Sears workers’ pensions sacrificed to corporate welfare

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien in The Daily Gleaner

Canadians can count on the NDP to keep fighting for workers, pensions and a fairer Canada that works for everyone, not just the big corporations and the wealthiest.

The NDP is calling on the Liberal government to protect pensions and health-care benefits of Sears Canada employees and retirees. Sears Canada will pay $7.6 million in bonuses to 43 executives while 2,900 employees are laid off without severance.

Like other large multinational corporations, Sears is permitted under Canada’s bankruptcy laws to pay big bonuses to their executives instead of being forced to pay severance of the workers the company has laid-off.

The pensions earned by workers from Sears Canada are deferred wages, plain and simple. These pensions aren’t Sears money, they are the workers’ money. This money was taken off of the workers paycheques to go towards their pensions. Some people have worked there 20 or 30 or more years and have paid into their pensions all along.

Diverting, withholding or seizing those funds should be illegal. The current system under the Liberals is broken. The Liberal government needs to stand up for Canadian retirees and stop the organized theft of workers’ pensions.

Sears Canada, like other large multinational corporations, is using Canada’s inadequate bankruptcy laws to take money meant for workers’ pensions and divert it to pay off their secure creditors, who in many cases, are often their parent companies.

The Liberals must lead by example and prioritize protecting workers’ pension plans. Workers fulfilled their obligation regarding paying into their pension; companies such as Sears Canada must do the same.

This needs to be about fairness for workers. We will continue to fight for a Canada that works for everyone, and we will make sure corporations and multinationals can’t steal the pensions their workers and retirees have earned.

The NDP believes that a contract is a contract is a contract. We owe our retirees better than promising a plan for their retirement then reducing it without their input and consent. The NDP’s policy has always been that workers’ pensions, back salary and overtime should be paid before their bosses’ bonuses, dividends and shareholders. It’s simply the right thing to do.

The Liberals and Progressive Conservatives have left New Brunswick with one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada. Between 2005 and 2011 the Liberals, and then the Tories, gave $150 million of your money to companies that no longer exist.

Corporate welfare chokes off economic growth and discourages investors. They love talking about ‘creating jobs’ but too often that means bribing outside companies with your tax dollars. Too often those jobs aren’t sustainable and those companies leave after a few years, or demand more and more in government subsidies. New Brunswick deserves better.

This Sears deal that the Gallant Liberals offered was more of the same. If we add up the payroll rebates, the non-refundable loans and the additional grants from the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour (money that was earmarked to help recent graduates find jobs in their fields) that equals $11,789,000 in subsidies to Sears from the New Brunswick government. That equals $22,243 per job.

The NDP will end corporate handouts. They don’t work. They cost us money we don’t have, money that has to come from programs we need – such as health care and education.

When entrepreneurs and small-business owners can’t get a fair start because they don’t have the right political connections, it hurts everyone. The NDP will invest in New Brunswick’s entrepreneurs, small businesses and municipalities.

The NDP will create jobs by introducing a New Jobs Tax Credit to reward companies that create new jobs. This tax credit will be available to any employer who creates a new job: no politics, no complicated bureaucracy.

The New Jobs Tax Credit will work. Six of the 10 U.S. states with the lowest unemployment rates used a jobs tax credit to jump-start their economies. New Brunswick economists predict that the NDP New Jobs Tax Credit will create between 15,000 and 20,000 jobs within four years.

We will build on our resource economy, but we will also look to tourism, the arts, and non-profits to create new economic opportunities that have long been ignored. The NDP will create jobs and get the economy back on the right track.

Rosaire L’Italien is the leader of the provincial New Democratic Party.

Happy Canada Day From The NB NDP!

The festivities marking the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation are in full swing and there are many reasons for Canadians to celebrate.

As New Democrats, we should be particularly proud of the contributions we have made to Canada and to our province.

The very hallmarks of Canadian identity – universal health care, publicly funded pensions, employment insurance and other social safety nets – all trace their origins to our party.

In New Brunswick, that commitment to creating a fairer and inclusive society has been demonstrated by past NDP leaders and legislators like Elizabeth Weir, George Little and Robert Hall.

But our nation is far from perfect. Too many in Canada have been excluded from the country’s prosperity, especially indigenous communities and low-income Canadians. In New Brunswick, literacy levels are low and one in five children live in poverty.

For New Democrats, the nation-building is far from over.
Will you help us in our fight to build a province where everyone has reason to celebrate Canada 150?

If so, I’m hoping you will make a one-time donation of $1,500, $150 or $15 to the New Brunswick NDP today.

You can donate online at or by mailing a cheque payable to the New Brunswick NDP to: 924 Prospect Street, Suite #2, Fredericton, NB, E3B 2T9.

Ignoring housing and homelessness costs more than addressing the issue

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien, Interim Leader of the NB NDP in The Daily Gleaner

Where is New Brunswick’s housing strategy?

New Brunswick is the second poorest province in Canada in terms of income. For a province full of hard-working people, and full of natural riches, that’s not acceptable. Too many New Brunswickers today are poor, excluded, and struggling. Too many New Brunswickers are leaving our province, and not enough new Canadians are making this great province their home.

For a number of years now New Brunswick has been said to be facing a housing crisis. Increases in rent, a shortage of rental housing, an excessive number of families spending more than 30 per cent of their income on shelter, and a growing number of homeless people are just some of the effects of Canada’s housing crisis. Almost half of all single mothers live in poverty in New Brunswick, and nearly one in five children in New Brunswick are growing up in poverty.

New Brunswick’s last housing strategy expired in 2015. In the intervening two years, New Brunswick has simply gone without a housing strategy. While there seems to be some vague talk about a “consultation process” there has yet to be any result in place, and going two years without a housing strategy is unacceptable.

Affordable housing is important because it addresses the root cause of many social problems big and small. Housing is much more than a physical place with rooms and furniture: it is essential to the sense of security and stability needed to prevent marginalization. Housing serves as an anchor to an individual’s community, a retreat and a refuge.

As a major determinant of physical and mental health, housing, in and of itself, gives rise to a number of benefits. These extend to education, social activities, income security, integration of immigrants, community development and the job market. By contrast, lack of housing makes it hard for vulnerable people (such as the elderly and people on fixed income and those with disabilities or experiencing homelessness) to manage chronic health conditions. It leads to reliance on emergency rooms for health care and emergency shelter, and contributes to poor health outcomes and reduced life expectancy.

What’s more is that ignoring housing and homelessness is more costly than addressing them. Homelessness is expensive because those affected are more likely than the average person to end up in hospitals and correctional facilities. The most recent figures show that homelessness costs the Canadian government approximately $7 billion a year, while the federal government was spending barely $119 million a year in 2016 to combat homelessness. Eradicating homelessness is actually a sensible investment for the government.

Prime Minister Trudeau promised to create a national housing strategy, and right now is working towards doing so. That means that this is precisely the time for the Gallant government to work with the feds to leverage resources.

The past withdrawal of support for housing and homelessness initiatives by Conservative and Liberal governments at all levels of government is unacceptable. Canadians need government that listens, and works together with all levels of government (be they federal, provincial and municipal) and civil society stakeholder groups to make changes that are necessary to support the worst off in our communities.

The NB NDP believes our province should be judged by the way we treat the most vulnerable.

That’s why we will implement the most aggressive poverty reduction strategy in New Brunswick history. We will protect New Brunswickers from predatory payday loan lenders and we will introduce a Social Assistance Bill of Rights. The NDP will stand up for social justice in the workplace by introducing pay equity and anti-replacement worker legislation. We will put a stop to the criminalization of mental illness by introducing a Mental Health Court. And we will integrate Housing First principles into a provincial affordable housing strategy.

We will do all this because it will unleash untapped potential in our economy, because it will offer a better life for New Brunswick families and, in particular, their children.

And we will do this because it’s the right thing to do.

Bernard Lord out of touch with realities of Canadian healthcare

Former New Brunswick Premier Bernard Lord appeared before a Senate committee in Ottawa this week, stating his belief that an expanded role for private medical care would ease the burden on the public health care system.

“Years of shrinking federal health transfers and cuts from Liberals like Jean Chrétien, Paul Martin, Justin Trudeau, and Lord’s federal Tory friends in the Harper government have added strain to the public health care system. We know investments are needed today at the provincial level to offset this shrinking federal role in health care, and an NDP government in this province would make those investments,” said NB NDP Interim Leader, Rosaire L’Italien.

L’Italien noted that Lord, now the CEO of Medavie, is likely out of touch with the realities facing ordinary Canadians with regards to their health care.

“Bernard Lord and his CEO friends may have the money for more user fees to access private medical care, but most New Brunswickers can’t afford added costs to access their health care. We need an expanded public health system that offers comprehensive drug coverage, expanded dental coverage for our most vulnerable people, and expanded mental health services and home care.”

“He says people often throw around ‘Americanization’ as a fear mongering term in the health care debate in this country. Well I can tell you that New Brunswickers and people across the country have legitimate fears of an expanded role for the private sector and insurance companies, our neighbours to the south do offer proof of that.”

L’Italien concluded his remarks by saying that privatization has added an unnecessary expense to almost every sector where it’s replaced a public service in recent years.

“We know that two-tier health care only adds extra costs onto the backs of ordinary Canadians. Just as P3s add massive costs to infrastructure projects – private is not the answer, unless more expensive is what you’re looking for.”

Every Vote Should Count In New Brunswick

Commentary by Rosaire L’Italien, Interim Leader of the New Brunswick New Democratic Party which appeared in The Daily Gleaner.

Our voting system has been with us since before 1867: before the automobile, before the lightbulb, even before tin cans. Virtually every aspect of daily life in New Brunswick has changed since then, yet the foundation of our democracy, how we choose our elected leaders, remains for the most part unchanged.

In our last election hundreds of thousands of New Brunswickers went to the polls to elect their government. However, due to the distortions caused by our First Past The Post election system, the results people voted for weren’t the results they got. In 2014 nearly a quarter of the electorate voted for parties that weren’t the Liberals and PCs.

Premier Gallant made an effort to address this when he convened the New Brunswick Special Commission on Electoral Reform earlier this year, however this did not look at the electoral system which has been proven to work best in other countries: proportional representation.

Proportional representation is an electoral system designed to ensure that the number of seats a party wins closely matches the percentage of votes it receives. Proportional Representation is used by more than 90 countries, including over 85 per cent of the wealthier OECD countries. It is not an obscure system – it is trusted and valued worldwide.

However when Premier Gallant set up the Commission on Electoral Reform he did not empower the commission to look at proportional representation, but rather a something called preferential, or ranked, ballots.

Preferential ballots are not used frequently around the world, and even right here in Canada Prime Minister Trudeau distanced himself from preferential ballots when he looked at electoral reform, saying: “I have heard very clearly that people think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another.”

The New Brunswick Special Commission on Electoral Reform’s report stated that there was widespread support for proportional representation based systems. This is what we need in New Brunswick: a system that will make every vote count.

This is not currently the case in New Brunswick, and this democratic deficit is leaving voices not heard and values not represented.

If the NDP gets elected we promise that an independent citizen’s commission will develop a model of proportional representation to ensure that every vote counts in provincial elections, and will present that model to the Legislative Assembly.

One of the other things the commission looked at was lowering the voting age. The NDP feels that if young people vote in their first election they are much more likely to vote in future elections. As part of a comprehensive civics program the NDP will reduce the provincial and municipal election voting age to 16.

Now more than ever we need our democracy to work for everyone. It is time for change in how our votes get counted in order to make every vote count.