NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton answers your questions on babble

Niki Ashton speaks to students and supporters at McGill University. Photo: davehuehn/flickr

At rabble.ca we're excited to bring you a series of Q&As with NDP leadership candidates, hosted by our discussion forum, babble.

Here's how it works: our babble moderator, Meg Borthwick, solicits questions from our readers. The best of those questions are sent to the candidates' teams. On the day of the Q&A we open a thread to host the event, where questions are posted one at a time, and the candidate posts their answer to each of them.

On September 26, we hosted our first Q&A with leadership candidate Niki Ashton. Here we bring you her full babble interview, featuring the top questions submitted by you, our readers. Watch for upcoming opportunities to contribute to Q&As with NDP leadership candidates on babble.

cco: Do you feel that the NDP and the left in general have been trapped by the "jobs" discourse in campaigning? No politician wants to campaign against jobs, but many of these jobs (like coal and asbestos mining) are awful, dangerous to the people who work at them, and dangerous to the environment as a whole -- or, in the case of the Ontario workers who make arms for sale to Saudi Arabia, dangerous to human rights overseas. Furthermore, "it'll kill jobs" is a right-wing cudgel that has been used against essentially every progressive platform plank in history. By talking about jobs instead of more generally about prosperity, aren't we fighting on the right's terrain?

Niki Ashton: Our campaign has made it clear that we need to be tackling the two major challenges of our time, growing inequality and the threat of climate change. A key of part of the struggle against inequality is the need to fight for good jobs. We have said that good jobs mean sustainable jobs -- our environmental justice platform prioritizes the creation of good jobs as part of the investment in renewables and through the work of a Crown corporation. We have also talked about the need to oppose pipelines and instead look at creating work associated to developing a carbon-free economy. We have also tied the fight for good jobs with the fight to end precarious work, which is increasingly the norm for many young people and a growing number of Canadians. In terms of the work related to the deal with Saudi Arabia -- I have said clearly that we oppose this deal and we should instead be looking at supporting the manufacturing sector and creating much needed manufacturing jobs in a range of areas that don't hinge on abusing peoples' fundamental human rights.

I agree that we should be talking about creating and protecting work that is gainful and contributes to building stronger and healthier communities. That discussion involves talking about prosperity and real wealth redistribution.

epaulo13: Why did you not outrightly reject NATO in your Canadian Dimension questionnaire?

Our campaign has made it clear that the NDP and Canada must be a voice for peace in the world. I have been outspoken on the need for justice and peace in Palestine and the Middle East. I have called on the need for leadership when it comes to supporting those who are being oppressed such as the Rohingya Muslims, Tamils and Kurds. I have opposed Trudeau's increased military budget and talked about the need to redirect this money towards saving lives rather than putting more lives at stake.

If we're going to talk about Canada being a voice for peace in the world this means reviewing our role in NATO given NATO's mandate. I believe NATO is an anachronistic organization that is acting in such a way to increase instability as in the case of Eastern Europe, and to make the world a more dangerous place.

Ken Burch: Obviously, you've been repeatedly re-elected from a constituency in northern Manitoba where voters always put practical matters, such as getting through the winter alive, ahead of theoretical and ideological discourse, so what have you found most effective in connecting with the people who keep voting for you?

I'm honoured to represent the part of the country I'm from and call home. It's a place of immense challenge as well as tremendous resilience and resistance. I have always committed to being a voice for our North and fighting alongside Indigenous and Northern people in the face of injustice. And in the last election which was hard fought, it was thanks to many Indigenous people and young people who felt that we were on their side that we won.

People at home know that the struggles we face on a daily basis like inadequate housing, education underfunding, the loss of value added jobs and climate change connect to the bigger picture and the role of the federal government. That's why it's important for me to make those connections, and be a voice for the issues we face at the national level.

lagatta4: How do you plan to push for improving universal health coverage by closing the gaping holes: dental care, pharmacare (not covered in all provinces) and mental health care, covered in theory but woefully inadequate?

I believe that if we are going to tackle growing inequality we must expand the social safety net including in terms of health care. Tommy Douglas talked about how medicare was only the first step in talking about health care. It's time we go further. Our campaign was clear from the beginning about the need to commit to pharmacare, universal dental care and the need for federal leadership on mental health. Our plan is outlined in detail here.

This takes political will and I am committed to pushing this vision forward. It is also clear to me that many at the grassroots, including many people in the labour movement, in health care and many young people are fighting for such priorities as well. We must work together to make this vision a reality.

I believe we must also have a plan that ensures that we have the revenue necessary. That's why I'm proud of the platform we have put forward on tax fairness that would lead to raising $40 billion dollars in revenue. Revenue that could be spent on implementing key priorities including expanding our vision of healthcare.

alan smithee: Are you in favour of a national affordable/social housing act? 

Yes! Absolutely. I believe that housing is a right and it ought to be enshrined in an Act. I also believe that we can and must invest in housing in such a way that we are also tackling climate change.

That's why our campaign proposed to build affordable housing that is comfortable, safe and green, by targeting new investments in cooperative, social and co-housing to communities in core housing need, especially northern, Indigenous and dense urban communities. By building and retrofitting green homes in communities across the country, we can tackle our housing crisis, create jobs and cut emissions at the same time. An NDP government under my leadership would invest $10 billion annually to build 40,000 units of green public housing across the country, creating more than 150,000 homes in its first mandate.

R.E. Wood: Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions, Niki. Many Albertans (particularly in southern Alberta) continue to suffer serious economic hardship due to the collapse of the oil industry. Much more needs to be done on a federal level in order to stimulate the growth of other industries -- green energy, technology, arts and entertainment industries, etc... The Notley NDP government has done some work in this area, but is hampered by huge budgetary problems, and has not received much help from the federal Liberal government. Do you consider Alberta's needs to be of significant concern for your vision of the NDP? Would you target investment to help grow and diversify the Alberta economy in new directions? 

As someone who has family and friends in Alberta and who has spent a fair bit of time working with political activists and New Democrats over the years, I have a sense of how difficult things have become and how critical federal leadership is. I want to acknowledge the immense work of the Notley government throughout such a difficult time. As you point out what's needed is federal leadership and action.

As leader and as prime minister I would target investment to help grow and diversify the Alberta economy in new directions. 

It is clear that a key area of diversification is through investments in renewable energy and the green economy. Our vision is to create a Crown corporation called Green Canada and a public investment bank that will work together to implement the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a diversified green economy. The bank will fund projects, while Green Canada will bring many to life. We must invest in green technology, in housing, in retooling the manufacturing sector, in public transit and more.

I also believe that this work must be guided by people on the ground and across the country through Green Canada Advisory Boards (GCAB). These boards will bring workers, Indigenous leaders, industry and climate change experts to the table together, much like labour groups like the AFL have proposed regarding other energy transitions -- like coal-fired power plants. 

These boards will bring workers, Indigenous leaders, industry and climate change experts to the table together. These advisory boards will be managed by the Green Canada corporation, with economic development investments funded through the public investment bank. By having all stakeholders working with the federal government and in partnership with provinces, territories, First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities we can implement good, just policy that supports workers and communities during industry transitions. It is key that Albertans play a guiding role in deciding the way forward when it comes to diversifying the economy.

Michael Moriarty: In his book Capital in the Twenty-First Century the economist Thomas Piketty concludes that economic inequality cannot be reversed without a progressive wealth tax. Would you consider creating a federal wealth tax? 

Yes! I am proud of our platform for tax fairness. It's been called the most progressive in a generation. It's clear to me that working-class and middle-class Canadians are paying their fair share but it's millionaires and billionaires who are avoiding paying their fair share legally or otherwise. This needs to change. Our full platform can be found here.

Among various points we have proposed a tax on wealth as well as closing other loopholes that benefit the wealthy at the expense of everyone else.

Our platform includes: 

Introduce a progressive wealth tax on millionaires and billionaires. This measure would put a tax of 1 per cent on assets of those with a net worth of $1 million, progressively rising to 1.5 per cent for those with a net worth of $10 million or more. The value of principal residences will be exempt to protect the working and middle class. This kind of tax has proven successful in France, Spain and Norway. Revenue generated: $3 billion.

Introduce an estate tax. Inheritances over $4 million will be taxed at 45 per cent. When multi-millionaires can pass on their entire fortunes, inequality becomes entrenched. Canada is the only country in the G7 that does not have an estate tax. Revenue generated: $2 billion.

Cap TFSA and RRSP contributions. TFSA contributions will be capped at $2,500 annually (down from $5,000) and $50,000 over lifetime (those who exceed it when implemented will be allowed to keep the higher amount). RRSP contributions will be capped at $20,000 annually. These Harper-era tax breaks were portrayed as an incentive to save, but the reality is that these tax breaks only benefit who can afford maximum contributions. Revenue generated: $1 billion.

Introducing a "Robin Hood Tax" on Bay Street. Financial transactions are currently exempt from sales tax. It's time to introduce a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) of 0.5 per cent on purchases of stocks. This will reduce speculation, increase stability in financial markets and incentivize productive investment. Revenue generated: $3.5 billion.

pietro_bcc: In your campaign launch speech you stated "You privatize it? We nationalize it." Which specific industries or infrastructure do you plan to nationalize if elected prime minister (apart from the port of Churchill, Manitoba which you've advocated for)? Would the establishment of a publicly owned telecommunications provider for phone and internet service be under consideration?

I believe that if we're going to challenge the neoliberal status quo we must not only oppose privatization but also propose public ownership. 

Our campaign has proposed public ownership in three key sectors. 

The banking sector through the creation of a postal bank. 

The health sector through the creation of a Crown corporation, a Canadian Drug Agency to get a better deal on life-saving medication from Big Pharma companies. This agency would be responsible for bulk buying and negotiating better prices for Canadians. 

The energy sector through the creation of a crown corporation that would direct federal funding in terms of the green transition. Our vision is to create a Crown corporation called Green Canada and a public investment bank that will work together to implement the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a diversified green economy. The bank will fund projects, while Green Canada will bring many to life. We must invest in green technology, in housing, in retooling the manufacturing sector, in public transit and more.

I have also made it clear that what Trudeau privatizes in his tenure, we must renationalize. Throughout the campaign I have talked about the infrastructure bank and how if Trudeau moves forward in privatizing our transportation assets we must take them back.

In terms of a publicly owned telecommunications provider for phone and internet service I know how valuable such a service was in our province. And I'm proud to have joined many in our province in the fight to keep our telephone provider public. I believe we ought to look at public ownership in this area once again. Internet service is now key in terms of communication and Canada is woefully inadequate in its provision of the service. While our campaign has not made a commitment on this front I believe it is an area we ought to look into as we move forward.

Photo: davehuehn/flickr

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