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Federal By-Election 2013: Linda McQuaig

Meet the NDP candidate for Toronto Centre

For more on NDP candidate Linda McQuaig, here’s a transcript of key portions of our interview with her.

On Income Inequality

The focus of [my] book is on income inequality and the effect on people, and on the social fabric…and the terribly destructive impact that it has on people’s lives. If you looked at the cover of [Freeland's] book, it looks critical of income inequality, but it’s not. She talks about rising inequality as part of the creative destruction of capitalism and we’ll all end up better off. I don’t think that all this inequality is inevitable at all. I point out it’s the direct result of the policies that we’ve been putting in place—it’s called Thatcherism: tax cuts for the rich, social spending cuts, privatization, deregulation, a tax on labour, you put those policies in place and presto, you get income inequality. I point out that other countries in Scandinavia and Northern Europe haven’t gone that route and don’t have the resulting inequality.

There’s a whole different approach about how we’ve reached this inequality; she sees it as sort of an inevitable result of the global economy and there’s nothing we can do. I see it as the result of policies put in place by Liberal and Conservative governments in Canada. One of the reasons she wouldn’t subscribe to my theory is she wouldn’t want the Liberals to take their share of responsibility for bringing this about.

With a lot of affluent people these messages resonate because they recognize that things have gone too far. I’m not arguing for total equality; there’s always going to be inequality and that’s not a bad thing because that can help people be motivated to work hard, but my point is it’s gotten way too extreme. It used to be that the top CEO in Canada would make 25 times the average worker, now it’s 250 times the average worker. It’s not necessary—go back before the 80s, our managerial class was highly motivated, very professional, and extremely hardworking and productive—the system worked pretty well and it wasn’t like people weren’t rewarded for hard work and effort and entrepreneurial contribution.

I’m just saying that what’s happened in recent years has gone to excess and I think that most people do see that. So much of it has been executive stock options getting out of control, and financial wizardry that is more about speculation than about investment, and the whole deregulation of the financial markets. A lot of this stuff is not productive to the overall well-being of the economy, and I really do think that many affluent people recognize that. To just add to that, many affluent people are concerned that when you get inequality to extremes you end up with social dysfunction. The rich end up in gated communities, and I think most Canadians, rich and poor, don’t want to see us go down that route.

On Working Abroad

I have deep roots in the Toronto community…I have lived and worked here all my life. [Freeland] has had a different career. I have no problem with that but she has been outside the country for the past 10 years, most of the past 20 years, and the focus of her work has been on America. My point is that it’s great to have international experience—I have international experience, I’ve travelled for my books and newspaper writing, but my focus is on Canada. And I do think that matters for representing…the people of Toronto Centre. Her resume involves being outside the country, and having a focus outside the country.

On the need for a National Housing Program

We need a national housing program, and we actually know the basic structure of how this can operate because we had a national housing program from 1973 to 1995 and it really worked well. It’s responsible for the creation of housing for something like 1.5 million Canadians. A lot of housing in downtown Toronto, all the coop housing in downtown Toronto, and the whole St. Lawrence community is basically co-op housing that was built under that program.

I’m saying we actually know how to do this, it’s a highly effective program, it was killed by the Liberal government in the 1995 austerity budget of Paul Martin. We had one, it really worked well, the Liberals killed it, and that to a large extent is responsible for the explosion in homelessness and has contributed to the deepening of poverty. This is one where we actually know the basic parameters of what could and should be done. The NDP has a bill for a strategy for a national housing program.

On Corporate Tax Cuts and Job Creation Strategy

The Liberals and Conservatives, in the last 20 or so years, their whole job creation strategy has been tax cuts for big business. Since 2000 they have cut the corporate tax rate in half and have always justified it as job creation. The truth is that it hasn’t resulted in job creation, and in fact proof of this is the fact that corporations are sitting on a big pile of money and not investing it. [Former Bank of Canada Governor] Mark Carney spoke to a business group about a year ago, and criticized them for not investing, saying we have “500 billion dollars in dead money.”

The NDP argue that corporate tax rates ares so low now that they could be raised somewhat, because we need the revenue and a fair tax system. There may be a role for corporate tax credits related directly to job creation. The NDP has already proposed this on the youth employment front—we also argue for more public investment. If you rebuild the national housing program, we also need massive investment in public transit. We have a 170-billion-dollar infrastructure deficit. If we want to have a strong future and an economically vibrant future, we need to make those investments. With a combination of private sector linking tax relief directly to job creation, and in the public area more public investment, I think you could get an awful lot more job creation.

On Climate Change

People are getting worried, with extreme weather around the world. When you talk about that, everybody says, “Yeah.” Nobody says, “Oh, let’s just focus on jobs.” [The Conservatives] have a big oil agenda; they are into supporting big oil and that’s it. We have such a lack of leadership on this issue from the government.


See also:

In her own words: Chrystia Freeland

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