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Burning questions for the leaders' debate on the economy

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Photo: Guillaume Paumier/flickr

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The economy is one of the most critical ballot-box issues facing Canadian voters this election. This evening, federal party leaders will debate each other's positions on the economy during The Globe and Mail Leaders' Debate 2015 -- an event sponsored by the Globe and Mail, in partnership with Google Canada and CPAC. Organizers say they will grill the leaders "on everything from energy and housing to taxation and jobs," and the economists and researchers at the CCPA hope they do. Specifically, we would like the leaders to answer the following questions:

Bruce Campbell, Executive Director, CCPA

My question is about the fully one-half of Canadian workers who report they are in insecure jobs, and who worry about their future and that of their children. If your party forms government, what will you do to reduce insecurity for these workers and their families?

Trish Hennessy, Director, CCPA-Ontario

Over the past generation, a greater share of economic growth has been concentrated into the hands of Canada's richest few while the rest of Canadians scramble for the remaining crumbs. Part of that is due to a hyper-valuation of some workers (such as CEOs). Part of it is the result of diminished workers' rights and protections. Part of it is exacerbated by tax changes, such as income-splitting, that worsen income inequality. What would your government do to ensure future economic growth benefits all Canadians, not just the privileged few? (Please don't say "tax cuts" -- been there, done that.)

Seth Klein, Director, CCPA-BC

With the drop in the price of oil, new investment in oil and gas is quickly drying up. While this is creating hardship and anxiety for many whose livelihoods depend on the fossil fuel sector, it also represents a unique opportunity to expedite the transition to a zero-carbon economy. We also know that green infrastructure and renewable energy investments produce more jobs per dollar invested than the fossil fuel sector. Given this, and the reality of climate change, what policies would you implement quickly after the election to seize this moment and leap us forward into a new carbon-free economy?

Molly McCracken, Director, CCPA-MB

Indigenous peoples in Canada fall behind the rest of Canadians in almost all economic and social indicators. The federal cap on funding to First Nations has severely restricted access to education, health, housing and infrastructure on reserves. Indigenous people migrating to urban centres require resources and culturally appropriate supports. Indigenous people are one of the largest growing segments of the Canadian population and hold much promise for the economic and social development of our country. What will your government do to partner with Indigenous people and close the gaps?

Simon Enoch, Director, CCPA-Saskatchewan

Canada's employment insurance (EI) system has devolved from a program that provided near universal coverage to unemployed workers to one that now barely covers 40 per cent of affected workers. Canada's EI program has failed to keep pace with the changing labour market, unable to protect those workers who are increasingly employed in contingent, short-term and part-time work. If elected, would your government recognize the inadequacies of the current EI program and commit to expanding EI eligibility and benefit levels for all Canadian workers?

Erika Shaker, Director, Education Project

Canada's unaffordable and patchwork system of child care is simply not working for families, and the (recently enhanced) Universal Child Care Benefit is expensive, poorly targeted and does nothing to create desperately needed child-care spaces. What is your plan for the half-million children under the age of five who have two working parents and no regulated child-care space?

Marc Lee, Senior Economist and Co-director, Climate Justice Project, CCPA-BC

Even before the crash in oil prices, Canada was challenged by the phenomenon of corporations hoarding their profits rather than reinvesting them in the economy. Former Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney called this pool of unused capital "dead money." Should the federal government increase corporate income taxes and use that money to invest in infrastructure and other public services that Canadian families need?

Hugh Mackenzie, CCPA Research Associate

In this election campaign, infrastructure investment has been presented as a way to stimulate the economy in the current recession. How will Canada's infrastructure deficit (which has been building now for 25 years) be eliminated if we invest in infrastructure only when the economy is in recession and if our funding for infrastructure ignores the reality that much of Canada's infrastructure is the responsibility of local government, the level of government with the weakest and narrowest revenue base?

Iglika Ivanova, Senior Economist, CCPA-BC

Canada's youth unemployment isn't as high as in Europe, but 135,000 fewer young Canadians have jobs today than before the recession. There is some evidence that youth underemployment is an even bigger problem, with a large number of youth with post-secondary education working in low-skilled jobs like retail or food services. We know this leads to the erosion of skills and lower lifetime incomes. What is your plan to tackle youth unemployment and underemployment?

Lynne Fernandez, Senior Researcher, CCPA-MB

Unions play an important democratizing role in Canadian society. They give workers a say at their workplaces and educate members about important societal issues like health care, pensions, pay equity and the importance of voting. When union density rises, so does the national wage bill, showing that all workers benefit from strong unions. When workers do well, so does the Canadian economy. But union density is slipping in Canada at the same time that wages are stagnating, precarious work is growing and the economy is faltering. What will you do to support the union movement?

Kate McInturff, Senior Researcher, CCPA

What is your jobs plan for women? And how do you intend to close the wage gap?

Hugh Mackenzie, CCPA Research Associate

Public services account for a significant proportion of total economic activity in Canada (about 40 per cent), but for the past decade they have been repeatedly cut back to make room for tax cuts and to reduce the fiscal deficits that lower tax revenues create. Given the vital and important contribution to living standards that public services provide to everyone -- in particular to lower- and middle-income Canadians -- what role will improvements in public services play in your plans to strengthen the economy?

Kaylie Tiessen, Economist, CCPA-Ontario

Earlier this month, and six years after the 2008-09 recession, the Economist called Ontario the new rustbelt of North America, pointing to scenes of industrial decay across southwestern Ontario as evidence. Changing economic conditions (e.g., declining value of the loonie, drop in oil prices and strengthening U.S. economy) have not produced the manufacturing resurgence that many expected. Instead, Ontarians are still facing a low employment rate, elevated levels of long-term unemployment and involuntary part-time work, and a high level of income inequality. What will you do to achieve a thriving labour market recovery in Ontario with good jobs and shared prosperity?

Shannon Daub, Communications Director, CCPA-BC

Younger people in Canada are struggling to make their way in an increasingly precarious labour market, often with crippling student debt, and are starting families while squeezed by the affordability crises in housing and child care. Older generations, despite the stereotype of the wealthy boomer, are divided by the same patterns of extreme inequality we see for Canadians overall. Many face financial uncertainty or hardship because of Canada's inadequate pension system, and our failure to invest in public home- and community-based health-care programs.

What would your government do to increase economic security for all generations?

Bruce Campbell, Executive Director, CCPA

I recently received an email from a friend, which read as follows: "I am a wealthy person with a spouse who makes less money than I do and we have two kids younger than 18. In 2014, I received a $2,000 tax reduction; now I collect $120 per month (taxed in my spouse's hands), all this paid for by single/widowed seniors, single parents, students, young families with no kids, etc. There are hundreds of thousands of families like mine. What do I do with my tax savings? I buy RESPs (Registered Education Savings Plan) and invest in my TFSA (Tax Free Savings Account), thereby costing the public purse even more money. Rather than renovate my kitchen now, I will wait a few years to get a home reno tax credit, thereby resulting in postponed work for contractors now; and my renos will be partially paid by single/widowed seniors, single parents, students, young family with no kids, etc."

So my question is this: what will your party do to redress these inequities in the tax system that disproportionately benefit the wealthy?

Photo: Guillaume Paumier/flickr

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