Jack Layton spoke to Metro's Joe Lofaro as the 2011 federal election wound down. Here is the full transcript of that interview.
Why should Metro readers vote NDP?
“Because Ottawa is broken, and people in Ottawa get to see that up close and personal when they see the shenanigans in Parliament Hill -- the contempt in Parliament, the bickering and attacks going back and forth. The divisive approach to politics that gets played out there and people want it fixed, they want the needs of their family at the forefront, issues like retirement security -- you know that the Nortel workers know that more than anybody -- but it’s a concern felt by many seniors or people concerned about their ultimate retirement, and there’s many people in the Ottawa-Gatineau regions who don’t have a access to family doctor. This is a real crisis that needs to be addressed.
"There’s still a lot of unemployment in the regions around Ottawa and a plan to actually help create jobs through tax cuts to small businesses and a tax credit that we’ve proposed for every new job. These practical ideas will help address the issues that people want to be addressed. Our approach is so that we’ve got to bring change to Parliament Hill and that we have the opportunity to do that on voting day.”
How will you do all of that and balance the budget?
“We have a fully costed program that we’ve released in this election. We’re using the same funding envelope the Conservative used, we used their Government of Canada numbers, and it’s just that Mr. Harper chooses to spend billions of dollars within that funding envelope on more tax cuts to the profitable banks and oil companies (and) carry on with subsidies to the big polluters. We propose to cancel those and use those funds to pay for the initiatives we are proposing.
"People aren’t looking for us to work miracles. Nobody believes you can solve all problems in one wave of the wand, but they want to see practical steps taken to dealing with these issues and that’s what we’ve proposed with the same balanced budget end date the Conservatives are proposing.”
The Conservatives and the Liberals say you can’t be trusted with the economy. Can Canadians trust Jack Layton and can you comment on your party’s readiness to govern?
“First, I think the old line parties have lost the trust of Canadians and they’re asking they’re asking themselves who can they trust to be on their sides to focus on the issues that concern our family. And when it comes to offering a good balanced budget (and) fiscal responsibility, the party that (while) in power has shown itself to have the best record is the NDP.
"That was a study done by the finance department and there are the very good current examples: The NDP government in Manitoba with nine balanced budgets in a row, and the recent budget just approved in the House of Assembly in Nova Scotia with the surplus, again, another NDP government.
"So we have a lot of experience in addressing these kinds of issues. In fact, when you go to Saskatchewan,
they’ll tell you it’s the Conservatives who leave the finances in a mess. We all remember (former Progressive Conservative Premier) Grant Devine, and it was Roy Romanow and the NDP who came in and restored the finances of the province, so we’re certainly prepared to bring that pragmatic philosophy to Parliament.”
To what do you attribute the sudden and surprising surge in your popularity and support, even to your own party?
“I’m not sure I’d say our party is surprised. We’ve been working on this for a long time. It’s gratifying to see that our message is breaking through. I think people are tired of being told over the years by party leaders that they have no choice, they have to vote for the old parties. In English Canada, that would be the Liberals and the Conservatives, in Quebec it would be the Liberals, Conservatives, or the Bloc (Quebecois).
"So (Canadians are) told that you can’t do better. You’ve just got to go back to the same old choices. And I think Canadians are reacting to that and say, ‘Hang on a minute, we get to make our own choice here, and we do think it’s time for a change.' These old approaches don’t seem to be working.”
This weekend the Toronto Sun’s story saying police found you in a bawdy house massage parlour, but laid no charges as they had no evidence of an offence, came as a shock. Can you speak to the allegations and what impact this story will have on what was looking to be a fantastic showing by your party?
“Well, I answered those questions in some detail (Saturday) so I’m not going to through it again. You’ll find all of that available, you and your reporters. But, this is a kind of smear politics that a lot Canadians
reject. No wonder it’s hard to get people involved in politics if this completely unfounded innuendo is going to characterize what goes on in politics.”
You’ve talked about the priorities of Canadian families, and you’ve also been critical of the Conservatives’ plans to spend money on the fighter jets. But at the same time there are very real problems of rust in Canada’s prisons and military equipment. How will you address those problems and how will you pay for them?
“Of course you want to make sure infrastructure is maintained, not just the ones you mentioned, but the vitally important municipal infrastructure -- transportation, water treatment and supply -- and this kind of infrastructure is vitally important to our economy, and yet has not received priority at all with the old line parties, whereas our party’s program was welcomed by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities because of its real focus on that kind of infrastructure.
"But when it comes to criminal justice system, the Conservatives have really failed to take the comprehensive approach, which would put an emphasis on preventing crime and on more front-line police officers to do community-based policing. We do think there needs to be some changes to certain criminal legislation, and there needs to be a separate crime for carjacking and home invasions and for recruiting young people into gangs, and we think that can have a strong preventative dimension to it.
"When it comes to the military, we feel that we needed a white paper on our defense policy in this country and we’re committed to producing one in the first year because there hasn’t been a debate in Canada about what kinds of equipment our military needs. It’s true that many of the key elements of the equipment that our armed forces rely on are reaching the end of their lives.
"In the case of the supply ships, for example, they’ve already reached the end of their lives and yet government has not put in a place a program to have those built. So we suggest that we lay out a complete strategy and a white paper for the priorities for the Defense Department, focusing on sovereignty, responding to natural disasters, on playing a role internationally in the promotion of peace, as well as defending our country, and all the different aspects of that be considered and laid out so that when we make our decision of where the dollar should go, we’re doing it in an informed and strategic fashion, instead of just jumping on board the next contract that was sole sourced and not even debated in Parliament, such as the fighter contract. Everyone knows that the fighters eventually need to be replaced, but there’s been no appropriate process for determining whether these particularly expensive, high-end jets are the most appropriate to the meet the needs of Canadians.”
Young people have been very vocal in this campaign, saying their vote should count. There have been vote mobs, the young woman who was kicked out of a Conservative rally over a Facebook photo. They seem engaged in a way they haven't before, but at the same time we're hearing cynicism, confusion, apathy all rolled into one. What would you tell the youth in order to convince them to vote and to vote for the NDP?
“I think it’s very exciting, what’s happening on campuses and (within) groups of young people. The excitement around actually getting out to vote and shaping the future is wonderful to see. It’s something we’ve encouraged in our party for a number of years and I’m thrilled to see the number of young people who are coming out to the events and rallies that we’re having. It’s real testimony to young people’s willingness to engage, roll up their sleeves, and get involved.
"I am simply to saying to every young person to be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to vote because that particular vote won’t come by again, and you have a chance to engage in the shaping of our future, and we’re putting a large amount of effort in reaching out to young people and encouraging that kind of participation.
"We’re fortunate to the have the youngest member of Parliament, herself a student, Niki Ashton, from northern Manitoba, sitting with us in our caucus and she puts the lie to any notion that having a student as an MP would somehow be a problem. It’s actually an opportunity.”
There have been concerns that some of your candidates aren’t ready to be in government, whether it’s not being able to speak French in Quebec or not being active in the campaign, being elsewhere. What can you say to Canadians to address those kinds of concerns?
“Well, I’m very proud of our team. They’re a hard-working group and they come from all backgrounds - everything from experienced politicians, deputy premiers, people with cabinet ministerial experience, or municipal government experience, mayors or councillors, leaders of community organizations, trade unions, businesses, and students and artists. So we have a terrific kaleidoscope of candidates with many different skills and talents.
"You know, if we had fixed election dates that were honoured, then families could make their plans regarding when they have to be away. Unfortunately, we don’t have that situation so it can arise that amongst 308
candidates over a five-week campaign, there might be a few days here or there that a candidate isn’t able to be on the campaign. But they’re fully dedicated to serving and helping to improve the lives of Canadians and
ultimately, it’s up to the voters in each riding to make their choice. Do they want to go back to same old, same old or do they want change? In which case, if they want change, all they have to do is go out there and vote for it.”
What would happen if there was a minority situation again, much like we had before the election — and there’s various permutations of how that could roll out, whether you would be the official opposition or once again if the Liberals were the more numerous opposition party — what would be your response then? As Mr. Harper said, the opposition parties would immediately work to defeat the minority government and form their own coalition government, or would you try to work with the elected party that won the minority government?
“Well, we’re working to defeat Stephen Harper. There might have been some who would have said that’s not possible. I never believed that, neither do New Democrats, and it appears that a lot Canadians agree with us, coming our way in a movement to stop Stephen Harper and to replace his government. So that’s the goal we’re seeking, and are working for right through until polls close on Monday night, and hopefully we’ll have that largest number of seats in the House and we can work with other parties to deliver the agenda we’ve committed to work on: getting more family doctors and lifting seniors out of poverty, creating jobs by supporting small business and the job creators. These are just the key priorities we’ll focus on so we’ll work with the mandate that’s given to us to get these things done, whatever the composition is of the Parliament.”
Could you speak to the aspect of your platform that might be appealing to youth, such as issues relating to the Internet, net neutrality, the copyright debate?
“We put out a comprehensive digital issues policy which I had a press conference in Toronto about a week ago, laying it out in some detail and it addressed all the issues, as well as usage-based billing, which we would oppose (by) instructing the CRTC (Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission) that its mandate must include consumer protection and not just the promotion of business. The Conservatives have completely changed the mandate of the CRTC (and) we believe that was an unbalanced approach that benefits the big telecoms and allows the consumers to be gouged.
"We also want to see open government, we want the documents, the information resources of the government to be available on the Internet for everybody. We also want everybody to participate in the broadband world. Thirty per cent of Canadians aren’t able to participate right now. So coming back to the point about infrastructure, it would be far better for this country if we were spending funds making sure the millions
of Canadians who don’t’ have access to broadband had it, rather than endless construction of prisons.”
How would you improve the accountability of government, and I’m hoping you’ll be able to comment on the criticism of the Conservative government that there has been a politicization of the public service.
"On opening up and improving transparency and accountability issues, I’ll just give you some of the examples, there’s been so many that it could take a separate interview to go through all the changes that are needed.
"But, we could start by the establishment of the Arms Length Appointments Commission that is provided for in law, but Mr. Harper has refused to put in place. And the result is we’ve seen the same old practice of appointments of very partisan individuals to positions, and we think that’s wrong.
"We had suggested through the work of (Manitoba NDP MP) Pat Martin when the Accountability Act was put forward, many amendments we would be able to put through if we had (an) opportunity in government that would further improve protection for whistle blowers and would address some of the issues of the arms-length nature of the public service, although it’s not quite -- it depends on where you are in the public service -- the nature of the arm and the length, because there is ministerial accountability, of course, as a fundamental principal of Canadian democracy.
"But, the interference is certainly something we’ve noted and people have raised criticisms of government policy are relegated to the persona non grata category and either their terms of office, when they come up for renewal, are not renewed. like the ombudsman for the veterans. Or they’re unceremoniously dumped, as we’ve seen with others, or they’re best advice is simply ignored or they're forced to resign, as we saw
with (Statistics Canada). This is a sign of a malaise, it’s worse than a malaise, a proactive interference at a level that is very unhealthy and needs to stop.”
Some people on the left have said the NDP has strayed toward the centre and is becoming a bit more like New Labour in the U.K. Can you speak to that and your core supporters?
“I haven’t run into that. Can you be more specific?”
Supporting tough-on-crime legislation, military action in Libya...
“In that instance, we took the view that the call by the Arab League and the UN with it’s quite detailed resolution that is was important for Canada to participate. We do have some concerns about the possibility of escalation and an intervention that would involve boots on the ground. We, of course, have said there needs to be parliamentary supervision of this mission and we insisted that this happe,n and that’s where this three-month review came from.
"So, it’s a question of ensuring that we’re helping to protect civilian lives, at the same time, not only respecting but promoting the UN agenda, which is focused on conflict reduction and promotion of peace. We certainly have very strong support in our party for our call for the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan, which is, I think, also now a view held by a majority of Canadians. When we first proposed that, there was quite the reaction. But we stayed the course and, like I say, the majority of Canadians are standing with us.
"I find, in and amongst our members, our emphasis on making sure that the troops, when they come home, are properly supported, especially those with injuries or post-traumatic stress, and investments should be made to make sure that these veterans are getting all the support that they and their families need. There’s enormous support within the NDP for that kind of an initiative. You gave another example, which I’m forgetting now.”
The tough-on-crime legislation.
“Well, I haven’t run into a lot of people who say that a three-time gun offender shouldn’t face a minimum sentence, maybe there are some who believe that. We have been working quite hard to -- either we have voted against some of the Conservative bills or we’ve made very significant changes to them -- through the excellent work of our justice critic (Ontario NDP MP) Joe Comartin, who is quite highly regarded amongst progressive justice-focused researchers and individuals. And, with that perspective of being smart on crime, and focusing on prevention, focusing on community policing rather than simply, as the Conservatives seem to do, on an endless list of pieces of legislation, that more balanced approach is the way to go. And I think that’s very widely supported in the party.”
Will you stay on as leader if we end up with the same result as we had prior to the election, with the Liberals in second place in terms of seats and you in third?
“I think we’re in fourth place now in the House, and we’re working very hard to change that. And, in fact, to change the Harper government. I’m hopeful to have the opportunity to work for that kind of change for a long time to come.
"But, our party has a very strict system where every couple of years, no matter who you are as leader, you have to be face the evaluation of our delegates from all over the country. The first week of June, we’ll have our convention in Vancouver and there will be a vote, a mandatory vote, on whether or not there should be a leadership review. That always happens. I’ve been blessed up until now in having the support of 90-plus per cent of the delegates who go to those conventions. But, I will continue to work hard to earn that level of support for the future.”
Is there a topic you would like to speak about that we haven’t asked about?
“You have pretty well covered the waterfront. I mean, what’s happening in this election is very interesting and exciting in that people are saying we don’t have do things in the same old way just because we’re told by certain party leaders that we have no choice but to go back to the same old approaches. We want some real change and we’re willing to embrace it. I think it’s a very optimistic act and very encouraged by it.”