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Sunday, January 29, 2012

A More Caring Canada: Paul Dewar’s Plan for Families

A More Caring Canada: Paul Dewar’s Plan for Families

January 28th, 2012

This leadership campaign is about building a stronger and more caring Canada. A country where we take better care of each other.

The Conservative majority is leaving ordinary people behind. Three million Canadians live in poverty. 1.3 million are unemployed – and many more underemployed.

Canadians are facing the runaway growth of income inequality as well as record high levels of household debt. The real majority of Canadians are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

As Stephen Harper hands out corporate tax cuts to the most profitable corporations in Canada, he is threatening attacks on our retirement security, our public services and employment insurance. He offers boutique tax credits to secure electoral gains while ignoring the largest financial burdens contributing to the high levels of household debt in Canada.

It's time for leadership that is focused on people's priorities.

Paul Dewar has a plan that responds to the needs of the real majority of Canadians. Building a stronger, more caring Canada means taking action to lift the most vulnerable out of poverty, to make life more affordable for Canada's middle class and protect our retirement security.

As first practical steps, a New Democratic government led by Paul Dewar will:

1. Make prescription drugs affordable

One out of four Canadians has no prescription drug insurance coverage at all, and 8% of Canadians admit to not filling a prescription because they can’t afford to. The real majority of Canadians are finding it harder to make ends meet as the cost of essentials like prescription medicine skyrocket.

A Canada where someone has to choose between medicine and other essentials like food or shelter is not a Canada where the true New Democrat vision for public healthcare is fully realized. We need to take better care of each other, and ultimately that will mean the development of a public pharmacare program. As a first step toward the realization of that goal, a Paul Dewar-led NDP government will immediately work with provinces to reduce the cost of prescription drugs through the negotiation of bulk purchasing agreements.

Bulk purchasing is a strategy aimed at efficiently reducing costs by increasing the volume of products purchased. Experience in New Zealand, France, Germany, the United States and other jurisdictions indicates that bulk purchasing agreements result in a decrease in price per medication and an overall lower cost for governments. Already, Canada's premiers and territorial leaders have committed to working to establish a pan-Canadian purchasing alliance to bulk-buy prescription drugs, medical supplies and equipment. Now is the time for the federal government to join them as a partner, working together to quickly reduce the cost of medicine for all Canadians.

The reality is that Canadians are paying more for drugs than almost every other industrialized country in the world, with the total national spending on drugs hitting $30 billion in 2009. Billions of that is paid out-of-pocket by Canadians who have little or no insurance coverage, who may have lost coverage following unemployment, or who are retired and struggling to get by on inadequate income.

Under a bulk purchasing plan, savings would be significant - evidence shows that strong negotiations can reduce expenditures by up to 90 percent on some types of commonly used drugs, without compromising safety or effectiveness. For many families, the savings in pocket would be hundreds of dollars per year, while simultaneously reducing the cost burden on government-run pharmaceutical insurance programs.

2. Give young Canadians a fair start

When they graduate from a four-year degree, the average Canadian student owes $27,000 in debt, which will take over 7 years to pay off. The high cost of education is bankrupting a generation of young Canadians – and putting enormous financial strain on their parents, too.

When Canadian household debt is at a record high, it doesn’t make sense to continue down this road. Average tuition fees in Canada have ballooned by 400% in the last 20 years due to cuts by successive federal governments. By September 2010, student debt reached the unprecedented level of $15 billion.

Paul Dewar will reverse this trend by reducing tuition fees by an average of $700/year, giving young Canadians and their families a break. Dewar will make post-secondary education and training more accessible to the most disadvantaged students by expanding Canada Student Grants Program and targeting accessibility for Aboriginal, disabled and low-income students.

The repayment options for student loans charge interest fees of up to 5% above the prime rate. Student loans should not be a money-making scheme for the government. Instead, not only tuition fees need to be reduced in order to decrease the reliance on student loans, the government should assist young Canadians and their families to repay the loans as soon as possible. Paul Dewar will provide immediate relief to everyone with student debt by reducing the interest on student loans to prime. This will save the average Ontario graduate $2,700.

Finally, Paul Dewar will create Your Canada Year, an innovative program which will cover a year of tuition fees in return for a year of community service. The program will connect young Canadians to internship opportunities with non-profit community organizations. For 12 months, the student volunteers his/her skills to building a better Canada. In return, Your Canada Year grants up to $6,000 toward one year of tuition for post secondary education or training.

Your Canada Year will reduce the cost of post-secondary education and training, create work experience opportunities, support community groups with young and energetic volunteers, and foster Canadians' commitment to community service.

Together, Dewar's education initiatives will give young Canadians a fair start by reducing the burden of tuition fees for young Canadians and their families.

3. Protect our retirement security

Canadians work hard to ensure they have a secure retirement, living in dignity and independence. But the economic crisis showed that our retirement security is under threat. During the crisis, private plans like workplace pensions and RRSPs lost approximately 20% of their value. The government left former Nortel employees in the cold by refusing to protect underfunded pension liabilities in bankruptcy proceedings. While workers lost their pensions, managers continued to take their cut.

Instead of taking action to secure our retirement against market fluctuations, Stephen Harper is now threatening important income safety nets like Old Age Security. Paul Dewar will stand up to these attacks. He will secure the retirement savings of Canadians by strengthening our public pensions.

Working with the provinces and territories, a New Democrat government led by Paul Dewar will phase in a doubling of the Canada Pension Plan and the Quebec Pension Plan benefits. These plans have proven to be the most effective and secure retirement savings plans in the country.

Paul Dewar will secure our retirements against the Nortel-style crises by adopting the NDP legislation to put workers' hard-earned pensions at the front of the line during bankruptcy proceedings. The legislation will ensure that companies facing bankruptcy and restructuring honour their unfunded pension liabilities ahead of other creditors. The protections will extend to workers' termination and severance pay as well as their long-term disability benefits.
In response to the losses experienced by private pension plan sponsors during the recession, Dewar will develop a pension insurance plan funded by private pension plan sponsors to secure investors' savings.

Finally, Dewar would allow Canadians to take advantage of the security and low operational costs of public pension plans by allowing them to make voluntary top-up to their personal accounts.

Every Canadian deserves to retire in dignity. Dewar will ensure our hard-earned retirement savings are protected for when we need them.

4. Support for New Canadians

Every year Canada invites some of the best and the brightest in the world to move to our country and start a new life. We are a great country – the dream destination for many in the world, looking for freedom, fairness and safety.

Yet, we are not realizing the full potential of our new comers. We invite people to come to our country because of their professional credentials, but the government refuses to recognize their knowledge and restricts their contributions to our society. The government makes family reunification difficult, tearing families apart. And most recently, the government has reduced funding to some of the most important settlement programs that provides new immigrants with the ability to adapt to their new country and make a real contribution to our society.

The vision for a stronger and more caring Canada means a Canada where our new comers are supported with the services they need so that they can realize their full potential in our country.

As a first step, Dewar will implement his bill to ensure fairness and respect for thousands of foreign-trained professionals in Canada.

Dewar’s bill:
- Creates a model registration practice for foreign credential recognition in coordination with provincial accreditation offices and professional bodies to ensure transparency, objectivity and fairness;

- Establishes a Canadian Experience Fund to support the creation of mentorship and job opportunities by provinces, municipalities and community-based organizations to integrate foreign-trained professionals into the workforce; and,

- Ensures accountability by asking that the Minister report to parliament on the progress in addressing the problem on an annual basis.

Currently, it takes up to seven years to sponsor parents to Canada from China. The backlogs are tearing families apart. That's why Dewar will immediately improve family reunification to reduce the huge and unacceptable backlogs in processing immigration applications. He will implement the NDP's Once in a Lifetime Act to allow Canadians a one-time opportunity to sponsor a relative who is not a member of the family class to come to Canada.

Finally, Dewar will reverse the Stephen Harper cuts to immigrant settlement and adaptation services. He will improve settlement services by providing funding particularly for literacy, community integration and orientation, including bridging, mentorship, English and French as a second language programs and resource centres. Dewar will support Quebec programs in ensuring that all immigrants that arrive in Quebec learn French first and foremost.

Together, we can ensure that new Canadian families realize their full potentials in a stronger and more caring Canada.

5. Support for Canada’s most vulnerable

The growth of inequality in Canada combined with the policies of successive Liberal and Conservative governments over the past two decades have left the poorest Canadians on the margins. Instead of corporate income tax breaks that will cost billions, a portion of those funds could be redirected to make a real difference in the lives of low-income Canadians.

A stronger and more caring Canada will not tolerate the high levels of child poverty and growing rates of seniors poverty in our country. Unlike Stephen Harper, Paul Dewar will take immediate action to ensure all Canadians live with basic dignity and safety.

A New Democrat government led by Paul Dewar would develop a coordinated policy response to poverty in Canada, beginning with the adoption of Poverty Elimination Act created by former New Democrat MP and respected anti-poverty expert Tony Martin. The Act would create a landmark federal blueprint for action on poverty elimination focused on the three pillars of income security, housing and social inclusion.

Income security in particular plays a key role in preventing families from falling into deep poverty. To jump-start poverty prevention, Dewar will take achievable first steps towards a Guaranteed Annual Income for Canada’s most vulnerable: seniors, the disabled, and children living in poverty.

Working with the provinces, his plan would include:

Fulfilling Jack Layton’s commitment to lift every senior in Canada out of poverty by immediately boosting the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). While New Democrats secured new funding to reduce senior’s poverty in budget 2011, additional steps are necessary to lift every senior out of poverty. Boosting the GIS by an additional $400 million per year would end senior’s poverty in Canada – a simple and clear priority for a New Democrat government led by Paul Dewar.

Developing a federal income support to ensure that people with disabilities who are unable to work can live with dignity anywhere in the country. Canadians with disabilities face a patchwork of programs that fail to provide adequate income for those who cannot work or basic supports to remove barriers to employment. Canadians with episodic disabilities or serious illnesses like cancer often find that programs do not match their realities. A Paul Dewar led government would work with the disability community to create, within the first term, a federal income support program modelled after the GIS that would provide a guaranteed minimum income above the low-income cutoff for people with disabilities who are unable to secure adequate income from work alone.

Boosting the child tax benefit to ensure that the lowest income families receive a maximum of $5,300 per year per child after four years. Over twenty years after the House of Commons committed to eliminating child poverty, 639,000 children in Canada are living below the low-income cutoff. Decades of research shows that children who grow up in poverty face barriers to healthy development that can set them back for a lifetime. Paul Dewar’s plan would give every child in Canada a fair start by providing families with children with a basic level of income security.

Tackling inequality and poverty is also the smart economic thing to do. The Ontario Association of Food Banks put the annual cost of poverty at close to $90 billion dollars, through lost productivity, lost opportunity, and increased family violence. Inequality costs us through increased health costs, costs to the criminal justice system and through growing demands on an already stretched social services.

Together, these steps would ensure that Canada's most vulnerable are given the support they need to live in dignity, and the means to build the future they hope for. They will also take practical first steps to reduce the financial burden on Canada's middle class families.

Together, we can take better care of each other. We can represent the real majority of Canadians.

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