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Federal Politics
Labour + Industry

For Struggling Workers, Singh and Poilievre Pitch Different Fixes

Employment insurance ‘no longer meets the reality that people are working in,’ says the NDP leader.

Brishti Basu 13 Mar 2024The Tyee

Brishti Basu reports on labour for The Tyee. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative. Follow her on X @brish_ti.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre made several stops in B.C. last week aiming to convince voters their parties have solutions for the working class.

Both shared ideas on affordability and housing.

But much remains unknown about their plans to address some key issues for workers — affordable child care, workplace rights, post-secondary education, better protection for gig workers and Canada’s growing reliance on temporary foreign workers.

Without being specific, Singh said he envisions changes to the Canada Labour Code and the Employment Insurance Act in a post-pandemic era to reflect the way work has changed.

“EI was designed at a time when people worked a very stereotypical nine to five, at one company permanently and then might have been laid off... but it no longer meets the reality that people are working in,” Singh said at an Esquimalt stop.

“The vast majority of workers aren't even covered by the program, so I would change the criteria and the accessibility,” he added. Self-employed people and most gig workers aren’t covered by EI.

Poilievre focused on private sector solutions to improve life for working Canadians.

A lack of investment in Canadian businesses is to blame for lower paycheques for workers, he said in a speech to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade.

“Our workers, despite the fact that they are the best in the world, are losing wages and no wonder they can't pay their bills,” Poilievre said.

“We're going to unlock the power of the free enterprise system, make Canada the fastest place in the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] to get a permit, lower taxes, reform the tax system to bring home more production to this country and productive investment that will mean more powerful paycheques for our people.”

Singh ended his weeklong tour Sunday with a stop in front of an apartment building in Esquimalt.

The 16-unit building had been for sale as an investment opportunity.

Instead it was bought by Lu’ma Native Housing Society. It used $3 million from B.C.’s Rental Protection Fund to help cover the $5.3-million cost.

The B.C. government created the $500-million fund to help non-profits and community organizations to buy and preserve more affordable housing.

Singh says the same approach should be used at the federal level to tackle the housing crisis.

“We need to rig the system in favour of working people,” Singh said.

“If the BC NDP government can do $500 million, and it's saving buildings that would otherwise turn into luxury apartments that people can't afford... the federal government should be, at a minimum, able to match that given the crisis we're in right now.”

A light-skinned man with styled short dark hair stands at a podium. He wears a dark suit and tie and light shirt.
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre took his BC campaign to the Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Friday. Screenshot from CPAC.

Poilievre said his plan to make life more affordable involves cutting the carbon tax, repealing “the insane anti-development laws that we have right now” that block new housing and encouraging private sector housing investment.

“When I'm prime minister, my obsession, my daily obsession, will be about what is good for the working-class people in this country.”

During his Vancouver Island tour, Singh said the NDP asked for specific measures to be funded in the coming federal budget: a national rental protection fund, a national school lunch program, “more investment in housing” and “measures to bring down the cost of groceries.”

While Singh spoke to a small group of reporters in front of the apartment building on Sunday, a young woman in her late 20s sat on a porch in a neighbouring house, looking on.

Kira Adams wasn’t sure what Singh was announcing but said what she wants is higher paycheques and lower rents.

Sharing her story with The Tyee, Adams said she moved back in with her parents in Esquimalt after she was renovicted out of a $750-a-month one-bedroom rental in Vernon after the building was sold to buyers from Vancouver.

“It's impossible to find a one-bedroom for under $1,000; most people can't afford that. I know I can’t,” said Adams, who works at the Wholesale Club in Esquimalt.

“It’s kind of sad. I’m almost 30 and then I [move back in] with Mom and Dad; it sucks that I had no other choice.”  [Tyee]

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