'You have a partner in me,' Earle McCurdy tells Board of Trade

Despite the unlikely alliance of a former union leader and a room full of employers, Earle McCurdy received plenty of laughs at a St. John's Board of Trade luncheon Friday.

Earle McCurdy calls NDP 'a friend of small business'

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy took his pitch to the St. John's Board of Trade on Friday. (CBC)

NDP Leader Earle McCurdy took his policies to a business audience in St. John's Friday, saying  "you have a partner in me."

Despite the unlikely alliance of a former union leader and a room full of employers, McCurdy got lots of laughs.

"First square meal I've had in a month," he joked to the lunchtime audience.

McCurdy also drew applause, as he promised to eliminate the tax on small business and increase the wage top-up for parental leave.

"We can't shrink our way out of trouble," he said. "The lousiest tool for getting out of a hole is a shovel."

Family friendly

McCurdy said the biggest challenge facing Newfoundland and Labrador is its aging population.  

"A critical part of planning for the future of this province is developing an environment where young people want to stay to get educated, to work, to put down roots, to start a family," he said.

"And if we're unable to develop an approach to that — then quite frankly we don't have a hope."

To do that, McCurdy said the NDP would bring in measures to help parents take time off work to have children.

"Our party would top up E.I. (employment insurance), which pays 55 per cent of average earned income, to 80 per cent," he said.

"That would provide concrete help to people who are trying to raise a family, help young people get a start in life," he said, to applause from the business audience. 

The NDP, he said, will also reinstate a tuition freeze for all students, including those from outside the province, and improve public services. 

'Balancing act'

New Democrats have also promised to increase the minimum wage by a dollar in 2016, a move McCurdy acknowledged would be tough for many small businesses.

However, he said the party would also eliminate the tax on small business, another promise that drew applause from the Board of Trade members. 

McCurdy said the NDP will cost out its election promises on Monday, but said he would strike a balance between spending and borrowing.

"Too much debt ends up shackling us with debt-servicing costs," he said. 

McCurdy tells members of the business community that he wants to work together to help keep young people in the province. (CBC)

"We believe in prudent management of the province's finances, but at the same time we have to make sure that the cure, the so-called cure for our economic ills, is not worse than the disease and doesn't make a bad situation worse."

Investing in companies that create 'green jobs' is a priority, said McCurdy, to offset losses in the oil and gas sector and to deal with climate change, which he called "one of the greatest challenges of our time."

McCurdy said the NDP will also announce supports for protecting the environment and a new plan for the fishery.

"We survived Beaumont-Hamel, we survived the sealing disaster, we survived the Ocean Ranger, we survived the northern cod moratorium," he said. 

"Yes we have challenges today, but if we survived those challenges and those disasters, then we can surely overcome the current financial and demographic challenges. Now is not the time to lose our nerve."