The Current

What does a minister of middle class prosperity do? Mona Fortier on her new job

Many questions have been raised about what precisely the minister of middle class prosperity, Mona Fortier, will be responsible for in this newly-created role. The Current's Laura Lynch spoke to Fortier about the new job.

Ottawa MP was appointed to the newly-created role in Wednesday's cabinet shuffle

Liberal MP Mona Fortier arrives for the swearing in of the new cabinet at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
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How do you define middle class?

It's a highly-debated question, which again came into focus when Ottawa Liberal MP Mona Fortier was appointed the minister of middle class prosperity in a Wednesday cabinet shuffle.

The Current's interim host Laura Lynch spoke to Fortier — who was also appointed associate finance minister — to ask just what, precisely, her newly-created role will entail.

Here is part of their conversation.

What exactly is your job, as you understand it?

During the campaign, we heard from Canadians that they expect us to work hard and deliver strong results for the middle class and make life more affordable.

And to deliver on that platform and take real steps to build the Canadian economy for everyone, I've been mandated as minister of middle class prosperity, and associate minister of finance, to work with my colleagues to make sure we have that lens enabling the fact that we want to put measures in to continue to grow our economy.

But let's talk about definitions here. A lot of Canadians think of themselves as middle-class. How do you define that term?

Well, we know that we want a very strong economy for everyone. And having a strong middle class will entail the fact that we can continue to put measures and helping those that want to join the middle class to have access to those programs.

Fortier is sworn in as Minister of Middle Class Prosperity and Associate Minister of Finance at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

But what's the definition? I mean, you hear differing definitions. Some people say it's a median income — the median income is $70,000 a year for a household. How do you define middle class?

Well, I define the middle class where people feel that they can afford their way of life. They have quality of life. And they can ... send their kids to play hockey or even have different activities. 

It's having the cost of living where you can do what you want with your family. So I think that it's really important that we look at, how do we make our lives more affordable now? 

And that's, for me, something that we will be putting measures, and really putting efforts, with my colleagues, to have a strong economy.

We heard [Prime Minister Justin Trudeau] earlier talking about pledging to make a middle class tax cut his government's first act of business. What can Canadians expect there?

So as you probably have seen, during the last campaign, we had put, in the first few weeks, the idea of really reducing income tax on the middle class as the first step that we'll be undertaking. So we will be cutting. And —

Do you know by how much? Have you got an idea?

At this time I don't have the exact number. We have an idea, but I don't have the exact number.

David MacDonald from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives did an in-depth analysis of who benefits most from increasing a basic exemption from $13,000 to $15,000 ... and in fact, he says, it's upper-middle-class families earning between $100,000 to $200,000 a year [who benefit most]. 

Is that who really needs the most help?

Again, if we look at a piecemeal approach, we can look at different measures that we are trying to put in to help different realities that Canadians have. 

So by raising [the exemption] to $15,000, it'll help a certain group. But then we want to also help — like we did with the Canadian child benefit — help those that needed help to help for their children's different bills. 

So we will have different measures.

But you're not saying that ... families that earn between $100,000 to $200,000 a year need more help from government, are you?

Well, we know and we have really pledged the fact that the one per cent needs to give a little bit more. So we will put measures in to help the ones that can continue to build a strong economy and through the middle class we will be doing that.

Members of cabinet stand behind Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as he speaks to reporters following a swearing in ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, on Wednesday. (Justin Tang / Canadian Press)

I'm wondering whether the needs of the poor should be a higher priority than those of people who earn as much as $200,000 a year.

Well, this is exactly why we put in the Canada Child Benefit, and also increased it in the last year. So I believe we will continue on concentrating to help those who are in more vulnerable situations to give them that push to be able to have more money in their pocket.

Let's talk about that a little bit more, because the government has been praised for increasing the Canada Child Benefit. And according to Statistics Canada, again, it was a factor in lifting 278,000 children out of poverty between 2015 and 2017.

And that has some saying it should be expanded into a basic income program that would lift people out of poverty, whether they have young children or not. What do you think of that?

Well, it's an option that we have to look at. I'm not sure that we have decided exactly which will be the next measure, but it is a conversation we have to have.


Written by Allie Jaynes. Produced by Julie Crysler. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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