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Update: On August 2, Cheri DiNovo announced she would be withdrawing from the federal NDP leadership race due to health reasons.
In part two of this two-part interview with NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo, first declared candidate in the NDP leadership race, Cory Collins and DiNovo discuss a real alternative to neoliberalism, Canada’s Big Banks, social assistance and more.
True to form, DiNovo holds nothing back. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Is there anything more the NDP, as an organization, could be doing to be more internally democratic?
Absolutely. When we vote on policies at conventions, we should uphold those policies.
For example, the Leap Manifesto: the rank and file voted on discussing that in our ridings. But I have yet to see even my own riding association set up a timeline for doing that.
And rather than focus on “Oh my god, let’s just raise some more money” — which, by the way, I think is insulting at this point. I mean, I get numerous calls for money, as do most people I know. Who in their right mind feels the urgency to donate to the federal party right now? For what? On the basis of what?
Let’s have these discussions right now. Let’s re-invent ourselves as a party that we were designed to be. Let’s develop a document like the Regina Manifesto that says who we are as a party.
It’s a “rah, rah” Trudeaumania 2.0 world out there because we fed into that, we made that possible in the NDP. That’s something we have to shoulder. We brought on Trudeaumania 2.0 because we played into the most cynical kind of electioneering.
Let’s present a real alternative to neoliberalism, to casino capitalism and to the climate crisis. That, truly, would be something to rejoice in.
There’s a perception, right or not, that the way unions communicate can be kind of insular — that they are out of touch or not speaking about the everyday work issues of people in the non-union workforce.
Is there substance behind that image problem and is there anything they should be doing differently?
Well, first of all, thank God they still exist, even though the numbers in unionized labour are falling. Again, I think what you often have in unions is a kind disconnect between the rank and file and the leadership. And I think good union leaders are addressing that.
There’s work to be done there. That’s the work of organizing. But where labour gets involved in campaigns that are not directly for their memberships’ benefit, but are for workers’ benefits generally, that gives them credibility.
Any way in which the unions can start to address those who are not unionized, that’s what people need to see. And of course we need to always be combating the mainstream media hatred of unions, which is vociferous and everywhere. And the party needs to be saying “we are the labour party of Canada, we are the party that stands for a unionized, organized workforce.” We haven’t really been doing that effectively.
Given the provincial responsibility for social assistance, what role can or should the federal government have to make those rates, as you mentioned, “something you can live on?”
What the federal government can do is basically make sure that we get more money. What we can do is make sure that we get more money, involving looking at our tax systems, both what we demand of people living in our jurisdictions and also how we collect it. So, really, the answer is more money.
I think it’s unconscionable. I mean, remember, I lived in a time when you could live on welfare. It’s shocking to say now, isn’t it? I was a street kid in my teens and I lived on welfare and I could rent a basement apartment and put myself through school on social assistance. Imagine that.
People act as if the fact that we have gruelling poverty now and children living without enough to eat and people with disabilities living under the poverty line is something we’ve always had. No! We have not always had that. Disability rates and social assistance rates should be something you can live on. End of story.
Do the issues of housing and poverty not get enough attention from the NDP?
Again, this has been the problem in the way we do business in the NDP. The way we do business in the NDP is we look at polling. And we take what polling tells us as gospel and organize our priorities around that.
Polling tells you what mainstream media and other people have worked to effect. So, why has the NDP not focused more on poverty? Because on most of the polling sites, when you ask people their major concerns, most people say, “my major concern is the economy.” What they really mean is, “my major worry is my own job, getting by, paying my mortgage or rent.”
So the fact that somebody down the street is panhandling, that’s not their major concern, not the people who answer the pollsters at least. All of our backroom, as is the backroom of all the major parties, is totally focused on how we can pander to our perception or a pollster’s perception of what a public may or may not think, rather than the principles upon which our party was founded. And that’s taken us down the road we’re on now. It will continue to take us into oblivion if we don’t turn it around.
So that’s why we haven’t focused on poverty, because it doesn’t “poll well.”
It doesn’t “poll well.” Part of me finds that so distasteful, it’s hard to even say the words. But I know that’s the reason why.
You’ve highlighted the low rate of effective taxation on banks. Is there anything more the party should really be focusing on when it comes to bank regulation, to making the banks pay?
Well, absolutely! We bailed out our banks to the tune of billions of dollars! People don’t know that. We focused on the bailout south of the border, not on our own. [The banks] should be repaying that. They should be paying an appropriate rate of corporate tax.
Again, these are the issues we should be speaking about. And we should be speaking out about them in terms of the necessities of our population.
Every child deserves an education. Every child deserves health care. Every child needs dental care, needs pharmacare. Every child needs to be born into a home! They need to have a place to live that’s stable, that’s secure, that’s affordable. And that means their parents need affordable housing.
Every person who can work needs a decent job. And it needs to be paid a living wage. These are principled moral and ethical imperatives. This is what it means to be Canadian! This is what we need to take on.
Why do we not have enough money to pay for all of that? Well, let’s look at our taxation rate and who’s paying and who’s not paying. And what we’ll see then is this huge shift of the tax base to the middle class and a huge shift away from having the wealthy, whether corporate or individual, pay. We need to shift that tax burden back.
On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Canada has frequently cast nearly lone negative votes with the U.S. and Israel at the UN. What should the party’s message be on that conflict?
Here there’s a lot of discussion. The two-state solution has been part of our party’s platform. It’s the right one.
What I have said is that the walls should come down and the occupation should end. I think that’s a pretty obvious comment on the Israeli situation, one that we can agree on in the party. And certainly a two-state solution needs to happen.
Cory Collins is a writer and visual artist living in St. John’s. He can be contacted via Twitter @coryGcollins or corycollins.ca.
Photo courtesy of Cheri DiNovo