NDP pitches daycare, Old Age Security changes to squeezed middle class
Tom Mulcair and his MPs to spend 2 days plotting strategy for coming House sitting
That was the gist of New Democrat Leader Tom Mulcair's message to both his caucus and to Canadians as he kicked off the new year with a campaign-style speech before retreating behind closed doors with his MPs to plot strategy for the upcoming sitting.
- Tom Mulcair shuffles senior staff ahead of election
- NDP MPs back on the Hill for pre-sitting strategy sessions
He also made it clear that, if elected, his government would "scrap" the Conservative proposal to allow limited income splitting for families with children under age 18.
But Mulcair says his party would keep the enhanced monthly child benefit plan unveiled by the government last fall.
He also highlighted several previously announced promises geared to appeal to Canadians feeling squeezed between raising children and worrying about their parents.
A federal NDP government, he said, would:
- Bring the qualifying age for Old Age Security back to 65 after the Conservatives raised it to 67.
- Bring in federal minimum wage at $15 an hour, something that would cover only those working in federally regulated industries.
- Introduce one million $15-a-day child-care spaces.
Mulcair also took shots at both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.
"Under Stephen Harper, inequality has grown between the privileged few and the middle class," Mulcair said.
"We’ll reverse that as well — and as a first step we’ll scrap his unfair income-splitting scheme."
Harper's "stubborn approach" has caused the economy "to falter significantly," Mulcair argued. By rolling back income splitting, "the NDP will give the middle class a little room to breathe."
In contrast, he argued, the prime minister's priority "is to give more to those who already have the most."
Trudeau 'believes he can inherit power': Mulcair
As for his Liberal rival, "many Canadians" seem to be telling Trudeau that "if he doesn’t have the experience for the job, then at least he should have a plan," Mulcair noted.
"So far, he appears to be satisfied with having neither."
He chided Trudeau for his failure to share his ideas.
"If we refuse to state where the solutions lie, it means we’re just not ready for the job, but Justin Trudeau still believes that he can just inherit power without proposing a thing," he concluded.
Mulcair closed with what will likely be his party's unofficial rallying cry in the months leading up to the next election.
"We're ready, our team is ready, and Canadians from coast to coast to coast are ready," Mulcair said to chants of 'Tom! Tom! Tom!' from his caucus.
"Let's get to work. Game on."
NDP aims dispel myths by touting party's fiscal prudence
It's the first move in what will likely be a concerted effort by the NDP to persuade Canadians that New Democrats can be trusted to manage the fragile economy.
The meeting comes as plunging oil prices and the resulting drops in tax revenues have economists warning about potential problems for both federal and provincial governments.
Insiders say the strategy sessions will focus on what the NDP sees as two myths fostered by Harper's Conservatives.
- That the Conservatives are prudent fiscal managers dedicated to economic growth and job creation and on the road to a budget surplus in the coming fiscal year.
- That a reckless, big-spending NDP government would ruin the progress that's been made, raise taxes and plunge the country back into deficit.
A perceived lack of economic expertise has long been an Achilles heel for the NDP, which has never formed a federal government.
However, New Democrats like to boast that provincial NDP governments have typically been the most fiscally prudent.
Ex-budget watchdog Kevin Page to speak Friday
Mulcair is scheduled to kick off the two-day caucus retreat with a speech that is expected to shed some light on his economic policy.
And on Friday the gathering will hear from Kevin Page, the former parliamentary budget officer, who is expected to offer a harsh critique of the Harper government's fiscal record.
Mulcair has been unveiling planks for the NDP election platform since the fall, including a national program to provide 1 million daycare spaces, at a cost of $5 billion a year once it's fully operational.
He's also pledged to restore the annual six-per-cent increase in health-care transfers to the provinces, which could drain an additional $36 billion out of federal coffers.
He has been less precise about how he'd pay for his proposals, other than promising to roll back some of the corporate tax cuts implemented by the Harper government.
The collapse of oil prices has made it more difficult for any of the parties to firmly predict how much money they'll have to play with in crafting their election platforms.
Oil price drop puts opposition under pressure
Some economists already doubt that Harper can keep his promise to balance the books in the coming fiscal year, predicting the loss of oil revenue will keep the federal government in the red for as much as another two years.
However, Finance Minister Joe Oliver has insisted the government is on track to a small surplus next year -- most of which has already been earmarked for a series of family tax benefits.
The Conservatives have put opposition parties in a position where they'll likely have to scrap some of those tax cuts in order to afford their own proposed programs — thereby reinforcing the Tory argument that they're reckless tax-and-spenders.
The Liberals have already said that they would cancel the income-splitting proposal, but would maintain the enhanced child benefit package.
Liberal spokeswoman Kate Purchase said it was disappointing to see Mulcair "join Mr. Harper in the politics of personal attacks."
"Canadians expect more from their leaders," she added.
With files from the Canadian Press