‘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
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.