'Our focus is on real needs of real people,' NDP leader
Nova Scotians choose a new government on Aug. 17 and, on Tuesday night, CTV Atlantic launched a series of interviews with the leaders of the three major parties, beginning with the NDP's Gary Burrill. Here is an edited transcript of that interview with Anchor Steve Murphy.
This is Gary's Burrill's second election as leader of the NDP and he's running on a familiar platform that promises more spending on health care, corporate tax hikes, rent controls and a $15 an hour minimum wage, among other things.
STEVE MURPHY: All elections I think, are about change and whether it's time for a new government. The polling, as you know, will suggest a high degree of satisfaction with the Liberals, particularly their handling of the pandemic. Looking at that, what is your best case for change at this point?
GARY BURRILL: Well, I think that it's just a highly volatile moment and people in their personal lives and their work lives and even their community lives are doing a lot of evaluating coming out of the pandemic and thinking about, is this a moment when we could be doing some things better? We have seen through the pandemic that there are a number of key areas that we really need to make serious improvements in, things that have really been there all along, but have come on to the centre of the screen like child care, mental health care and long term care, things of this nature.
SM: It has been suggested though that this is in many respects a referendum on the handling of the pandemic by the government, if that is the case, where would you find fault with the way that the Liberals have managed the pandemic in the province?
GB: You know, when we think about the management of the pandemic, finding fault is not the word that I would use. The word that I would use is really giving credit to, in two directions: one to the people of Nova Scotia who have shown their tremendous ability to follow directions for one another, and two, to public health, who have given us outstanding leadership from the beginning.
SM: Do you give any credit to Stephen McNeil?
GB: I think the credit really does go to the people of the province and to public health. I think that where the credit is to be given to the government has been following the exceptional direction that we have received from public health.
SM: In the last election, your vote count dropped by 25,000 votes to its lowest level in 25 years. What will you do differently this time to try to recapture votes that you've been losing as a party … consistently in the last several elections?
GB: Well, our focus in this campaign is on the real needs of real people in their real lives as they have come onto the screen through the pandemic. There are so many things in this category, paid sick days for example for everybody in the workforce. The real changes we need in mental health care and in long-term care, and certainly to address the housing crisis and to bring in permanent rent control. So these are not distractions, these are not ideological constructions, these are things of immediate practical serious importance in people's lives that we are, that are going to be implemented, many of them, if we're successful in the election and which are not going to be implemented, like say permanent rent control if we're not.
SM: When you talk about ideological construct, many of these ideas do come from the left of the political spectrum, but the NDP's great electoral success in Nova Scotia came when Darrell Dexter moved out of the left and into the centre you were part of that, that government. Dexter called himself a conservative progressive and it was successful. Why do you think that voters not want traditional left leaning policies, which, really to be blunt, have never provided a lot of NDP success in Nova Scotia?
GB: I think a policy, for example that we are building our platform on is that there ought to be a bed in a room --with their own washroom -- for every resident in a nursing home in Nova Scotia. I think that's very practical and speaks to people's common sense of what ought to be. I think that people ought not to be prevented from going into the workforce because they can't afford childcare; I don't think that that's an ideological construction. I think that's where people really are. I think with mental health care that we ought to be able to have the same level of care as they have for example in New Brunswick and the Island. I think that that's, that's people's real situation.
Prince Edward Island is the first province in the Maritimes to allow long-term care facilities to accept visitors since the pandemic began.
"There ought to be a bed in a room -- with their own washroom -- for every resident in a nursing home in Nova Scotia," said NDP leader Gary Burrill. "I think that's very practical and speaks to people's common sense of what ought to be."
SM: To come back to your specific policy on rent control, it would undoubtedly be welcomed by people who have a place to live, but how would you expect landlords and moreover, people who build accommodations apartments to respond to a rent control market in Nova Scotia?
GB: I think we have to recognize that rent control is something that is enjoyed by a majority of people in our country, that protection from sudden dramatic unsubstantiated rent increases, is something that is had by Canadian citizens in many other jurisdictions making up the biggest part of the country. We ought to have it here in Nova Scotia also.
SM: Most economists will say that rent control ultimately chokes off the supply of housing if one of the results of rent control turns out to be less new housing. How does that really meaningfully help to solve the housing shortage?
GB: I don't think it is a question of what most economists think, or don't think, it's a question of the rent increase notices that people were getting last year for $200, $300, or $400 which are going to make them leave homes where they had been often for decades, which was stopped when temporary rent control came in and which is going to resume when temporary rent control is lifted. That's why we need permanent rent control. So, it's not a matter of an economic debate about policy and housing, economic development and so on. It's a matter of people's actual concrete real situations.
SM: But it is actually a matter of economic debate because there are economists, and I would say most economists would say, that when you choke off the income from the properties you also chop choke off the supply. So again, how does choking off the supply solve the shortage?
GB: I don't think there is an economist anywhere in Canada who would say that development of the supply has been hindered in Toronto by rent control. I don't think there's an economist in Canada who would say that development and the supply of housing has been hindered by rent control in Vancouver. There is no evidence for this position and it wouldn't pertain here.
SM: I want to take you up on the $15 an hour minimum wage you propose this before in the last election. In fact, I'm wondering how would that work for people who already make the 15 bucks an hour or maybe just a little bit more; do they all essentially become minimum wage earners under a scheme like this?
GB: No, we know whenever there is an increase in the minimum wage, that it brings about an upward pressure for those in the wage bracket just above the minimum wage. That's part of the benefit of having increases in the minimum wage. That increases purchasing power in the economy across the board.
SM: But who pays for that?
GB: The thing that employers need, and that businesses need more than anything else, particularly coming out of this deep economic contraction, is customers. So, you can't have customers, unless people have money, and people don't have money unless they are able to make a wage that leaves them something over from the bare necessities. So, we're really in a time, as we move towards the necessity of a major economic recovery, that we have a $15 minimum wage.
SM: But governments also need money. Where do you get the money to do all the things you want to do, including some expensive commitments to health care and so on?
SM: Well I think we have to recognize that we're in a time when we have to spend smarter. So, we know today for example in Nova Scotia, the government spends a million dollars every single day, housing people in hospitals who aren't hospital patients; they're really nursing home residents, for whom there is no place. This is an awful lot of money. We have to spend smarter and we also need to not choke off government revenues by things like the very imprudent $70 million corporate tax break that the Liberals brought in one day before the pandemic was declared …
SM: Even if you grab back that $70 million, you'd still be a long way from paying for all the things you want to do. So where does the rest of the money come from?
GB: The other thing is about the government's plan to deal with getting the back to balance in Nova Scotia. Their idea is that we will do this within four years, and we will accomplish that by taking $209 million out of the budget in the first year after the election. This is exactly what not to do when you're in a major recovery situation, because you choke off the recovery by diminishing purchasing power. So the thing to do is to address people's concrete needs in terms of minimum wage in terms of childcare, and on a number of other levels so that people are able to participate in the economy and we have a vibrant economic recovery going forward, and don't choke it off. And, I might add, that Nova Scotia is the only province in Canada at the moment where there is a definite timeframe set out for returning to balance that proposes to do this in such a short time as four years.
SM: How long would you take?
GB: I think the provinces, who are saying that this is a six, seven, eight-year project have understood it more correctly. I think that Nova Scotia Liberals are wrongheaded and fiscally foolish to think this can be done in four years without choking off the recovery and doing real damage.