NDP Interview Series: Guy Caron

The New Democratic Party's leadership is closing in! 

Ultimately, this race determines who will lead the New Democratic Party of Canada in the 2019 federal election. 

As Canadian Muslims, it is important that we exercise our civic duty to help choose the next leader of the New Democratic Party, who could be the next Prime Minister of Canada.

How to vote?
In order to vote for the next leader of the New Democratic Party, you must be holding an active membership to the New Democratic Party before August 17, 2017.

Interview Series
Over the past few weeks, The Canadian-Muslim Vote has been sitting down with the candidates contesting for the leadership of the New Democratic Party.
We have been profiling these candidates so that you (our readers) can make an informed voting decision.

Left to Right: Muneeza Sheikh (Director of Communications), Ali Ladha (Volunteer), Guy Caron (MP) and Mariam Rajabali (Communications and Project Coordinator)

Question: Please tell us about your background and why you chose to enter politics.

Answer: I’m originally from Eastern Quebec from a town called Rimouski, for which I’m now the Member of Parliament. I left Rimouski to learn English, study communications and got involved in student politics. I used to be Vice-Chair of the Canadian Federation of students in the mid-90s, when we were fighting against the Jean Chretien agenda of cutting social programs. Following that, I got interested in economics and I did a Masters in Economics at the University of Ottawa. I got involved in Toronto for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation for about 8 months and then I went back to Ottawa to work for the Council of Canadians. Then, I went to work as an economist for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. Funny story about my passage into the Canadian Race Relations Foundation: I was hired in August of 2001 for a job that started in September 2001, and between both you have 9/11 and obviously the priority at that point was Islamophobia, so we had to develop a plan very quickly for the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to be very pro-active in this sense.

Why did I enter politics? Well, I had friends from my student politics days and they invited me to hear a speech from this guy in Ottawa sometime in mid-July 2002 and it happened to be Jack Layton launching his leadership bid. I’ve always been interested in the NDP, but never to the point of joining or working for the NDP, but when I heard Jack speak, I was inspired, I joined on the spot, I worked for his campaign doing French communications and once he got elected I got fully involved in the NDP with developing Eastern Quebec for the party. Then, I ran in 2004, 2006, 2008, and got elected in 2011 and despite the Liberal wave, got re-elected with a larger margin in 2015.

Question: What motivated you to run to be the next leader of the New Democratic Party and perhaps one day Prime Minister of Canada?

Answer: This is pretty much it: I got kids, I got married in 2006, my kids are 8 and 5. The thing is - the next generation, the generation of my kids, will be worse off than our generation. We are facing this wall ahead of us which has been created by 30 years of policies that have been pushed by the Liberals and Conservatives, since 1980. The policies of private position, of de-regulation, of trade agreements that leave so many people behind without us even caring what happens to them.

So, I really want to put my name forth because we need to ensure that politics will be about not only those who benefit from those decision but those who are left behind, and there are so many people who are left behind. So, this is why I put forth an economic platform. I’m an economist, I want to bring credibility to the party as well.

I want to ensure that the party will also not repeat the mistakes of the past. Simply put, before Jack came in, by and large, the party was happy to see itself as the conscience of parliament: the party that has a clean conscience and pushes issues in the house. Jack’s legacy was to go one step further. Instead of just being the conscience, which means defining problems and denouncing them, instead of just asking the Liberal and Conservative government to do something about it, Jack said: “we’ll propose something and we’ll seek to form government that will implement those policies because they won’t be under the Liberals and Conservatives”. We cannot just be content with being the conscience of parliament, we need to have a platform, to have ideas that will inspire Canadians and make them trust the NDP to implement them. We need to make people trust the NDP; that we can manage the economy and that we can manage this large community that is Canada.

Question: The New Democratic Party is perceived to not care about economics or known how to manage and be fiscally responsible - it’s been perceived to be more focused on spending and increasing social welfare. How do you work with the stereotype that people have of the NDP?

Answer: It’s funny because we’re not labelling ourselves that way. It’s the Liberals and Conservatives. The thing is we don’t push back. We have close to $700 billion in debt of which not a single cent is owed by an NDP government. For example, look at procurement for military, the replacement of CF-18s and the replacement of the Navy. We’re the ones who don’t know how to manage? It makes no sense. The thing is we didn’t push back! We let them label us and we said: “Ok. We’ll just do our own thing, which is to work on the social aspect of things and we’ll let them label us”. Then, there’s this idea that we’re just taxing and spending and we don’t know how to manage - it’s been easily anchored because we never pushed back. We need to demonstrate how a social democratic economy government will actually act and when we’re not making people imagine, it’s hard for us to gain their trust.

Question: What do you think makes you qualified to lead the New Democratic Party of Canada?

Answer: My plan, my willingness to go outside the box. I’ll say also my credibility in economics. If that’s our weakness, this is what we need. We need to establish that credibility to take the next step forward. It’s also because to lead the NDP and to ensure the NDP has a presence and popularity from coast to coast to coast, you need to understand all issues. Obviously, I understand Quebec issues, but you need to understand all regional issues, but because of that, the last 20 years I worked for various organizations in civil society and in labour. So, I understand BC realities, the Ontario issues, the Prairie issues and the Atlantic Canada issues because I’ve been working on those issues for the last 20 years. For the last 20 years, I’ve been working for Quebec Progressives to work hand-in-hand with Canadian Progressives as well. I’ve spent half of my life living in rural areas, in Rimouski, which is fairly rural, and half of my life living in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto. So, I do know the realities of rural Canada and urban Canada. All that experience, all that knowledge and the fact that I gain a credibility on the kind of issues which is the Achilles heel of the NDP makes me the best choice to run the NDP.

Question: What is your leadership style and how will it be different than others?

Answer: I’m going to compromise all the time. I’ve led before and my leadership style is by consensus. I don’t believe in imposing my view: I am one person and I do have knowledge on many things but I’m not an expert on everything. Far from it. I always find it a waste when the talents, the experience of people around me are misused and this is something for me that’s crucial. I’ve seen it in the past and I will not do it with the NDP.

Question: Why should we vote for you over the other candidates seeking the nomination?

Answer: Simply because my strengths are the strengths that the party needs right now and we need to learn from 2015 and the mistakes we made. We need to have someone at the helm who will understand the realities of every region in the country, which I can demonstrate because I’ve done that in the past 20 years. If you want to run government, you need to be very present in urban areas. However, you also need to not give up on rural areas which - except for Quebec and British Columbia maybe -  we are less present and tend to give up before campaigning even starts. We need to ensure that we will be fighting for those states as well, planning for those people who live in more regional or rural areas. This is where I want to go, this is what the party needs.

Question: In your opinion, what do you think the NDP could have done in differently in 2015?

Answer: Be more inspiring. That’s a problem: that we were not very inspiring. We were very cautious – too cautious – because we were at the top of the polls. The last election was 78 days, which is the length of two campaigns. We won the first campaign, we lost the second one - and that’s the one that mattered. When you’re a social democratic party and people want to buy you as such, they’re not afraid of you managing the economy but we went one step further and said that we would balance the budget every single year. That’s a problem when people feel it’ll put us in shackles, and that’s basically what the Liberals used against us.

We could not have said that we have deficits of $10 to $20 million every year. I strongly believe that as well - we do believe - in balancing the budget over an economic cycle. That usually reflects on your ability to know when, in the long run, you need to get back to balance. That was good enough for us, but why we went one step further, I don’t know, and in the end, it cost us. And, that was just representative of the level of caution we used during the campaign which worked against us.

Question: In your view, since the Liberals were elected in 2015, what do you think they’ve done wrong, and if anything, what have they done right?

Answer: To start, I’ll say what they did right because the other list might be a bit longer. I think the child benefit was actually a good idea. We should have had that idea and they had it before us. We were one step behind and that’s another example of how we were overly cautious. I think that this is the type of thinking we should have developed in the last parliament heading towards the election and we haven’t. That was one element.

The feeling of openness is also something good. Under the Conservatives, we were always on the edge fighting against something; I’m talking for my riding, for all the communities that we spoke to. We don’t have that feeling anymore.

In terms of the problems, most of the problems came from the fact that they raised the bar and created so many expectations. They promised so many things and didn’t end up delivering on them. For example, we had C-51 where they said that they would significantly reform - and the reforms that they have presented are very mild. For electoral reform, that was a blatant lie - they have no intention of going in that direction and stole the vote of people who believed in them and basically betrayed them. When looking at the economics, they say they are working for the middle class and they would cut taxes for the middle class - they have not cut taxes for the middle class, they've cut taxes basically for those who earn $90,000 or more, that's not the middle class.

They promised they would have $10 billion deficits to invest in infrastructure, we're at $28 billion in deficits now, with barely any investment in any infrastructure. Now,  they are in the process of privatizing our infrastructure and trying to make people believe, at the same time, that they are doing something about this. So, they are managing in a way that is very similar economically to the Conservatives and that is only compounding the effects that I mentioned in the beginning which are that our next generation - because of the economic choices we've made in the last 30 years - will be worse off. They are doubling down on it; they never promised to create an infrastructure bank, never promised that they would be giving away the control of our infrastructure and the control over the decisions to our infrastructure to international investment firms.

And the First Nations - they said that we will no longer challenge the decisions of the human rights tribunal regarding the child support services, that we will massively invest to solve the housing and water problems in the First Nations communities, and that we will remove the ceiling - the 2% ceiling - on things like health care and education. Well, that is still there. And, basically what they are telling people is to just wait because it's around the corner.

Back in 1993, I remember - not because I was in politics but that was the most progressive platform I've ever seen -  it came from the Liberals and it was called the Red Book. Two years after they presented it, they were basically slashing everything. They basically went exactly against what that policy mandate or that platform was. There were things such as universal day care in that platform that they started to think about in 2005. That’s 11-12 years after -  when they were on the verge of being defeated. And, the same thing is currently happening with First Nations. They will have to wait for as long as they can and be patient.

Question: Something often brought up in the House of Commons is: what is the middle class? What is the middle class to you?

Answer: We don't have an answer from the Liberals. They just make it seem like it's everybody. It's a question of perception really.

I can give you an accounting definition: for a single individual, it’s between the 30th and the 70th percentile. So, you remove the 20% of the richest and the 20% of the poorest, and then you have the middle class. If I'm not mistaken, this goes somewhere between $30,000 and $70,000 for a single individual. That’s the economic definition.

The way the Liberals are playing on perception. Everybody believes that they are middle class. They don't want to be in the low income or even working class, they want to be middle class. They've changed the line. It’s now the working class and those who aspire to join it. Those who are left don't believe they are middle class but they never define it. In terms of the tax cuts, the cuts they implemented start at about $50,000 - $55,000 if I'm not mistaken - but that's the beginning. If you earn $65,000, you have like $50. The maximum starts at $90,000. As a Member of Parliament, I get the full cut but somebody earning $80,000 does not, and somebody earning $50,000, $40,000, does not get anything.

Question: In regards to your policy platform, what are the three most significant policies in your campaign?

Answer: The thing about my policies is that they are all intertwined. The first one was basic income, basically a top-up, true to tax system, a bit like child benefit or even the kind of guarantee that comes as income supplement for seniors. Anybody who has or doesn't have an income and all those who are under the lower income cutoff get a top-up on what they earn through social programs or working income; you would top it up to the income cutoff. We top it up so that we eliminate poverty in that way. But, the advantage is also reducing economic insecurity in the face of challenges. The first challenge is the transition toward renewables. That will bring about some dislocation for many workers, we want to minimize the economic insecurity that will come out of this. The next thing is automation, there will be increased automation in our industries - whether AI or robotics - so, once again we might face a future where there will be less jobs available because of the way the economy will be structured in the future. Then, there are people willing and ready to work so we need to fix this - it's not that people will be lazy but they won't be able to work. So we need to restructure the support system and basic income comes into play. One weakness regarding this might be economics but we barely talk about job creation. We talk a lot about social programs and redistribution during a campaign but rarely about job creation. I have a job creation strategy called workers first which is tied in with my climate justice platform as well. Climate justice policies will move the economy toward renewables. And, at the same time, it will require us to look for workers to ensure that they are not left behind.

The third element would be electoral reform, but because Trudeau disappointed so many people by not even trying to get that, we'll need to assure people that this is truly our intention. This is why I said that my first bill as majority government led by me would be to implement electoral reform through a proportional representation with regional lists - mixed member proportional with regional lists. We would implement it for two elections and then move to a referendum which will ask if Canadians want to keep it or go back to first past the post. And it will also be a condition to support minority government, if we were given power. This is a priority of mine.

Question: With the recent refugee crisis in Europe and subsequent reactions from the international community, such as Brexit and the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, what do you see as Canada’s role in a global context framed by fear-mongering and alienation?

Answer: For international relations - we need to get back to being the honest broker. We have always been and are still considered a middle power. Our power isn't the power of arms and the military but it's the power of the name - Canada, which we lost in the last ten years with the Conservative government. So, we need to get back into this. Nobody likes someone who is just pointing fingers and telling you what you're doing wrong and just moralizing - nobody likes that - but if you add some moral caution you can steer people in the right direction. I'm not naive, I'm not saying Canada will just say nice things and people will just follow us but every step has an impact. So, we should gain this credibility and reputation back - which is crucial in what we're facing right now.

And, first and foremost we need to be honest and the problem we are seeing with the refugee situation right now is the fact that expectations were raised. That tweet said we will welcome you with open arms, but, it's irresponsible if it just makes people believe things that are simply not true. To make people believe that you can just come as a refugee and then you'll be integrated into society right now is naive. Syrian refugees was the same thing. When we came in and said we will take 10,000 refugees and the Liberals came and said we'll take 25,000, we see all the problems that has created because we have no possibility of integrating the Syrian refugees well with the resources we put forth. So, that created a list of problems that could have been avoided if the intent was not politics but more truly helping and fully helping to the end. So we need to be honest and authentic about what we're saying and we need to do it for the right reason.

Question: If elected as Prime Minister what practical steps would you take to protect other Mosques in Canada from experiencing the tragedy that took place in Quebec?

Hate is hate. We can work to protect. When talking about police force - there is still the ability of providing more funding to increase protection. I was in the mosque that was only three weeks after and there was just one security officer who was not even armed. We need to have adequate security. By enlarge, I think mosques and other worship places will be protected in the long run by ensuring that we develop a better understanding of each community. Each community can develop a better understanding of each other's communities as well. Let's put less money to hire security everywhere - it might bring a sense of security in the short term but it won’t solve it in the long run. If we're living in the state of misunderstanding and ignorance nothing will get solved.