Conservative government] to be using our diplomats to sell their failed economic and environmental programs."

If you hope to see the NDP join forces with the Grits to end vote splitting on the centre-left, Mulcair is not your man. Uniting the parties is "not on the table."

Here is what else Mulcair had to say...

On running to be not just Opposition Leader, but Canada's next PM:

"For the first time in our history, we're looking at the possibility for the NDP to realize its own policies, and not push somebody else to put them in place. Because for the first time we've formed, thanks to Jack, the official Opposition. And we're looking at the possibility of forming a government in the next election, that's the sea change that we're going through right now.

"We have to convince Canadians that we're capable of managing a G7 country, which is what Canada is. And there are people who would prefer ideological purity. There are definitely people who view the world that way, and I deal with them daily, and I love them dearly, but I always look at them and I say, 'Do you actually want to be able to make into reality what you've only been able to up until now talk about? Do you want to just be in a position where you are hectoring someone else to realize some parts of your program, or do you actually want to do it?'

"If you look at governments like Gary Doer's successive majorities in Manitoba, or if you look at Lorne Calvert's successive majorities in Saskatchewan, it's quite clear to me that nobody had to sacrifice their social democratic values or principles, and yet were able to balance the books, provide good, sound public administration and management of the province. If you look at the taxation rate for small businesses in Manitoba, it's zero. And Manitoba's got all the best job creation records in Canada, it's a very vibrant and dynamic economy, it's doing well, but it's a social democratic government that espouses and sticks to those values."

On engaging youth in national electoral politics:

"Right now, young people are seeing the largest ecological, economic and social debt in our history placed in their backpacks, and they're being told they can't do anything about it. And I think that they can. And I think that the biggest problem that we have right now in our society is that more and more young people are turning off from the political process, and we've got to engage them and get them back involved. Two thirds of people between 18 and 25 don't even bother to vote. My generation has to take part of the blame, but we've also got to take responsibility for getting them back into that process."

On Quebec accomplishments that the rest of Canada might envy:

"Quebec has the best daycare system in Canada, one of the better ones in the world. It's a seven dollar a day daycare system. Extraordinary. We have full prescription drug coverage in Quebec. We have one of the most generous parent relief programs in the world. It's a very pro-family approach. It's given women the ability to maintain their professional lives, and it's produced a mini-baby boom. We've been having about 80,000 new children born in Quebec for the past six years, every year, and it's a remarkable accomplishment. But it costs about $10 billion dollars a years totally, and Quebecers are willing to assume that cost. We do tend to pay higher taxes than the rest of Canada, because it's a social priority that everyone agrees with. Because both parties -- the Liberals and the Parti Quebecois -- have the progressive wings, the progressive wings in both parties can get together."

On using the lessons of NDP victory in Quebec to win the whole thing:

"My number one goal, if I am chosen as leader of the party, is to make sure that we carry out the same sort of breakthrough in the rest of the Canada that we were able to accomplish in Quebec. We got 1.6 million Quebecers to vote for the NDP in the last election, many of them people who had never voted NDP in their lives. But they had often voted for the Bloc even though they weren't sovereigntists, because they liked the Bloc's values, they liked their position on progressive issues, and we were able to unmask the Bloc on a lot of those issues... We hit [Bloc leader] Duceppe hard from his left. We called him out on asbestos. We called him out on his support for nuclear.

"We also put together a political offer to Quebecers that resonated with a lot of historical demands without saying that we have to break from Canada, or that we have to go through the tragedy of another Meech Lake or Charlottetown. That was one pillar of the bridge we built to Quebec. The other pillar was a steadfast view for sustainable development that connected well with Quebecers."

On how the current approach to Alberta's oil sands threatens Canadians' well-being:

"The problem is not to try to argue to stop exploiting the tar sands, that's not a realistic undertaking. But what we can do is stop doing the way that we're doing it. Pressing the U.S. to build the Keystone XL pipeline is a good example of behaving the same way we used to behave a century ago, when we would, at least in the east, export raw logs to the U.S. and then import back the furniture, which is a complaint that Tommy Douglas used to make at the time, but it's exactly the same behaviour. We're trying to connect ourselves as rapidly as possible to either Keystone XL (or other pipelines) and the minute you start that, you've created a problem, because the proportionality rule of the North American Free Trade Agreement obliges you to [ship a set percentage of your oil production to the U.S.].

"Keystone will export about 35,000 jobs, because there's no value added here, we're not doing any of the refining, processing, or additional value here.

"That's one side of it, the other side of it which is also economic, is the so-called Dutch Disease. When the Netherlands found important gas deposits off the coast in the '60s, they said, 'Hey, this is great, people are going to come and buy this stuff and we'll get all their currency, we'll be rich,' and they were. But what they didn't realize was that it was going to push the guilder through the roof, which it did. Within a few short years, they'd completely killed off their manufacturing sector.

"Our failure to apply basic rules of sustainable development like internalization of costs over the life cycle of a product, in this case the tar sands, has meant that we're artificially importing a large number of U.S. dollars that's exercised an upward pressure on the Canadian dollar. That high Canadian dollar in turn has made it increasingly difficult to export our manufactured products. Since the Conservatives arrived in power in Jan. 2006, Canada has bled off almost 500,000 good-paying manufacturing jobs, destabilizing the balanced economy that we'd built up since the Second World War."

On the myth that Harper's Conservatives are good managers:

"We're hurting future generations because we're leaving them with the largest ecological debt to clean up the air, the soil and the water. We're leaving them with an economic debt, year over year, the largest deficits in our history, with nothing to show for it since the Conservatives arrived. Even though they love to snap their suspenders and say, 'We're good public administrators,' they aren't. Inflation's been running at two per cent. Their increases in spending have been running at six per cent. So they're lousy public administrators.

"Think of those hundreds of thousands good-paying manufacturing jobs replaced more and more often by low-paying, precarious service sector jobs that don't have salary enough to take care of a family and almost never have a pension."

On Stephen Harper:

"He's a redoubtable political machine. He appears to be the type who spends every waking hour thinking about politics, thinking about strategy. There's a coldness to him. He never addresses the person he's talking to. He stands up in the House of Commons, turns sideways to the person who's just questioned him, doesn't look at them, looks at the chair in the front, the same way he did during the debates. I will say this, and this will sound like a backhanded compliment, and I guess that's what it is: to the extent that he has set out to change Canada economically into a pure right-wing model, he's accomplishing what he set out to do, and he's doing it systematically.

"He doesn't believe the government should play a major role in our society, and he's dismantling not only the government, over the next few years, but he's dismantling the ability of the government to have the information needed to provide goods and services. He has a vision. It's one I don't share, but he has one. Going back to the Liberals, there was never any congruent or coherent vision. It was always telling people what they thought they wanted to hear on Kyoto or anything else. Positioning. Posturing. But never delivering. That's the difference between the NDP. The NDP will say clearly what we're going to do and we'll do it."

On the NDP's 'inverted pyramid' problem:

"My very first conversation with Jack [Layton] the day after the election, it surprised me how much he went into his pure policy wonk mode, but he was saying to me, on the organizational side, 'Look, you've got a hell of a job now. You've just inherited an inverted pyramid.' He said, 'Usually you work like hell to build a base, then you find a candidate and you work on policies and you get 17 per cent of the vote, and you work that out to 24 per cent, and eventually after a number of elections, you win the riding.' He says, 'Now you've got 59 ridings, but you don't have any membership base.' He said, 'The pyramid's completely inverted.'

"I've made this statement before, but in Quebec right now we have a lot of trees with no roots. But in places like Saskatchewan, we've got very deep roots but no more trees. We've gone through three successive federal elections without getting a single seat in Saskatchewan. So there's obviously a lot of work to do that again can connect those roots back into something solid, and there's no reason we shouldn't be doing it. If we make it a priority, we will make it happen, but we haven't been making that a priority."

On living a 'beer commercial' while campaigning with Layton:

"I'll say it with a huge smile on my face: traveling Quebec five years with Jack, working shoulder to shoulder, was most of the time like filming a beer commercial. The guy had this sunny optimism, this spring in his step. He would walk into a room, he would light the place up. Even when he was sick, he wouldn't slow down. We developed our own campaign for Quebec, and it really resonated. But there was not a single attack. I even did a fake attack ad at our 1,500 person rally on the last weekend. I said, 'Okay we're so tired of being beaten up by everybody... we've decided to get me to record an attack ad, so here goes in French,' so I leaned back, went up to the microphone and said, 'The NDP is going to attack poverty, the NDP is going to attack pollution,' and everybody went crazy. That was our attack ad for the campaign. But Jack had simply taken the concrete decision that everything we did in the campaign was going to be positive, and we stuck to it. We'll make sure that we apply the same formula if I get the leadership."  [Tyee]

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