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The “media” by-election: where Toronto Centre candidates stand on your issues

Next week’s federal by-election in Toronto Centre features three – 3! – media workers as candidates.  So we thought it was a good opportunity to put them, and their parties, on the record about the questions MT Commons members have been talking about lately: the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, precarious employment, unpaid internships and public service media.

We tried to host an all-candidates event in conjunction with Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, but only two of the four main candidates – the Green Party’s John Deverell, a former Toronto Star reporter, and the NDP’s Linda McQuaig, a writer and columnist – agreed to participate. Liberal candidate, and former Thomson Reuters executive, Chrystia Freeland’s campaign declined, as it did for the cancelled event planned by Friends of Canadian Broadcasting. We never heard back from Conservative candidate Geoff Pollock.

Instead, we sent a questionnaire to the four candidates and asked them to answer in writing or on video. Three candidates responded – Deverell by video, and Freeland and McQuaig in writing. Their responses are below and give us a good mid-term sense of the parties’ positions on some of the most important issues facing media and tech workers in Canada. Any of you living and voting in Toronto Centre can use this information to make a more informed vote on November 25.

Question 1
It has been argued that the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the practice of offshoring jobs from Canada to lower-wage countries undermines the ability of workers living in Canada to find quality, stable jobs. Do you agree? If yes, what should the federal government do to fix the TFWP and stem the offshoring of jobs? If no, please explain why not.


Freeland: Yes.  Under the Harper Conservatives, the number of temporary foreign workers has ballooned and the government has allowed the program to be consistently abused as a vehicle to replace Canadian workers with foreign workers who can be paid less. The Harper Conservatives are placing a higher priority on outsourcing Canadian jobs to foreign workers than on training our labour force to match unprecedented skills shortages across the country.

Liberals have called on the Conservatives to take immediate action and reform the program. In fact we used an Opposition Day in the House of Commons to debate a motion that would have led to a full Parliamentary review of the program. However, the Conservative government voted against reviewing it.

The TFW program should only be used when there are no Canadian workers available to fill a position and the loopholes that are allowing temporary foreign workers to take the jobs of Canadians must be removed.

McQuaig: Conservatives’ weak rules and poor planning have completely bungled the Temporary Foreign Worker program. They have abandoned Canadian workers and are using Temporary Foreign Workers to cover up for their failure to address skills and labour shortages across the country.

The Temporary Foreign Worker Program is intended to address temporary skills shortages that cannot be filled by Canadians. However, under Conservative mismanagement it has ballooned into a program and has been subject to abuse by some employers. By allowing employers to pay lower wages to temporary foreign workers, the Conservatives are pressing down wages for all Canadian workers. The TFWP should be managed in a way that builds Canadian communities, protects the rights of all workers in Canada, and helps to grow our economy. New Democrats believe that more rigorous screening is needed to ensure Canadian jobs are not at risk, and foreign workers deserve better regulation and oversight of working conditions.

New Democrats successfully pressed the government to make substantive changes to this program – but the Conservative changes did not go far enough. It is time the Auditor General conducted an independent review of the program. We are asking for investment in better labour market information. With a more accurate picture of the labour market, we could make sure that Canadians workers are not displaced. We are also demanding proper monitoring and enforcement to prevent future misuse of the program. Finally, we are demanding that the government to work with provinces and territories to ensure that TFWs are not subject to rights abuses and unfair treatment.

It is the government’s responsibility to create long-term training solutions for workers and employers – given the recent conflict with the provinces over the Canada Job Grant, the Conservatives are clearly failing at this task. That is why New Democrats recently proposed a tax credit for businesses that hire and invest in the training of young Canadians.

Question 2
Workers are increasingly being hired as “independent contractors” instead of employees, which under current rules prevents them from accessing Employment Insurance, receiving Canadian Pension Plan contributions from their employer, and benefiting from the employment standards outlined in the labour code. Would you work to change the rules so that “independent contractors” can access benefits and protections that other workers enjoy? If yes, what changes would you make? If not, please explain.

Deverell: see video, embedded above.

Freeland: Yes. We believe that the programs – including EI and CPP – but also our labour protection rules, must be constantly assessed to ensure that they continually meet the needs of today’s workforce, including self-employed people like independent contractors.

People who are self-employed are important to our economy, as workers and business owners, and Liberals would examine how to improve existing rules to ensure the self-employed receive the same protection as other Canadians.

But we also must look not just at how different types of work are protected by these programs. We also must look at the effectiveness of the programs themselves.

For example, the EI system is a critical part of our social safety net, but it has failed to keep up with the times. As it stands, there is no flexibility in the current program for people with episodic disabilities, who are often unable to work full-time. Further, EI sickness benefits fail to provide enough weeks of benefits to fully support Canadians recovering from serious illnesses like breast cancer.

A strong social safety net and robust labour protection are essential Canadian values, something Liberals will always stand up for.

McQuaig: More and more Canadians are working as independent contractors, are self-employed, freelance or working multiple part-time jobs, and a growing number of young workers are working for free as unpaid interns. They have no access to a workplace pension, no benefits and no job security.

New Democrats strongly believe these workers deserve the same protections and benefits as all workers. Andrew Cash, MP for Toronto-Davenport, has tabled A National Urban Workers Strategy in Parliament that would increase access to employment insurance for all workers, bring more fairness to the tax system for the self-employed and for workers with fluctuating incomes, and ensure that all Canadians can retire with a livable pension. It would also prevent the misclassification of employees as “independent contractors”.

We know this is an issue in Toronto Centre, and this national urban workers strategy would support all Canadians in big cities, small towns and rural areas who are struggling with the issues of precarious employment. It is time our policies reflect the reality of work in the 21st century and our laws need to get up to speed. I look forward to working with the NDP to lead this change, working with all levels of government to ensure these workers get access to needed protections and benefits in the workplace.

Question 3
Do you think the Canada Labour Code, or another piece of legislation, should include provisions to protect interns, including unpaid interns, in federally regulated workplaces?

Deverell: see video embedded above

Freeland: Yes. Young Canadians bore the brunt of the recession and have been left behind during the economic recovery. Today, there are still 224,000 fewer jobs for young Canadians compared to before the downturn. According to Statistics Canada, the gap between the youth unemployment rate and the adult unemployment rate hit a record high earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives refuse to acknowledge the extent of the problem. Instead, they have picked a fight with the provinces about training programs, and cut the number of student jobs in the Canada Summer Jobs Program by more than half.

Too many young Canadians now find themselves caught in a cycle of jumping from part-time job to part-time job. They feel pressured to take unpaid internships in order to gain work experience.

Canadian household debt is at a record high with the average household owing $1.65 for every dollar of disposable income. One of the drivers of high household debt is middle-class family members helping adult children who are not financially self-sufficient.

Today 30% of Canadians in their late twenties still live at home with their parents (double the rate of thirty years ago). Many of the opportunities their parents had simply aren’t there for young Canadians today.

McQuaig: Young people and recent graduates are faced with one of the weakest labour markets in decades. Instead of finding promising entry-level positions, they are being asked to work for free. This is unfair, and can be dangerous. We need to strengthen the laws that are already on the books to crack down on exploitive internships and make sure workers are being treated fairly.

The National Urban Worker Strategy referred to above would strike a joint task force of provincial and federal ministers to identify gaps in the regulation of internships, improve the monitoring of internships across the country, promote public awareness of workers’ rights, and ensure enforcement of existing laws. The federal government should be a leader in terms of how they treat workers in federal jurisdiction. For illegal unpaid internships, health and safety laws should already apply and certainly need to be enforced. New Democrats will fight to ensure young people are not exploited by badly regulated internships, and expand health and safety protections for the internships that are legitimate.

Question 4
Canada’s public service media (e.g. CBC/Radio-Canada, APTN & CPAC) are an important source of quality media jobs and excellent reporting and storytelling from diverse voices. Is the federal government currently fulfilling its role in supporting public service media? If yes, explain how. If not, what do you believe it should be doing instead?

Deverell: see video embedded above

Freeland: No. The government has made significant cuts to the CBC –$115 million on an ongoing basis, or more than 10% of our public broadcaster’s core funding. They have also cut $40 million in funding to the CBC by phasing out the local Programming Improvement Fund. This has undermined the ability of the CBC to offer high quality programming in both languages to Canadians across the country.

The Liberal Party believes that Canada must maintain the Canadian content and local programming obligations of broadcasters. The CBC, our national public broadcaster, plays a vital role in the protection and promotion of Canadian culture, and the Liberal Party will continue to fight to ensure our national broadcaster is provided with the stable and predictable funding it needs to deliver service to Canadians.

The Liberal Party also believes that Radio-Canada has a unique role as the only defender on the airwaves of the French language from coast to coast to coast.

McQuaig: The NDP truly believes in the objectives of the Broadcasting Act. It is the responsibility of the federal government and the CRTC to ensure that broadcasting reflects Canada’s diversity, promotes Canadian content, remains in the hands of Canadians, promotes community and local content, and maintains a public and private component.  Services like APTN and CPAC help achieve these goals, while playing an important role in Canada’s democracy. CPAC is a vehicle by which Canadians can connect with Parliament and their MP. APTN is the first and only national Aboriginal broadcaster in the world presenting programming for and by Aboriginal Peoples. This unique voice in our broadcasting system builds bridges between Canadians. Due to the key and unique role they play, the NDP supports using mandatory carriage for important public broadcasters such as APTN and CPAC.

We believe that public service media are a crucial public good. Investigative reporting and world-class journalism from our public service media need to be protected and enhanced. Public broadcasters play a crucial role in building and protecting our identity. A strong public broadcaster is crucial in connecting a large and diverse country and maintaining a distinct identity from the United States. The NDP has stood up for an independent public broadcaster in Canada for decades – we have continually denounced the many years of Liberal and Conservative neglect and budget cuts to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

As such, the NDP has been advocating that CBC/Radio-Canada receive appropriate and long term funding to allow the broadcaster to fully achieve its mandate and strategic plan. Liberal and Conservative governments have poor records of slashing CBC’s budget and appointing political supporters to CBC’s Board of Directors. Liberals cut the CBC by more than $400 million dollars (33%) in the 1990’s, and after the 1997 election, they cut CBC’s budget by another $26 million a year. Conservatives have eliminated 650 positions at the CBC over three years as a result of their $115 million budget cuts in 2012. Even worse, the government’s changes in C-60, last spring’s budget bill, directly threaten the independence of the CBC. That’s why New Democrats tabled a motion to get CBC out of C-60 last spring to protect it against federal government interference.

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