‘Young peo­ple have got­ten a raw deal’

NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh spoke to Torstar about his plans to build hous­ing, tackle cli­mate change, and strengthen pub­lic health care to ad­dress the chal­lenges fac­ing to­day’s youth

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Local - SA­HAR FA­TIMA

Torstar asked the lead­ers of Canada’s ma­jor po­lit­i­cal par­ties to share the is­sues that move them deeply. In the first of a series, we look at the chal­lenges faced by to­day’s youth, the cause cho­sen by fed­eral NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh. Singh spoke with Torstar about why he chose this topic and what he’s go­ing to do to ad­dress it.

Why are young peo­ple and the chal­lenges they face so im­por­tant to you?

All the ma­jor crises were faced with, they’re the ones feel­ing it the most. Young peo­ple are the ones who are priced out of the mar­ket, can’t imag­ine ever buy­ing a place. It was not unattain­able for their par­ents and grand­par­ents.

So, they re­ally em­body all of the poor de­ci­sions that have been made by gov­ern­ments in Ot­tawa. Young peo­ple have that look of hope­less­ness. They have this fear, this un­cer­tainty, and I want to re­place that look in their eyes with one of hope and pos­i­tiv­ity and op­ti­mism. I re­ally be­lieve young peo­ple have got­ten a raw deal. And that’s why they need a new deal. I want to now re­vert to mak­ing de­ci­sions that ac­tu­ally put young peo­ple — and by do­ing so, peo­ple in gen­eral —at the heart of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing.

How is be­ing a youth to­day dif­fer­ent from what it was like when you were grow­ing up? The chal­lenges are just a lot worse. I kind of re­mem­ber what that’s like a bit. Be­cause my fa­ther was ill and couldn’t work, and be­cause of his ad­dic­tion, it meant that he lost his abil­ity to con­tinue prac­tis­ing and we fell into debt. So we ended up los­ing our home and not be­ing able to keep it, which meant that I felt that anx­i­ety about hav­ing a home. But that’s oth­er­wise some­thing I didn’t think about. Like, I wasn’t in high school wor­ry­ing about hous­ing. That’s why what I went through is re­ally dif­fer­ent from what young peo­ple are go­ing through now.

I wanted to find a way out of my fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties by go­ing to school. And for me, school was kind of af­ford­able. Un­der­grad was in the $2,000 range, and go­ing to law school was $8,000 a year. Even in my dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion, it was some­thing that I could see my way around. I got some loans and I was able to pay my tu­ition. But for young peo­ple now, they’re faced with eco­nomic un­cer­tainty and they want to take univer­sity or other cour­ses to up­grade their skills or if they want to go to pro­fes­sional school, it’s re­ally limited for those who don’t have the means. It’s so ex­pen­sive that it could be scary and maybe even just a bar­rier that’s not sur­mount­able.

Why do you think you’re the right can­di­date to tackle these is­sues?

(Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau and Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer) don’t have the courage to take on these is­sues. They’re kind of like the Old Boys club. It’s in their best in­ter­est to main­tain the sta­tus quo. They’re not re­ally go­ing to bring in the change that peo­ple need. They’re just maybe go­ing to tam­per around the edges, tin­ker here and there. They’re not go­ing to bring in a new deal. I’m propos­ing a bold new deal, a new way of look­ing at the way we should be pri­or­i­tiz­ing peo­ple over the wealth­i­est and the peo­ple at the very top. And I know it’s achiev­able. I re­ally care about mak­ing life bet­ter for peo­ple, and I’m not afraid to bring in the changes.

Why fo­cus on young peo­ple when many of them can’t vote, and the ones who can of­ten don’t bother?

When I got elected in 2011, I got elected be­cause I had all these young vol­un­teers and many of them couldn’t vote. I was 32 and I was the old­est per­son in my cam­paign by far. We had all these young, pas­sion­ate peo­ple that work hard, and they care, and they got me elected.

I re­ally think young peo­ple shouldn’t be counted out be­cause they have par­ents and they have grand­par­ents. For some peo­ple, that could be as many as six peo­ple they can in­flu­ence and say, hey, this is my fu­ture, if this mat­ters to you, please care about this is­sue or vote this way. So, I see im­mense power in young peo­ple. Though they can’t vote right now, I still think they can re­ally in­flu­ence the out­come of the next elec­tion.

How will you con­vince the next gen­er­a­tion, and all Cana­di­ans who care about cli­mate change, that it’s a threat to their fu­ture that you take se­ri­ously?

Since be­ing elected, I’ve taken re­ally fierce po­si­tions on the en­vi­ron­ment. We are the only of­fi­cial fed­eral party that has op­posed things like the Trans Moun­tain pipeline. We’ve taken strong po­si­tions on en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues his­tor­i­cally as a party and I’ve taken on that and taken us to the next level with re­ally bold an­nounce­ments and re­ally con­crete com­mit­ments. I want to end fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies, some­thing that I know a lot of peo­ple are re­ally frus­trated by. I think my track record of po­si­tions that I’ve taken, the bold­ness of our vi­sion and our plan, re­ally speaks to the fact that we take this se­ri­ously and I’m com­mit­ted to do­ing some­thing about it.

Stu­dents who grad­u­ate from school can no longer rely on that de­gree to land them sta­ble work. In to­day’s gig econ­omy, many end up do­ing in­tern­ships, con­tract work, part-time work or free­lanc­ing for years with­out any prospects of stability ahead. What will you do to help young peo­ple in these pre­car­i­ous sit­u­a­tions?

Peo­ple used to be able to get a job to get ben­e­fits. Now in the gig econ­omy, peo­ple don’t have those ben­e­fits. That’s why it’s more im­por­tant than ever that our health-care sys­tem step up and pro­vide that head-to-toe cov­er­age that in­cludes den­tal care, med­i­ca­tion for all, eye and hear­ing care, and ad­dic­tion and men­tal-health ser­vices, so that all the needs that some­one has for their health are not some­thing they have to de­pend on the job for.

Right now em­ploy­ment in­surance is ba­si­cally not some­thing that self-em­ployed or pre­car­i­ously em­ployed or a free­lance per­son can have access to. I want to change the way we look at em­ploy­ment in­surance and mod­ify it so that it does cover peo­ple who are work­ing in these pre­car­i­ous po­si­tions. The new vi­sion I see is cu­mu­la­tive hours — I pro­pose 360 — and look­ing at some­one’s best 12 weeks as the way we set some­one’s em­ploy­ment in­surance. I want to extend our parental leave to al­low self-em­ployed peo­ple to take ad­van­tage of it.

I also want to con­tinue to fight for good pay and good jobs. For fed­eral reg­u­lated jobs, I’m push­ing for a $15 min­i­mum wage and also chang­ing the labour code so we of­fer bet­ter pro­tec­tion, set a bet­ter stan­dard for what a job should give to work­ers and hope­fully in­spire other provin­cial and ter­ri­to­rial gov­ern­ments to follow.

Own­ing a home or even be­ing able to com­fort­ably af­ford a place to rent feels like a pipe dream to many youth to­day. How will you make hous­ing more ac­ces­si­ble and af­ford­able for this gen­er­a­tion? Re­ally boldly in­vest in build­ing new homes. What I’m imag­in­ing is 500,000 or half a mil­lion new homes over the next 10 years. The fo­cus is go­ing to be rental, co-op­er­a­tive, non-mar­ket hous­ing so that peo­ple can have a place where there’s a con­fi­dence in know­ing they can live there and that it’s af­ford­able.

We want to waive the GST on bills where pri­vate de­vel­op­ers build af­ford­able hous­ing to en­cour­age the build­ing of rental or af­ford­able hous­ing. To re­duce the cost of hous­ing, we want to end money laun­der­ing, which is driv­ing up spec­u­la­tion. We want to im­pose a fed­eral for­eign buyer’s tax, which would get at the for­eign in­vest­ment that’s ac­tu­ally driv­ing up the cost of hous­ing.

For first-time home­buy­ers, we want to dou­ble the tax credit that’s avail­able now and we also want to ex­pand the mort­gage to a 30-year mort­gage which would lower the monthly pay­ments so that some­one can ac­tu­ally af­ford to buy a house.

This interview has been edited and con­densed.


Fed­eral NDP Leader Jag­meet Singh says while young peo­ple can’t vote, they can in­flu­ence the de­ci­sions of their par­ents and grand­par­ents.

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