Federal NDP leader Jack Layton takes on inequality

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      NDP Leader Jack Layton traces rising levels of inequality in Canada to the 1995 federal Liberal budget. That’s when then–finance minister Paul Martin abolished national standards for welfare and sharply reduced transfer payments to the provinces.

      During an October 12 interview at the Georgia Straight office, Layton said that the Liberals realized in the 1990s that they could cut programs, take surpluses out of the employment-insurance fund—“about $54 billion worth”—and give huge corporate tax cuts to large, successful companies. “The result was that income inequality began to grow,” Layton claimed.

      As he prepares to lead his party into his fourth federal election, Layton declared that the NDP has a “matrix of initiatives” to address the problem. He cited Vancouver East NDP MP Libby Davies’s private member’s bill calling for a national housing strategy. Then Layton mentioned a private member’s bill by his wife Olivia Chow, NDP MP for Trinity-Spadina, for a national childcare program. The NDP has another goal to increase the child tax benefit to $5,000 per child per year for the country’s lowest-income residents.

      According to Layton, this will mean that “kids aren’t being raised in a situation where the food from the family has to be from a food bank”. As well, he brought up the NDP’s desire for legislation to strengthen the federal government’s role in postsecondary education.

      At that point, Chow piped up that the average level of student debt in Canada is $38,000. This elicited a comment from Layton that this is “absolutely outrageous”.

      “Of course,” he added, “it means a lot of people then don’t go to school in the first place, don’t go out and get that extra education, and thus, that exacerbates the inequality situation that we’re facing.”

      The NDP’s plan is to require the federal government to have a role in postsecondary education, just as the Canada Health Act ensures that Ottawa plays a role in shaping the delivery of health care. “There is nothing like that for postsecondary education,” Layton said. “We believe that is the first step.”

      Then the question becomes: what form will this assistance take? “We think you’ve got to move away from these loan programs and put money into grants,” the NDP leader said. “Because when you look at how much money a student pays back—taking into [account] the interest and the number of years they’re paying it back—they’re paying more in interest for the original up-front money. That’s ridiculous. So, you know, it’s a program that’s producing revenue from students rather than a program making it possible for students to get an affordable education.”

      One of the NDP’s most ambitious plans to tackle inequality is to double payments under the Canada Pension Plan. This will occur over a “period of time”, according to Layton. He pointed out that more than 250,000 seniors in Canada live in poverty.

      “They raised us all,” Layton said. “They fed us all. They built our communities. They shouldn’t be living below the poverty line and going to food banks when they’re in their 70s or 80s.”

      He acknowledged that this would require gradual increases in premiums for workers and for employers, who must match the contributions. He joked that these increases would be fairly modest compared to the management fees that some people pay for their registered retirement savings plans.

      “It would be better putting it in a common pot where the administrative costs are much less—and it’s also less vulnerable to the cut-and-thrust of the gambling game that’s known as the stock market.”

      When asked how he would pay for all of these measures, Layton replied that nobody is expecting an overnight miracle, and his party will pursue a step-by-step approach.

      Then it was Chow’s turn to speak about some of the government expenditures that she disapproves of, including $16 billion on fighter jets, $9 billion on new prisons, $1 billion to host the G20 summit, and $130 million on government advertising. “There’s a lot of money out there,” she suggested.

      What do you think of NDP Leader Jack Layton’s plan to double payments under the Canada Pension Plan?

      Ellen Woodsworth
      Coalition of Progressive Electors city councillor and former seniors’ organizer

      “I think that the government needs to significantly increase its payments, in order to meet the needs of the increasing number of seniors who live below the minimal threshold amount of $17,000 a year. We are facing a crisis of an aging population without the ability to support themselves.”

      Jim Sinclair
      President, B.C. Federation of Labour

      “We 100-percent support this. We’ve met at least four or five times with the provincial government to talk about this. It’s a national campaign. It’s got the support of a number of provinces across the country.”¦I think this [provincial] government is leaning toward supporting it too, because it just makes perfect sense. People are falling off from their pensions.”

      Brian Bonney
      Director of provincial affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent Business

      “CFIB has taken a position opposed to an increase in payroll taxes at this time. The main reason is that many small businesses are just now starting to come out of the recession.”¦They’re using their homes and their retirement savings to hang on to their businesses and to keep people employed.”

      Elizabeth May
      Green Party of Canada leader

      “I’m not sure why Jack would propose that. I think that’s a very poor idea. It would constitute an additional burden for each employer for carrying employees. If I understand correctly, what he’s put forward would actually have a negative impact on employment overall because that would create an additional burden for small business and it would reduce the paycheque of every employee.”

      Sharon Gregson
      Vancouver Board of Education trustee

      “I can see the pros and the cons to doing this, but when I think about our life span getting longer and yet our infant mortality [rate] not improving, I would think about expanding or strengthening”¦the area of a national childcare system and start investing in our citizens in their youngest years before I would strengthen a program for seniors.”




      Canada's Twin#1

      Oct 14, 2010 at 5:45am

      That its. Mr. Layton let remind you. It was you who put Harper in and as for the federal government having a role in the Canada Health Act...give me a break. You made your point in the states when you promoted our way out of the recession-drug industries. For over two years people have been dropping dead like flies in my community- toxity- chemical reaction of drugs and clinical trial shit un-regulated in cancer and a h...of alot more. Maybe you better go back to the states and have a talk with Obama

      Jim Edwards

      Oct 14, 2010 at 5:54am

      Brian Bonney
      Director of provincial affairs, Canadian Federation of Independent

      “CFIB has taken a position opposed to an increase in payroll taxes at this time. The main reason is that many small businesses are just now starting to come out of the recession."

      It seems a survey of small businesses owners weathered the recession just fine Brian:

      "A Royal Bank of Canada poll of entrepreneurs had 56 per cent saying the recession had either no impact or a positive effect on their business operations.

      Read more:

      Why the lies Brian?


      Oct 14, 2010 at 10:48am

      Is anyone surprised that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May takes the same position on expanded public pensions as the CFIB? So much for the theory that there's anything progressive, ... or even mildly liberal, ... about the Green Party's stance on social and economic issues.

      Rod Smelser

      disgruntled former student

      Oct 14, 2010 at 12:34pm

      So Layton fully acknowledges the debt crisis facing postsecondary students these days but his master plan is to double CPP payments? Does that mean he expects citizens to double their payments into CPP as well? Doesn't that just set young people back even more? Every dollar put into CPP is one less dollar students could be using to pay off their student loans.

      CPP is a total crock of shit anyway for anyone who isn't currently near retirement age. The way CPP works is it "borrows" money from future generations to pay money out to those who are currently seniors. Who are these future generations? Oh, hello, we're right here, buried under a mountain of student loan and credit card debt. CPP is a great idea in theory but then the boomers started to retire. What we're going to see is an enormous strain on this system as there are not enough young people paying into CPP to support the mass amount of pensioners appearing on the scene. There is no way anyone under the age of 30 will see a bloody dime of CPP when they reach retirement age ..... not that we'll ever be able to retire since we'll still be paying off our student loans.

      I don't mean to hate on seniors. I just hate the cycle of debt in which it seems we're all trapped.

      Ray I

      Oct 14, 2010 at 1:41pm

      Is anyone surprised that the NDP wants more "Federal Programs"? Those are code words for Nationally mandated tax increases that the government most removed from the real lives of taxpayers gets to squander.

      When will the NDP get with the program (not the national program) that Canadian taxpayers are currently barely able to pay for the entitlement programs we have now and can ill afford a bunch of multi-billion dollar new ones.

      These programs always sound good until you ask yourself how much more tax can you afford. Will you live in a cheaper home? Eat cheaper food? Buy fewer clothing or drive a cheaper car? If you said YES to all of those questions then you are Jack's kind of voter.

      As for me I am financially stressed enough, thanks!


      Oct 14, 2010 at 1:59pm

      It’s issues like this that will keep the NDP sidelined as ideologues for eternity. They only ever consider how government is to spend money and never how it is to be earned, as if it just magically shows up somehow in their bank account.

      Not to mention it pretty much sends the signal that nobody ever needs to plan for retirement as the government will always be there to provide all for you ”¦ spend at will while you’re young.

      Always being on the wrong side of common sense is what keeps the NDP at 15% in the polls.


      Oct 14, 2010 at 2:13pm

      "Disgruntled Former Student" claims there is an "enormous strain on this system as there are not enough young people paying into CPP to support the mass amount of pensioners appearing on the scene. There is no way anyone under the age of 30 will see a bloody dime of CPP when they reach retirement age."

      As much as this has become a cliche, It's just not true. The CPP program has been tweaked several times in the last decade so that it will continue to pay out at the same rate for those who retire over the next decades (http://bit.ly/9lTmJp). The problem is not that the CPP is not sustainable - it is. The problem is that the actual amount of money people get from the CPP (and OAS) is hardly enough to live on - really not enough in expensive places like the Lower Mainland.

      That's why Layton and the NDP - and the unions, and even the CD Howe Institute (http://bit.ly/aWAR8C) - are arguing for some sort of expansion of CPP or similar publicly-backstopped program. The idea is to protect those who work hard but don't have enough to put money into a private pension plan. (Like those stuck paying back big student loans).

      Wayne Smith

      Oct 14, 2010 at 10:22pm

      Nice to see that someone understands that inequality is a root problem in Canada. Most of us pay too much tax because some are not paying their fair share. Inequality cripples our economy because so many are not able to participate fully as consumers or producers. We need a Basic Income for everyone.

      Scott Clark

      Oct 19, 2010 at 10:13pm

      Finally an article that squarely points the finger where it should be. Every Canadian should do some research on the Canadian health and Social transfer of 1996. I can assure, very few people, including elected officials even know what it means or it's impact on tearing this country apart, program by program.

      To all you simple armchair Liberals and Conservatives, that repeatedly vote those parties in, you NEED TO LEARN THE IMPACT OF THE CHST. This devolution process, simply shifted the debt and deficit to the provinces and now the cities. In addition we have seen the emergence of more for profit and non profit agencies take on these responsibilities.

      We have seen the devolution process violate the 5 principles of the Canadian Health Act, we no longer have universal programs (very few), as each province decides whether or not to fund programs like housing, education or social assistance. What makes Canada, Canada? That was use to be easy to answer, not so today.
      It is no coincidence that we have seen Canada create many more millionaires since 1996 and at the same time seen poverty increase. No amount of right wing propaganda can hide that fact.

      Sadly they get away with their BS, as the owners of media are also the vetters of what we get as "news", and benefit from these two "different" parties offer.

      Time for Canadians to wake up, get informed, share and get active.

      I personally challenge you Liberals or Conservatives to seriously question the CHST, be objective, show us how it has helped build Canada as a nation. Ask your local, provincial or federal elected official what they think about it. I would bet they have no clue to what the CHST is as they are simply TALKING HEADS for their party.