Q: So I wanted to start with something that came up at the last debate, this issue of user fees. Obviously I read the statement that you sent me about clarifying your position, but just to clarify one last point on that: Would you, as prime minister, enforce the Canada Health Act, to stop a province from bringing in user fees?
A: I want to work with the provinces to make sure health care is adequately funded. Ultimately, I’ll enforce the Canada Health Act, but I prefer to work cooperatively with the provinces because, of course, the implementation is in a provincial jurisdiction.
Q: Is there any question in your mind that user fees would constitute a breach of the act?
A: Yes, I think it would affect accessibility.
Q: Moving to a more recent event, Mr. Lewenza endorsed you this week. He, last fall, spoke very supportively and encouragingly of a merger with the Liberal party. Have you and him talked about that issue? Have you made it clear, because I know you don’t support the idea of a merger, have you made that clear to him?
A: I think we share the same goal in terms of wanting to defeat Conservatives. I’m not in favour of a merger. We’ve not talked about it. And I’m absolutely thrilled to have the support of the CAW and Ken Lewenza.
Q: On taxes, what do you make of the plans presented by Brian Topp and now Nathan Cullen, in terms of adding a new layer to income taxes and in terms of Mr. Topp, capital gains and stock options?
A: Taxation is a pretty important part of government and certainly governments are always reviewing how they generate revenue. We want to make sure that individuals and other parties are paying their fair share. But I’ve not introduced plans to increase taxes and I won’t during the leadership campaign.
Q: Do you disagree then with what they’ve put out there?
A: I just haven’t included that as part of my strategy. What I have focused on in my campaign is the issue of job creation and better economy development. I think our government has failed when it comes to defending good, quality jobs in Canada. And my focus is on developing natural resources in a way that’s sustainable, but focuses on value-added jobs. And when you have good job creation, when people can earn a decent standard of living, that of course helps our tax base because people are paying taxes when they’re employed in good jobs.
Q: Do you think the tax system that needs to be dealt with?
A: Well, governments are always reviewing taxation. It’s the revenue that government has to implement the policies and programs that they’re responsible for, but I’ve not introduced any plan to change the taxation system, with the exception of I am in favour of a financial transaction tax, which obviously Canada cannot bring in alone, but I think Canada should stop being a barrier internationally to a financial transaction tax. I’m also a strong advocate of closing tax loopholes, especially tax havens abroad and it’s been difficult to get the finance committee to complete a study that was begun in the last parliament to examine the whole issue of tax havens. I think that’s something where most Canadians would agree that people should pay their fair share and if they’re using tax havens as a way to avoid paying their fair share, I think most Canadians would agree that’s not fair.
Q: In an editorial board meeting with the Star, Thomas Mulcair talked about this idea of renewing the party, that it needed to go through renewal. I believe he said that the NDP was one of the only social democratic parties that hadn’t gone through that renewal. How does that idea strike you? Does renewal or going through a renewal sound like something that you think the NDP needs to go through?
A: I lived through the transition to Jack Layton’s leadership and I thought Jack brought tremendous renewal to our party. I’ve seen people get involved in our party that have never been involved before. A lot of young people were drawn to the party and the proof is that four-and-a-half million people voted for us in the last federal election, which was an all-time high. If I look at my campaign, I’d say that a vast majority of my campaign workers are under the age of 30 and there are very young people getting involved. To me that does represent renewal. I’m really excited about the energy and the excitement that we’re finding in our party right now, so, I’m sorry, I didn’t read the interview and I don’t know what generated that comment, but I feel that there is tremendous energy in our party and I think the proof to that is that we just increased our membership by 50%.
Q: I guess, and I wouldn’t want to speak for Mr. Mulcair, but I suspect part of it goes to this idea of whether the party needs to move to the centre or attract centrist voters. This sort of larger discussion that seems to have gone on during the campaign about whether the party needs to stay true to its principles or become something else or following various international models, the British Labour party always comes up. Where do you find yourself on that discussion? Do you side with the “let’s stay true to our roots” or do you think the party needs to move to the centre?
A: I think that people in Quebec elected 58 New Democrats because of our principles. We’re a party that actually stands for something, that we have principles, it’s not just about getting power, it’s building support to be able to live up to the principles that we stand for. I think abandoning what you stand for for power is not a good approach.
Q: In terms of Quebec, how important do you think it is that the leader be fluently bilingual?
A: Well, it’s not enough to be fluently bilingual. You have to be fluently bilingual, but you also have to understand Quebec, understand the priorities of Quebec and be willing to act on issues that are priorities for Quebec. But even that’s not enough. You have to also understand that we are a diverse federation and so we also have to be able to build in Ontario. We have to be able to build in the West. We have to be able to build in the North, with new Canadians, with First Nations, it’s a very diverse country.
Q: What do you think is the key to winning in the West? It has come up in this campaign, this idea of what’s it going to take to break through in, for instance, Saskatchewan? Obviously the electoral math doesn’t seem to work very well in your favour out there, but what do you think it’s going to take in those western provinces?
A: I think that westerners often feel that the East makes decisions that then get imposed on them. I think probably because of the farming roots in the West, people are hard-working, they’re independent, they’re self-sufficient, but they’re also basically fair-minded. That’s my sense of westerners. I think that to build in the West, we need to show respect to westerners, to reach out, to really hear their concerns, their issues and just work to build trust on issues that westerners care about. I just think that too often decisions get made in Ottawa and they get imposed on people and it just gets people’s backs up. I think people want to be respected and they want their opinions and their concerns respected. Like anything, it takes hard work and building a sense of trust, building that relationship to be able to work on people’s behalf.
Q: What does this party have to do to beat Stephen Harper, practically speaking, in the next election?
A: We have to show, first of all, that we have a real alternative to the Conservatives. That the Conservatives continually act in ways that undermine the creation of good Canadian jobs. They’ve stood back while so many of our resources have been sold out to foreign companies. They haven’t respected our communities. So we have to present a strong alternative. We also have to organize. There’s nothing that replaces the hard work of building our riding associations, building our community support, having good candidates that are out knocking on doors early. And the Conservatives are very good fundraisers. We have to be as good in raising funds in order to be able to mount the kind of campaign that it takes to win across such a vast country. I think our road ahead is pretty clear. We have to present an alternative. We have to build our base. And we have to have the resources to be able to win.
Q: Do you take any lessons from how the Conservatives have won?
A: Well, I take a cautionary tale. I see how they have been divisive for partisan purposes. I think that’s reckless leadership because we are a federation and a federation means that people have to work together. You have to respect differences, but you have to work together. And using, exploiting differences for partisan purposes, I don’t think represents good leadership. I also am concerned that the Conservatives have really stretched the limits of campaign, in terms of fundraising we saw them cross the line and now there are serious concerns about these robocalls. We don’t know, we’re not at the bottom of that yet, but there are real concerns about it. So there are definitely things that the Conservatives have done that we will not do.
Q: If you become leader on March 25, what do you do immediately afterwards to counteract what one would have to assume will be a fairly aggressive campaign against you? Having seen what happened to the last two opposition leaders, what do you do to make sure that that doesn’t happen to you?
A: Well, we would hope it wouldn’t happen. I take a page from Jack Layton’s book, where he tried to bring civility to the House of Commons. I believe that Canadians want us to work in a constructive way. But make no mistake, if there are attacks against me as our leader, we will respond quickly and effectively. But we will not get into the personal attacks. I don’t think Canadians want that. They want a vigorous debate on issues, which we’re prepared to do. So we’ll respond, but we’ll respond on the facts. And the facts, I believe they’re with us.