Transcript of NDP conference call

Judy: Judy, and when I hear the beep stopping, I’m going to start the meeting.
Hello?

Judy: Hang on everybody, you don’t even need to give your name yet, I’m going to do a check in a second.
Hello?

Judy: Hi there, it’s okay, it’s Judy, we’re all set.
Okay Judy.

Jack: Hi Judy, we’re all, we got a bunch of caucus members here, we’ll just wait for your instructions, we’ll leave it on mute in the meantime.

Judy: Okay. Alright, I think I’ll start, uhm, it’s Judy, we’ve got exactly one hour and no more. We’re going to run this meeting very tight. I want everyone to put your phones on mute, also please do not anytime during this call, put your line on hold, because that causes a noise for everybody. We’re going to give an update, an over view from Jack, a report on what’s happening procedurally from the House, generally from Libby, and then thirdly a overview on the issue of platform and policy, from Kathleen, and then a chance for each caucus member to give a very succinct and brief point to indicate their concerns or issues that they would like to see raised by our team as we prepare any further documents. So, as you all know, we have our next meeting as our regular meeting Monday at ten o’clock, in Ottawa, we will have a chance there to have a more extensive roundtable that in through the week, so please don’t feel you have all the time for questions and concerns, but we will deal with that on Monday, so without further ado, let me call on Jack who must be very tired and going non-stop for the last three days, we appreciate what you’re doing Jack, and I think we’re all excited to get an update. Thanks, Jack.

Jack: Thank you very much, uh, keep the myth alive that I’m exhausted and working incredibly hard (laughter) I appreciate you relaying that, I was asleep by ten o’clock last night, and had a very good night, a very good sleep, and that was my Friday night. So, an update on where we are, the, uh, we’re in the middle of a very historic time, and we’re playing a key role in it, in some ways a catalytic role actually, because as we think back, we’ll realize that nobody really imagined that it would be possible for the Bloc Quebecois, the Liberal party of Canada ever to enter into any kind of a discussion around the future of the country and it turned out that we were the glue, and spotted and prepared for the opportunity, and had taken the steps that were required so that when that opportunity arose, which was when Mr. Harper made his disastrous strategic error, by not providing stimulus to the economy, and instead playing political games, we were able to move, and things began to move very quickly, however, many obstacles remain in our way, and so we’re in a real battle now. The negotiating process, I am, by the way in very very regular touch with the leader of the Liberal party, and the leader of the Bloc, frequently every day. At the same time, negotiation processes are underway, and in fact as we speak, our negotiating team that I’ve named to meet with the Liberal negotiating team are discussing the mechanics of a coalition government, and the form that it would take, the structure of cabinet, the way in which the logistics of a coalition government with the Liberals and the New Democrats would work, the key roles, and dispute resolution mechanisms, timelines, et cetera.
05:23 –
All of the logistics issues that you would expect would be a part of such a discussion are being negotiated now we hope that that part of the negotiations would be completed today. Our negotiating team consists of Brian Topp, who negotiated as a senior member of the Romano team in Saskatchewan, negotiating a similar coalition with the Liberal party there, and of course you know Brian is our campaign co-chair director. Ann McGrath, in her chief of staff role, she’s also wearing the president of the party hat still, and so she’s got several hats on at the moment. Ed Broadbent, Alan Blakely, Dawn Black, as a member of caucus I’ve selected to participate in this process, someone that I happen to know is also respected and trusted by key Liberals, Tom Mulcair, as our Quebec lieutenant, and Carl Belanger. Tom and Carl are the negotiating team with the Bloc team, and Brian and Dawn Black are negotiating with the Liberal team. We’re starting with two party talks, this will resolve itself into a tripartite conversation before the weekend is up, and the goal is to produce by the end of the weekend, an agreement on the machinery of the coalition, which would be signed off, particularly by the NDP and Liberals, but endorsed by the Bloc, and an agreement on policy program for the coalition, that would have three party agreement. I can’t go into the details on all of this stuff, particularly the machinery, but it’s in the process of negotiation, and we could consume an awful lot of time speculating about it, so I don’t propose that we spend that time today on this particular matter of question. But instead, there’s a golden opportunity today, for you to provide input on the policy matters, you can be assured that we have looked at our program, we’ve looked at our platform, we’ve looked at what I’ve been saying about economic stimulus, we’ve been in close consultations with the leadership of the labour movement around some of their key ideas and they’ve been providing terrific support, including at a high-level early morning meeting this morning, so much of what you would have want to see, it’s probably already there, you’ll hear a bit more about it later, but there’s an opportunity to touch base with all of you, because in the end, you’re going to be intimately a part of the delivery of all of this, and so that’s why we’re having this meeting at this point in time.
08:32 –

Jack: I made a list Judy, so I’ll take a whack and you’ll say if I’ve missed any…

Judy: Ya. Meetings, confidentiality, what can be said. Go ahead.

Jack: First, do MP’s have to be in Ottawa until we have a better sense of the potential confidence motion stakes. You have to remain agile. And with Ottawa being the base. Uh, and so when you’re organising your community meetings make sure there’s a speaker phone facility, or a webcam. Secondly, I believe that we should get immediately into the driver’s seats on organizing these community meetings, you have people who worked on your campaign who are exactly the kind of people, whether in labour movements, labour councils, uh, childcare groups, environmental groups, these are people that need to be pulled together. You get them together, and then they’ll take it from there, it doesn’t have to be your meeting, it shouldn’t be your meeting, but of course you’ll be there as the MP, and you’re part of the coalition, and you’re consulting with the community to make sure they’re open, so if anyone wants to come and protest and say it’s a bad idea, be there to make a real news event out of it, the youth comes with the emotion in favour of the coalition and an action plan coming from Thursday night, particularly focused on the weekend, with petitioning, and phone in shows, and god knows what else, a letter writing, one of the goals here is to of course, recruit as many names, addresses, emails, phone numbers as possibly can, because this coalition will need the support of these people, and then we will need their support when we get an election. Now, will there be an independent NDP caucus, yes. BQ stability issues, worry about BQ potentially being off-side, we’re taking that very much into account.  We have numerous strategies designed to deal with it, I actually believe they’re the least of our problems, but in case I’m wrong, let’s just say we have strategies, this whole thing would not have happened if the moves hadn’t have been made with the Bloc to lock them in early, because you couldn’t put three people together in one, in three hours.  The first part was done a long time ago, I won’t go into details, and the managing expectations, lists from groups, actually, the wisest people in the groups are already coming to the conclusion, some of them are in direct contact, saying probably wouldn’t be too helpful if we had long lists of stuff, right? What we really want is just to get Harper out and get the new group in because it’s going to be a hell of a lot better for everything we believe in, correct? Correct. So let’s stay on that track, and not start debating whether or not it’s twenty five percent change or fifteen percent change over here, let’s get them out, on the basis of unity not the basis of division. Somebody asked about Bill Casey, absolutely, in the game, uh, on confidentiality, we now have to get out and defend the idea of the coalition. This is not a secret that it’s been discussed, the various elements that are in it, you can say it’s all about getting the economy going, and transforming the economy for the twenty first century, use everything that you’ve seen in my speeches up until now, that you’ve all been using so well particularly when I’ve seen you on panels, and by the way, our team on panels, everybody, staff and MPs, rocking, absolutely rocking doing us proud, so yes, there is a coalition, we’re fighting for it, we’re trying to make it happen, we think it’s a good idea for Canada, the majority of Canadians voted to go in a different direction than Harper’s taking us, you can’t trust him, no matter anything, throw him out. What about the legitimacy of the democratic process, yeah, what about it? He was given a minority, and he refused to work with the other parties, he had 38% of the vote and he’s trying to govern like he had 100% of the power, he’s the one who’s got democracy wrong, not us. So do not be defensive, to work among what we are doing is to give effect to the wishes of the majority of Canadians, have no doubt about that. The coalition for Canada, I love the idea, it could be a deal-breaker for the Bloc (laughter) so if we don’t go, we call it “The Coalition for Canada and Quebec,” (lots of laughter).  Well, welcome to the real world of….that’s not funny

Jack: And let me come to, I know it’s complicated, so let’s just be wise about how we put this thing together. I think that there were many good comments that were developed from this, right from Aboriginal, which was on our mind, right through to many of these other suggestions and we will do our very best to put this together. And I’ll just say one other thing about the issue of the Bloc: nothing could be better for our country, than to have the fifty members who’ve been elected to separate Quebec to actually helping to make Canada a better place. I think we just approach it on that basis, and say we’re willing to make Canada happen, here’s other things that we’re going to be investing in and transforming together, they’re willing to work with us, we’ll accept that offer. What will be important to point out is that this will be an NDP-Liberal coalition, which is supported by the Bloc, with policy ideas that the coalition is bringing forward. Okay? And that’s going to be helpful to you in your dealing with those that have concerns, because they, you can see where Harper’s going here, he’s going to say it’s the socialists and the separatists and the opportunists getting together. You know? Those are their talking points, and so we just need to push back. I want to thank everybody for the input, I would get going this weekend on getting groups together, start talking about organizing those Thursday meetings, act as the catalyst to make it happen, and then just let it go, it’ll roar, and it’ll be very exciting. If you’re in a larger city, and there’s several of you, or if you’re in the largest city and you’re on your own, act as the catalyst anyway, chances are there’s a bunch of Liberals in the other ridings on whom we want pressure placed, as I mentioned at the outset of the conversation. I guess we’re at the end.

Judy: I just want to add one thing, and that is so the major thing is here that the message we’re focused on the message, so that’s not confidential, what’s confidential is strategy, the discussion, details, the speculation about the other parties and their motivation and what they will or they won’t do, we should not talk at all about war rooms, or campaigns in that sense. We’re building, trying to create a coalition government that will be a Liberal-NDP coalition that will be supported by the Bloc and that’s the message that we want to get out, nothing about the discussions in the background, and when in doubt, call, probably Brad, and Brad on that issue and on the whole issue of the campaign, and organizing meetings, people will want to reach you quickly, what’s the best way?

Jack Harris: Judy, Jack Harris here, I know it’s a structure question, but I’m at a loss at this point to know whether we’re talking about a short-term, quick economic stimulus coalition, or are we talking about something that could last two or three years, this is kind of important in our own minds, as well because aside from economic stimulus of course, this coalition will have to govern on every part of the government, of the legislative of the –

Judy: Okay, let me ask Jack to answer that and then Brad, you give the best contact information.

Jack Layton: Longer term. Not short term.

Judy: Now, Brad, you’re going to be in demand, what’s the best way to get to you quickly?

Brad: For folks that are going to be holding panels that we’re setting up, we’re going to be briefing you and your media office, for your press secretaries, the press secretaries have been divided into thirds, so every member of caucus has been assigned, so those folks are going to be available to you, and working very closely with me, and I discourage anyone from phoning me, the smartest move would be to give me as much heads-up as possible, I’m on a panel in two minutes, is highly unhelpful, and I will fail you miserably, and I know some times that situation has to happen and it’s understandable, but obviously calling me on my cell is the fastest way or by sending me an email, at brad@ndp.ca

Judy: Alright, and is it you, not just on panels, organizing meetings, events, here at the grassroots level, who’s the best person?

Brad: It will not be me, I will not be able to assist with your meetings on the Thursday night, we will assign a member of the team to that.

Economic update

Here are the main points of Flaherty’s economic update:

  • Eliminate the net debt by 2021

  • Reduce debt to 25% of GDP by 2012-13
  • inflation target at 2% until at least 2011
  • GST at 5% by 2011
  • Working Income Tax Benefit for low-middle income Canadians
  • Income tax reductions based on interest that would have been paid on the debt. Debt reduction will result directly in income tax cuts.
  • Establish lowest tax on business investment in G7.
  • Large investments in the knowledge and training economy

Here’s the executive summary of Advantage Canada.

Income splitting, but just for seniors. No GST cut yet.

VERDICT: Nothing too exciting. A good direction forward.

UPDATE: David Akin sends me a correction live from the finance committee! It’s NET debt that’ll be gone by 2021, not the debt.

UPDATE: NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis is decrying the Conservative plan to put so many surplus dollars against the debt. A sound endorsement!

UPDATE: Liberal finance critic John MacCallum isn’t impressed and believes that this doesn’t change anything. Underlines the distinction of “net-debt” and calls it a gimmick. Net-debt is a valid OECD measure though.

UPDATE: reaction from stakeholders (the ones that do press releases!)…

The Canadian Real Estate Association
(CREA) and its more than 88,000 REALTOR(R) members across Canada welcomed the
federal government’s identification of tax, fiscal, and infrastructure issues
as key elements to improve the quality of life for all Canadians. The three
were among the five Canadian Advantages outlined in the Fall Economic
Statement delivered by Finance Minister Jim Flaherty today.

One of the proposals outlined by Minister Flaherty in the Advantage
Canada document was the reduction of taxes on savings, including capital
gains, to make Canada’s tax system more competitive. REALTORS(R) have been
calling on the federal government to implement a capital gains rollover
provision for small investors when the proceeds of the sale of real property
are reinvested in another real property investment within a set timeframe.

Certified Management Accountants:

CMA Canada is encouraged by the direction of
Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s economic and fiscal update and looks
forward to the government accepting its recommendations to achieve economic
objectives.

“We are pleased that the economic groundwork laid out by the Finance Minister today is aligned with our recommendations to the government,” said Michael Tinkler, CMA Canada’s public finance analyst. “However, the proof will be seen in the specific measures delivered in the next federal budget.”

Canada’s life and health insurers:

Canada’s life and health insurers strongly commended the government’s Advantage Canada economic plan. CLHIA President Greg Traversy said, “The combination of tax reduction, debt reduction and paper burden reduction will position Canadians to compete effectively and prosper over the years ahead. Life and health insurers particularly welcome the commitment to foster a dynamic and globally competitive financial services industry and look forward to continuing their own efforts towards that goal in the context of the improved business environment set out in Minister Flaherty’s plan.”

Greg Sobara, Minister of Finance of Ontario:

The federal government’s economic update
contains a few positive signals that Ottawa may be listening to Ontario’s call
for fairness in federal transfers, Finance Minister Greg Sorbara says. “What I don’t see – and this disappoints me – is any detail on anything except tax cuts and debt reduction,” Sorbara said. “There are no specifics on how they’re going to invest in infrastructure. There are no specifics on how they’re going to address the fiscal imbalance. There are no specifics on how they’re going to invest in post-secondary education.”

CUPE:

“Today’s Fiscal and Economic Update shows
that Stephen Harper’s government is trying to buy the votes of Canadians with
the promise of more tax cuts that could lead to deep spending cuts in the
future,” said Paul Moist, national president of Canada’s largest union – CUPE.

Certified General Accountants:

The Certified General Accountants
Association of Canada (CGA-Canada) is pleased with the federal government’s
plan to boost Canada’s productivity and global competitiveness. Of special interest to CGAs are the government’s policy commitments relating to: Program spending, the Canadian economic union [and] the business environment “We welcome the government’s policy commitments. The plan to reduce taxes, streamline the regulatory environment, reduce the paper burden and remove internal trade barriers will address Canada’s competitiveness”

Federation of Canadian Municipalities:

“We welcome the reaffirmation of the Government’s commitment to work
toward a comprehensive infrastructure plan that includes long-term and
predictable funding. The extension for two additional years of the federal gas tax transfer is an important first step as we transition toward a longer term effort to erase Canada’s municipal infrastructure deficit. This also signals the Government’s long-term commitment to vibrant and competitive cities and communities.

Canadian Taxpayers Federation:

“Since 1997, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has called for Ottawa to implement a legislated debt relief schedule and eliminate the debt in a generation,” said CTF federal director John Williamson. “Today, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced the Government of Canada will do just that.”

Williamson continued, “We applaud Mr. Flaherty for embracing and adopting policy advanced by the taxpayers’ federation, but for this policy to be meaningful the Conservative government must table legislation to make it the law of the land. Otherwise it is an empty promise. With the national debt standing at $481.5-billion, lawmakers cannot afford to not take debt repayment seriously.”



“In the May budget, Minister Flaherty reported program spending would grow by 5.3 per cent this year yet today he reported the annual spending increase will instead be 7.1 per cent,” observed Williamson. “The government has already betrayed its commitment to keep program spending below the growth rate of the economy. Economic growth is estimated to be 2.8 per cent this year. It is disappointing the Conservative government’s spending is already way off target. And if spending targets are missed, meaningful tax relief in the next budget can’t happen and debt repayment just isn’t possible either.”

Crazy Canadians bills!

Since its summertime and Stephen Harper is flipping burgers in the 905 and most of us are stuck in our offices, I thought I’d kill some time by checking out some of the private members bills left in limbo over the summer. Don’t worry, I’ve picked out only the truly imaginative ones.

Like this one!

Bill C-419
“An Act to establish and maintain a national Breast Implant Registry”
by: Judy Wasylycia-Leis (NDP)

Summary: This enactment requires the Minister of Health to establish and maintain a national Breast Implant Registry. The Registry will contain information relating to persons who have undergone breast implant surgery, including surgery to explant a breast implant, along with a description of the implant and other prescribed information. The information in the Registry will be available only to the Registrar for the purpose of notifying those persons of a risk to their health.

I can see the rationale for this law, of course. Breast implants in the past have been hazardous and a registry is thought to help identify those at risk. However, it’s more than likely that breast implant recipients will have this data in their medical records. As we’ve learned too, national registries are also costly, a health registry would be touchy with provincial jurisdiction and there are other “products” out there that cause harm too. A friend of mine purchased a Ford Focus the first year that it was released. The modest car was recalled about four times that year. I don’t suppose that we should also have a Ford Focus national registry?

Verdict: This one is pure bureaucracy and would create yet another place for the government to lose a truckload of money.

Moving right along we come to perhaps our country’s number one national priority: beer.

Bill C-206
“An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (warning labels regarding the consumption of alcohol)”
by: Paul Szabo (Liberal)

Summary: The purpose of this enactment is to require alcoholic beverages to bear a warning regarding the effects of alcohol on the ability to operate vehicles and machinery and on the health of the consumer, and the possibility of birth defects when consumed during pregnancy.

Thankfully, we can rely on the Canadian government to protect us from ourselves. Although, I doubt anyone will learn about the hazards of alcohol from a beer bottle. Usually warning labels are put on products to protect the manufacturer from litigation in the event of stupidity (see: McDonalds coffee = hot). Government mandated labels though? We have them on cigarettes, why not beer? Then again, perhaps we should warn people that they might get fat if they eat potato chips. Perhaps I yearn for a common sense society…

Verdict: Not the best of ideas. Cigarettes perhaps have labels now because at one time they were considered to be healthy (it’s true). However, everyone knows that alcohol causes stupidity. I would support voluntary labelling but not government mandated labelling.

As a bonus, I’ve included quite a nutty bill that was just defeated this past May. It concerns patents on medicine

Bill C-274 (defeated)
“An Act to amend the Patent Act”
Brian Masse (NDP)

Summary: This enactment excludes medicines from the scope of the regulation-making power set out in subsection 55.2(4) of the Patent Act. It makes other amendments to that Act to reduce the extent of patent protection for medicines.

The rationale behind this bill is simple: drugs heal people but drugs are protected by patents. Patents make drugs too expensive so let’s get rid of patents on drugs!

NDP, you say? You’d be correct.

Drug companies invest $500 million to $1 Billion on each new product they develop from blackboard to clinical trials to putting it on the shelves at Shoppers Drug Mart. Why would a company spend so much money developing new drugs if a generic manufacturer could just rip-off their product? They certainly would not and they’d leave Canada tomorrow (with thousands of jobs too). Furthermore, all existing patents on medicines would be no more. The party of Tommy Douglas must be off their meds! This bill is quite ill-conceived.