January 19th, 2016

Tom Mulcair’s speech to the NDP team: Fighting for what matters

I am very happy to be back here, in Montebello, for this very important meeting.

Eight years ago, almost to the day, I was here in Montebello with some of you, at my very first NDP caucus strategy meeting.

At that time, I had the honour of introducing our leader, Jack Layton.

In his speech, Jack told us that if we wanted to become a real alternative, we would need a solid foundation in Quebec.

We made a significant breakthrough in 2011, and in 2015, one in four Quebecers once again placed their trust in us.

We had obviously hoped for more. But we remain a political force in Quebec, which was only a dream for Jack the last time we were all together here in Montebello.

We have a great couple of days planned ahead of us.

Together, we are going to have meaningful, and I hope intense, conversations to chart our future course together.

And I can’t wait to hear your ideas and suggestions to do just that.

I’m humbled and proud to be part of such a talented and diverse team.

We are a strong group of progressive MPs and a third of you are new caucus members, full of enthusiasm and ready to bring change to Ottawa.

Most importantly, we have an entire caucus driven by a profoundly-held desire, not just for change, but real progress.

That fills me with hope and optimism.

Our first task will be to hold the new government’s feet to the fire and ensure that it delivers on the many promises that it made to Canadians during the campaign.

That is part of our mandate as Canada’s progressive opposition.

Canadians are expecting to see change and they expect to see it fast.

The Conservatives will be doing all they can to push this new government and new Prime Minister in one direction.

A direction that, unfortunately, many past Liberal governments have followed.

One that favours Bay Street over the wellbeing of Canadian workers. One that considers strong social programs like health care to be a thing of the past.

And one that so quickly dismisses the plight of marginalized Canadians as just, well, the way things are.

As New Democrats we know that “the way things are” hasn’t worked so well for seniors, veterans or First Nations.

As New Democrats we know that universal healthcare defines us as Canadians and that it needs to be strengthened instead of weakened.

It’s in our DNA.

And we, as New Democrats, believe that a Canadian job will always be more important than profit margins or the value of a stock.

If we falter from this first responsibility of ensuring a “promise made is a promise kept,” we would be letting down the millions of Canadians who put their faith in us.

Well, I am here to say that we will not abandon the social democratic vision for Canada. We will not lose sight of who we are and who we fight for.

And so I put it to you that an equally important responsibility going forward is to articulate this social democratic vision and communicate it effectively to Canadians.

The election results obviously weren’t what we had expected.

But we can continue to be proud as New Democrats.

Three and a half million Canadians placed their trust in us and we will defend their values.

Every time I speak with you – in the House of Commons, in your ridings or simply over dinner like yesterday – I think of the fundamental values that unite us.

Values that the NDP embodies each day, by fighting against injustice, calling for more equality, fairness, solidarity… for everyone.

These are the values that guide our action on all issues – and that are the basis of our shared vision for a fairer Canada.

A different and better Canada, where no one is left behind.

That is the NDP’s priority.

That is the reason why I entered politics.

And it’s the reason why I work hard every day.

Because as long as there is inequality, there is work to be done, battles to fight and there will be more battles to be fought in the coming weeks and months.

For what really matters.

There is nothing more universal to New Democrats than our commitment to universal healthcare.

Everywhere you look though, healthcare is facing cuts and costs are continuing to be downloaded onto provinces.

And we know when you cut into healthcare, it’s patients and frontline workers who bear the brunt of it.

New Democrats know that billions in cuts to health transfers will affect the quality of service.

Once again, we’re moving towards greater privatisation.

In Quebec last year, the Liberal government made major changes to healthcare services with its Bill 20.

A bill that legalizes accessory fees for treatments previously insured through the public system.

The bill is in direct confrontation with the principle of universality enshrined in the Canada Health Act.

My Quebec Lieutenant, Alexandre Boulerice, will continue to lead the charge and call on the Health Minister to intervene and respect the Act.

Universal healthcare is part of our Canadian identity.

Unfortunately, 5 million Canadians do not have a family doctor.

Federal government inaction on this is worrying.

You can be sure that the NDP will continue to fight this battle. We will defend our principles, it’s in our DNA.

And unfortunately, this trend in healthcare only reflects increasing inequality in other areas in our country.

Income inequality is one of the most glaring injustices in our society.

Income disparity is growing and hundreds of thousands of Canadian families are struggling.

It’s well known that income is one of the key social determinants of health and therefore economic inequality doesn’t only impact how you live but it also impacts how long you live.

Statistics Canada released a report in 2015 which spelled out clearly that 40,000 Canadians die prematurely every year because they are poor.

We live in one of the wealthiest, most resource abundant countries in the world, yet the less you have, the shorter your life.

I said it in the campaign and I’ll say it again: I refuse to accept that 1.1 million Canadian children and half a million Canadian seniors live in poverty.

I refuse to accept that Canadians working full-time live below the poverty line.

There are some who call themselves progressives who believe it’s good enough to espouse equality of opportunity but as social democrats, we believe that the fight against inequality means much more.

Government can and, we feel, must play a direct role in eliminating inequality.

It's not enough to say everyone has the same chances in a game that's rigged against the most vulnerable.

Equality of opportunity does nothing to help a child who lives in an overcrowded, unheated apartment and goes to school cold and hungry in the morning.

Decent housing is a right and governments can create conditions for building social housing and making it available to those who need it.

Someone working 40 hours a week should not be living in poverty.

While in 2015, Canadian banks – which earned a record $35 billion in profits – handed out $12.5 billion in bonuses. Meanwhile, those same banks eliminated 4,600 good-paying Canadian jobs last year alone.

Someone contributing to the growth of the economy should not see their wages stagnate or even drop, as the richest individuals and corporations get richer.

We have to fight for everyone being squeezed by income inequality.

And as part of this fight I’ve committed to making anti-scab legislation one of our first opposition bills.

The pensioners, who see their income slip away and their retirement security undermined, are not the ones who avoid paying their fair share of taxes by sheltering their money in offshore tax havens.

But these Canadians are always the ones who lose the most in times of economic hardship.

This is what matters.

This is who we are fighting for.

Since becoming Leader of the NDP, I’ve had more meetings with Aboriginal leaders on the situation of their people than on any other issue.

And these meetings reaffirmed my commitment to defend Aboriginal rights.

It’s an issue that is of particular concern to me.

A cause that pushes me to take action every day.

There is no other group in Canada that suffers from such flagrant injustices.

Barely 35% of youth on reserves obtain their high school diploma.

Drinking water on reserves is considered a health risk in 73% of cases.

Suicide rates are five to seven times higher than the national average.

Aboriginal women and girls are three times more likely to suffer from violence than the general public.

These injustices have gone on for too long and continue to get worse as time passes.

Our relationship with First Nations still carries the scars of that dark chapter in our history, that of colonialism, racism and broken promises.

But it is still possible to change direction.

And this time, we must not fail.

One thing that I couldn’t be more proud to have run on is a program of bringing desperately needed affordable, accessible and quality childcare to Canadian families.

And this issue isn’t just a middle class concern; it’s a matter of regional unfairness, gender inequality and economic common sense.

A Toronto family can pay up to 2 thousand dollars per month for childcare and that makes no sense.

And it’s overwhelmingly Canadian women who wind up making sacrifices in their careers when childcare isn’t available.

We believe it is high time that women aren’t forced to make that decision.

We believe in adding universal childcare to the social fabric of this country.

As social democrats, we will continue to fight inequality wherever it exists.

We also know that the largest inequality is between generations and the greatest threat to future generations is climate change.

How we respond, globally, nationally and locally will determine the kind of world we leave to our children and grandchildren.

Canada is one of the top fifteen most polluting countries on the planet if we calculate emissions per person.

That’s huge!

And even if it is colder here than other countries and resource development makes up a large part of our economy, these aren’t excuses.

We can do better.

The impacts of inaction are documented. Now, there’s no excuse not to take action.

We must reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, year after year, starting now.

We’ve waited long enough.

If progress was measured by rhetoric, climate change would have been solved two decades ago – unfortunately it’s not.

Progress is measured by action and it’s measured by outcomes.

Talk is cheap.

If Canada is to see real progress on these issues, change also must mean that the days of empty promises must come to an end as well.

What really matters for climate change is that every single year, we reduce Canada’s emissions of greenhouse gases.

What really matters for health is protecting our universal system and expanding it to include home care and Pharmacare.

What really matters for First Nation, Métis and Inuit people of Canada, is restoring basic human rights, including food, water and education so that we can begin to right the historical wrongs and build a true nation-to-nation relationship.

What really matters for Canadians struggling to get by is restoring the retirement age to 65, raising working conditions and finally ending child poverty.

What really matters for families is, once and for all, creating new, affordable and quality childcare spaces.

And in the NDP, we will never stop fighting for what really matters.

Three and a half million Canadians place their trust in us to represent them in Ottawa.

By voting for us, they chose to advance our vision of a more progressive country.

Each time we speak in the House of Commons, each time we welcome a new citizen and each time we give our support to striking workers, we’re not alone.

There are three and a half million Canadians standing alongside us.

Friends, we have our work cut out for us. We know the fights we will face and we’re ready for them.

Our job going forward will be to defend those priorities: to stand up for today’s workers and families, to stand up for our values and together we will provide Canada with a truly Progressive Opposition in Ottawa.

I know we have a great team because of your unwavering dedication to our shared beliefs – equality, solidarity and fairness.

On every issue, these values shine through.

They are the foundation of our social democratic vision for a better Canada.

These values are why we serve, and they’re why millions of Canadians vote for us.

These are the values that inspire me as leader of the New Democratic Party, and the values that will continue to guide us in our work together.

Merci. On continue, ensemble.