Trudeau, O’Toole and Singh answer tough questions from some of Canada’s top business leaders

The Star asked a selection of Canada’s top business leaders what they want to know from the candidates vying to be the country’s next Prime Minister.

In the first instalment of this series, three business luminaries posed questions to the leaders of the five major federal political parties. The Star received answers from the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic Party leaders.

In their own words, here are questions from Calin Rovinescu, who retired as CEO of Air Canada in February and sits on the boards of BCE and Scotiabank; Wes Hall, founder of the BlackNorth Initiative, who also founded and is executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors; and Nancy Southern, chair and CEO of Calgary-based engineering and logistics company ATCO.

(Questions and answers have been edited for length.)

Question from Calin Rovinescu:

Canada was built by people with a strong work ethic — including my own family, refugees from Romania — who believed in working hard to achieve good outcomes for themselves and their families. I am troubled that the various COVID-19 relief programs, while necessary at the start of the pandemic, are now disincentivizing employees from working. Employers from all sectors are ready to hire back staff and contribute to the economic recovery, but employees are not coming back.

What will you do to help create employment and, more importantly, to enable business to grow and expand with confidence that labour will be available at world-competitive rates?

Answer from Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau:

Our response to the pandemic? Put people first. When the pandemic hit, Canadians stepped up. And through it all, they knew they could count on us — $ 8 of every $ 10 spent in pandemic response came from the federal government.

Because of these supports, the economy is coming back to life. We have recovered more than 90 per cent of the jobs lost, more than the U.S. But we have to finish the fight and get as many people as possible vaccinated.

While we fight the virus, we will continue to be there for workers and businesses. Some — including those who benefitted from government programs — have begun to rehire, while others are still reeling from the pandemic. Many workers who had a job before the pandemic still do not have one now. We will do whatever it takes to support Canadians.

Answer from Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole:

Over the last year and a half, Canada’s unemployment rate has been among the highest in the G7. Millions have lost their jobs, and many have struggled for months to find work — particularly young people, women and racialized Canadians.

Canada’s Recovery Plan will recover the million jobs lost in sectors hit hardest by the pandemic and get as many people back to work in good jobs as quickly as possible.

We will introduce the Canada Job Surge Plan to get Canadians back to work, paying at least 25 per cent of the salary of net new hires for six months after the wage subsidy expires. To help those who have been unemployed long-term, our plan will cover up to 50 per cent of the salary for those who have been unemployed for six months or more.

Answer from NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh:

Where there is a labour shortage, there are things we can do — from improving immigration to supporting recent graduates — that can help ensure workers are there when good employers are looking to hire.

Our plans to expand our national health care system — including free prescription medication, dental care and mental health care — support families, but will also help reduce costs for employers who would no longer have to provide these benefits.

Finally, if $ 1,200 per month is enough of a deterrent from a job, we don’t have a ‘too much support’ problem. We have a ‘too little salary’ problem.

Question from Wes Hall:

Wes Hall, founder of the BlackNorth Initiative, who also founded and is executive chairman of Kingsdale Advisors.

Systemic racism has been a part of the fabric of Canada since its founding as a nation, yet we are a country built on immigration, particularly immigrants of colour. Steps taken to address systemic racism to date have not worked.

What concrete changes will you make to ensure that systemic racism is eradicated from our society?

Trudeau:

I understand some people have no lived experience of systemic racism in this country, We have made some strides in recent years to promote a more inclusive society where every Canadian can reach their full potential.

A re-elected Liberal government will: boost funding to the Anti-Racism Strategy and the Federal Anti-Racism Secretariat to combat prejudice, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism; invest in initiatives like the Black Entrepreneurship Fund and Black Endowment Fund; develop a $ 50-million Changing Narratives Fund to empower diverse communities to tell their stories and promote diverse voices in arts, culture and media; empower community organizations fighting racism with increased funding; and develop a National Action Plan on Combating Hate.

O’Toole:

Inequities exist in the legacy of Canada’s history, including the federal government’s involvement in the tragedy of residential schools, forced relocations and a failure to respond adequately to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. While there are many things we can point to in our history with pride, Canada has its own dark episodes of racism that cannot be ignored.

Every day people experience discrimination or racism in some form. There is absolutely no room for intolerance, racism or extremism of any kind in Canada — that’s why I am committed to working with communities and doing the hard work of finding concrete solutions. Conservatives believe the institutional failings that have led to these outcomes can and must be urgently addressed with practical policy changes that solve institutional and systemic problems.

Singh:

Systemic racism has been a part of our country since its founding. Eradicating it has to start with the pursuit of true reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We would begin by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

To address systemic racism, we would begin with banning carding by the RCMP and work with local jurisdictions to eliminate it entirely. To improve outcomes for racialized communities, we will collect race-based data on health, employment and policing and we will establish national standards for identifying and recording hate incidents and convene a national working group to counter online hate.

Question from Nancy Southern:

Nancy Southern, chair and CEO of Calgary-based engineering and logistics company ATCO.

The world has become more polarized in recent years, which is apparent throughout Europe and — closer to home — in the U.S. Here in Canada, we see a similar fracturing of our commonality and centrist approach. This is evident with the Quebec constitutional challenge, the lack of fulfilment on Truth and Reconciliation and the lack of support from Ottawa to develop Canada’s natural resources — in forestry, ranching, oil and gas or mining — in any region.

How do you plan to address nation building as Canada’s future leader? How will you bridge the alienation and fragility in confederation that exists today while ensuring future prosperity for country?

Trudeau:

The progress we’ve made as a country didn’t happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort. The fight against COVID-19 has been a true national effort. It has been marked by tragedy but also a real togetherness as Canadians. We need to finish the fight and ensure everyone is vaccinated so we can build a better Canada, together.

We want to do the hard work, now. Fight climate change; stand up to systemic racism; walk the path of reconciliation; and to do all that and more, end this pandemic once and for all.

These are not small goals. But during this pandemic, we’ve learned all that Canadians can do when up against a challenge.

O’Toole:

Canada is the best country in the world — and I am so proud that (my wife) Rebecca and I have the privilege of raising our family here — but I’m also worried about what our kids’ future looks like.

We are seeing a national unity crisis stemming from ideological policies that have pitted one part of the country against another. The Liberal government has chosen winners and losers, which jobs are worth saving, which industries deserve support, and which regions they will support. With Canada’s Recovery Plan, we will ensure that Canadians in every region and every sector have the economic recovery they deserve and Canadians can get back to work.

Singh:

This is a historic challenge that we must face, but it is also an opportunity to reshape the communities we live in, the way we get around, the work we do and our relationship with Indigenous peoples.

My plan will make Canada a leader and tie us together.

As big as our country is, we all experience the impact of climate change. And we can tackle it together too. To ensure that our country and future prosperity remain strong, we must make historic investments that shift our economy toward a more sustainable future and provide good and stable jobs.

Compiled by Christine Dobby, Toronto-based business reporter for the Star.

TORONTO STAR