TORONTO — Federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh delivered a frank message to corporate Canada on Friday, saying it is time for companies and the wealthy to start paying their fair shares as everyday Canadians struggle to make ends meet.
Singh also faced questions about what an NDP government’s relationship with the private sector would look like, given his sustained attacks, and whether his policies could drive away business, jobs and economic prosperity.
Hours after promising a cap on cellphone and internet services prices, Singh told a roomful of Toronto movers and shakers that an NDP government would roll back previous tax cuts for corporations and raise taxes on people making more than $210,000 per year.
Those measures are on top of a proposed tax on multimillionaires who are worth more than $20 million, which the NDP unveiled earlier this week. The NDP would not touch the tax rate for small businesses.
Singh described the tax measures as necessary for building a more equitable society, one in which the country’s wealthiest help pay for universal pharmacare, more affordable childcare and housing and free tuition for students.
“What we need to do is ask the very wealthy to pay a little more,″ he said in his luncheon speech to The Canadian Club of Toronto, which counts some of the city’s most powerful politicians, business and social leaders among its ranks.
``If you want to invest in and contribute to this beautiful country, it means that those who are able to contribute a bit more — i.e. pay more taxes — should do so.”
Cap telecom prices
The Toronto speech reflected the NDP’s strategy of appealing to voters concerned about pocketbook issues by targeting big business and wealthy Canadians, which earlier in the day included going after the country’s telecommunications industry.
Singh promised to cap the prices of cellphone and internet services, to order telecom companies to offer affordable basic plans with unlimited data, and to make it easier for third-party service providers to use existing networks.
The NDP leader has also made a point of accusing the Liberals and Conservatives of caving to corporate demands, which he reiterated both during the telecom announcement and in his speech to the Canadian Club.
“I’m not going to mince words: Under a New Democratic government, the wealthiest and powerful corporations will be paying more,” said Singh, whose election campaign has so far focused exclusively on Ontario.
“The problem is that decisions have been made that have made it easier and easier for those at the very top, the very powerful, not to contribute their fair share. And it has a cost. People pay the price.”
Singh acknowledged his proposed tax hikes might not bring him friends in industry, but said businesses need to start working to the benefit of all Canadians, rather than for the wealthy and powerful.
“I don’t want to make anyone an enemy, but I want to definitely take on the powerful,” he said during the telecom announcement in the Toronto riding of Beaches-East York, where supporters waved signs of emoticons with sad faces and exploding heads.
“I think that they’ve had a free ride ... We can work with business. We can create a good climate that allows businesses to thrive, but we don’t want to create a condition where corporations thrive and people suffer.”
Following Singh’s promise to cap internet and cellphone prices, the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association, which represents the industry, described price caps as unworkable, unnecessary and likely to stifle both investment and innovation.
The association cited Statistics Canada as saying mobile wireless prices declined by 53.6 per cent between 2014 and 2018 while attacking his claims that similar measures in Australia and the United States have worked — or have even been adopted.
“A lot of these political arguments about Canadian wireless are old news or outright misconceptions,” said association president Robert Ghiz in a statement. (He’s a former Liberal premier of Prince Edward Island.)
“Politicians should focus on policies that encourage continued investment in Canada’s wireless infrastructure — and maybe even acknowledge that Canada’s wireless accomplishments are actually a source of pride for our country.”
Singh also pushed back against concerns his policies will drive employers from Canada, saying taxes are only one factor businesses consider when setting up shop and that companies will benefit from the new social services he plans to introduce.
While much of Singh’s speech to the Canadian Club focused on getting industry and the wealthy to contribute more, the NDP leader also promised to push for trade deals that protect the manufacturing sector and to cut credit-card fees for small businesses.
“I know this is kind of tough because you’ve got MasterCard sitting right over there,” Singh joked at one point. “My bad. But that’s what we believe in. But we’ll work together. There are other ways we can work together.”
The NDP leader also floated the idea of a made-in-Canada requirement for public procurements, citing Via Rail’s decision last year to spend $989 million on trains from German company Siemens rather than Montreal-based Bombardier Inc.
While Singh did not provide details, such a measure could run afoul of Canada’s obligations under international trade law and stoke anger in other countries such as the U.S.
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