The Steeldrum Interviews Jennifer Hollett

*Pictured above, from left: Jennifer Hollett, P. C. Choo, Mary-Marta Briones-Bird and Laura Amodio

SD: Jennifer, why the NDP?

JH: That’s a great question. I used to be a TV reporter and producer and I have worked at CBC, City TV and Chum and the work I did was covering the stories of Canadians, whether it was on the economy, the environment, human rights and civil liberties. Seeing what was happening under Stephen Harper and the Conservative government, I started to worry that soon I wouldn’t recognize the Canada that I grew up in.  So I came from a place of asking questions to a place where I hope to find some answers and I picked the NDP because not only do we have the opportunity to form the next government, but it’s a party with a conscience and a party that looks out for people. I think too often people are disconnected from the political process and I’m really proud to be running with Tom Mulcair and the NDP and advocating for a $15 dollar an hour federal minimum wage, $15 dollar a day childcare, repealing bill C-51 and investing in Toronto to make it a city where everyone can make it.

SD: The NDP has always been perceived as the party of big spending yet provincial NDP governments (the Bob Rae government being an exception) had been one of the most fiscally prudent governments in Canadian history with balanced budgets and even budgetary surpluses. Why is it so hard to shake off the negative connotation of the NDP as the party of big spenders?

JH:  The NDP has an excellent track record when it comes to public administration. Tommy Douglas ushered in Medicare while balancing 17 budgets back to back.  The Finance Board has studied all the political parties to find out which party has the best track record when it comes to budgets and fiscal management and it is the NDP.  We have never been in federal government so it is our track record at the provincial level in the various provinces. It’s something we’re really proud of although it’s not necessarily sexy.  Anytime you see the NDP doing well, both the Liberals and the Conservatives would attack us and it is no different this time. What’s been exciting with regards to conversations I’ve been having at doors with voters is people see that here in University-Rosedale, our campaign is focused on infrastructure and supporting services we rely on, whether it is public transit, health care, child care and pensions as well as making sure we have a strong and diverse economy that has training and job opportunities for young people coming out of University and we can do both. We’re the only party right now to release our fiscal framework that shows how we’re going to fund these promises so it’s an exciting time and I think that has some of the other parties worried and that’s usually where attacks come from.

SD: a) Tertiary education has been chronically underfunded for years. Would an NDP government commit to adequately fund tertiary education?

  1. b) Some European countries are providing free university education to all students, including foreign students. Is this something that an NDP government would consider?

JH:  The NDP is committed to making sure that education is affordable and accessible. Tom Mulcair sat down with the Varsity earlier this year to do an interview that shows you the commitment Tom has in being willing to talk about issues that are connected to post-secondary education.  Student issues are election issues.  It is not only the issue of the cost of education but also the debt load that comes as a result. And when they graduate, they face a youth unemployment rate of 17.6%.  I meet youth in our community who have a degree or two and are struggling to find work so there’s a whole list of issues we need to be addressing when we talk about education.

Right now, we’re not in a position to provide free university education.  Fortunately, I went to university in Quebec, as did Tom Mulcair. Quebec has some of the lowest tuition rates across the country so I came out with some student debt but it was quite manageable. I think that’s the direction we need to move in. If students want to get an education, we have to make sure that they can get it, can afford it and don’t come out with record high debts.

SD: The price of housing in downtown Toronto and across the GTA is very high. What is the NDP’s platform with regard to making housing more affordable, especially for low and middle income people?

JH:  Just the other day I was at a community discussion on co-op housing which is an incredible model. I’d like to see more mixed income communities, not just in University-Rosedale but around Toronto. The NDP has a commitment to building more affordable housing.  The challenge right now is – even for myself – how will I ever be able to get into the housing market due to soaring costs of home ownership?  We need to be looking at the growing population of Toronto and making sure that we have housing and infrastructure to support the population but also making sure when we’re developing housing that there is affordable. Coops seem to work and mixed income communities strengthen the neighbourhood so we need to build on that.  The NDP has a history of advocating for housing. It was the Liberal government that scrapped the national housing strategy – something we’ve been calling for years.  I have met with a lot of housing advocates and that’s where they say it starts.  We are the only G7 country right now that doesn’t have a national housing strategy, so we have to get back to making housing a priority at the federal level and coordinating with the other levels of government.

SD: I’ve heard about the $15 dollar an hour minimum wage, can you tell us more about this and how it would be implemented?  What about the objections from the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses that this is unaffordable to small business?

JH:  It’s really important to realize that with the $15 dollar federal minimum wage, this is where it begins, this isn’t where it ends.  And there’s been incredible work being done on the ground by various minimum wage advocates.  The movement for a living wage must be able to raise the floor on this issue.  The federal minimum wage is for federal employees, but it would also be a signal to the provinces and to other industries on what is possible.  Right now it’s really tough in a city like Toronto to squeak by on minimum wage. I am really proud of to be a member of the NDP and to be campaigning on this issue, we’ve received great support from workers and advocates for workers.  And it has been studied – this is something we can afford to do. I think it’s something where we can’t afford not to do.  As well, I would like to mention that this is part of a larger movement, we saw the recent announcement in New York about fast food workers so these conversations around $15 dollars are happening throughout North America and the federal government should be a part of that.

SD: How can Tom Mulcair commit to so many promises and yet balance the budget? Can raising the corporate tax rates alone make up for the shortfall?

JH:  We are really proud to have released our fiscal framework in advance of the leaders debate on the economy, we’re the only party to do so, so we have clearly laid out our plan for our campaign and how we plan to fund our promises. None of the other parties have done so and yes, it does include raising corporate taxes by 2%. However, this increase is back to the rates that existed when Harper took office. It makes it competitive with other G7 nations and is still lower than what corporations are paying in the United States.  We have received great support.  A lot of people in my community are like ‘yeah that makes sense’ and the details can be found online if you want to look at fiscal frameworks at ndp.ca.  Some people like to crunch the numbers for themselves.

SD: Tom Mulcair has been on record as saying that he would withdraw from the fight against ISIS. Is that a wise move? How can an NDP government protect Canadians and ensure their safety both at home and abroad?

JH:  Well this is a big conversation and concern that Canadians have right now.  The NDP is committed to withdrawing from Iraq and Syria as we want to focus our efforts on something we are traditionally good at here in Canada which is humanitarian assistance.  The conversation we’ve been having for a while now is in regard to refugees, in particular, the Syrian refugee crisis, and our role as Canadians. We are best known as peacekeepers and we can’t take a look at conflict without connecting it to the impact it has on people in communities both in Syria and Iraq and now around the world and here in Canada.  And with regards to the Syrian refugee crisis, we have been calling for welcoming 10,000 Syrian refugees into Canada. This is the number recommended by the United Nations, an additional 9,000 over the next 4 years as well as the Syrian refugee coordinator is taking the cap off private sponsorships, thereby making sure we can fast track those as well.  Unfortunately there is a lot of bureaucratic obstacles and red tape that really prevent us from getting people into Canada.  But I also want to highlight some of the conversations around Bill C-51 which is a law that the NDP was opposed to and is committed to repealing.  Stephen Harper and Justin Trudeau hare both using fear as a campaign tactic as well as government policy. It’s a false choice to suggest to Canadians that we have to choose between security and human rights and freedom. You don’t and we need to make sure we can protect both. I think people can see that with Thomas Mulcair’s principled stance and approach to these issues that what we are doing is well thought out, it stands for who we are as Canadians and it’s how we can assist the situation in Syria and Iraq here in Canada.

SD: Thank you, Jennifer, for your time. We appreciate you coming in to talk to our members through the pages of Steeldrum.