This interview with Skip Morrison, NDP candidate for Sault Ste. Marie MP, took place on Sunday, August 3rd. The Essar Steel Algoma crane operator and Manulife financial officer was elected by his party on June 16th, 2015 to represent the local NDP riding during the 2015 election campaign.
Northern Hoot: What is your plan to compete with two other candidates that have established political careers in Sault Ste. Marie? What do you bring to the table that puts you on equal footing with Sheehan and Hayes?
Skip Morrison: I have a diverse background in education and several different careers where I have been exposed to a wide variety of the aspects that make up the population of this riding and the population of this country. I have a degree in biology, taught briefly in school, worked in the oil and gas industry in Alberta. I’ve worked as a financial advisor. I’ve worked in industry both at the Paper Mill and at Essar Steel. It’s that multi-disciplinary approach that is essential, I believe, to properly address the solutions required in this day and age. These are complex times with complex issues affecting us. As I’ve said before I don’t think a couple of terms on City Council prepares anyone in any way to discuss those very complex issues. I don’t see myself in any way disadvantaged by experience. Quite the contrary. I have more experience in more areas which is what is required.
NH: So you’re drawing on your personal and professional experiences to addresses the issues in this election? Would that be accurate?
NH: Can you give me a specific example regarding a personal or professional experience that relates to one of the hot issues in this election campaign?
SM: I’ve been advising individuals, businesses and families with their retirement plans, retirement savings, education plans, their pensions, their investments- and it’s given me firsthand experience with the tax implication of government policies, with the difficulties that families are facing in regards to saving for the future for pensions- their retirement incomes. The Conservatives and Liberals have failed the broad segment of society in properly strengthening the retirement systems that are in place for more and more people. Seven out of ten people in Canada have no pension plan whatsoever. Simply saying that someone can double their tax free savings account- when I see people who can’t barely top up their RRSP’s, seems to highlight how the Conservative’s trickle-down economics theory is inappropriate to the vast number of people.
NH: Thomas Mulcair is really trying to change the party image that it is not friendly to business. He’s pledged things like increasing the federal minimum wage, a cut to small business tax, introducing a new tax credit for innovation, accelerated capital costs credit and policies that say he would help manufacturers modernize their plans. He’s also promised to spend an extra 1.5 billion in gas taxes on infrastructure projects, as well as introducing a national child care program and delivering a balanced budget. So he promises all of these things but where is the money going to come to balance the budget? There’s a lot of spending promised but where is the increased revenue coming from?
SM: We also plan to increase, slightly, the corporate tax rate which is still far lower than most of the other industrialized countries which will not put those corporations at a competitive disadvantage. For the most part those are corporations that aren’t here by choice –they’re here by necessity. This is where the infrastructure and the resources they are extracting are coming from. That is one source of income. What’s been proven time and again is that improving the small businesses, improving minimum wage does in fact result in an acceleration of expenditures which is taxable income again, taxable expenditures. So it makes the economy that much more vibrant. It is literally a kickstart to the money velocity that is going through. So we’ll have to look at the actual costing of how these proposed programs takes place but I think statistically that NDP budgets provincially have always been very well managed and you’re going to see that the federal NDP is just as good as proper fiscal management.
NH: How is the NDP prepared to address the deficit? If the Conservatives can’t balance the books why should we believe that the NDP can balance the budget?
SM: I think it’s always a goal. Everyone goes into managing their own household, managing their own lives, managing provincial or federal governments –hoping to have a balanced budget. If we fall short- we’ll have to wait and see. There are some things that have to be addressed. Those social inequalities and social programs that we rely on are essentials. They’re not luxuries. I think there is a lot of waste in the current Conservative government over the last nine years. Whether it has been waste of expenditures that have been so fool hearty that to compare what the Conservatives have done to create a deficit budget- there are things that we just won’t be wasting the money on.
NH: Like what?
SM: $750 million dollars to advertise how well the Conservative government has been doing and syphoning money from the EI fund into general revenues. There was 3 billion dollars unaccounted for in terms of CSIS spending that the federal government then said ‘well we just put that in the wrong column. It was just a clerical error’. So those are examples of expenditures where there is no transparency from the Harper government. There are loopholes there that we can close.
NH: Do you think the NDP can balance the budget? Or is it more important to spend on social programs? How should the spending be prioritized?
SM: I can’t promise a balanced budget. I won’t make a promise that is unattainable or can’t be predicted at this point. It’s nice to have it as a goal and I think every party tries to establish that as a goal. So if I have to choose when running my household between buying medical services for my aging grandmother versus increasing the mortgage slightly on my house, I know exactly what I’m going to do. As a metaphor for how you balance your budget and how you balance your countries budget there are priorities that should never be sacrificed.
NH: Would it be safe to assume that should the NDP rise to victory in the fall election that we’ll likely see an increase in taxation?
SM: I don’t think it’s likely to see that at all. With prudent management and enforcement of the existing tax system, such as the offshore tax havens that the Harper government has allowed to proliferate, rather than chasing after a waitress or small engine repair man who is not claiming taxable income, we have huge off shore tax accounts that are going unenforced. In fact the Conservatives have laid off quite a few in the CRA that are specifically targeted at auditing offshore accounts. There are billions and billions of record monies that are not being taxed for corporate levels. These are people that are not domiciled in the Sault Ste. Marie riding. I think it is possible to promise that. The Conservatives ran a deficit for eight of their nine years and alleged to have put one together in their last budget with what seemed to be financial trickery and smoke screens.
NH: Is the world ready for Canada become a socialist country?
SM: I don’t know what your definition of socialism is. The NDP has always had two ideals from its very origins. Number one is that we place priority on caring for the disadvantaged. Now the disadvantaged is not just the homeless poor. The disadvantage now are the underemployed, single parent families who are trying to make ends meet, someone who is chronically ill, someone who is disabled, the elderly who are retired and living below the poverty line. I challenge anyone to say the world isn’t ready for a government to show compassion and care for providing for those segments of their population that are disadvantaged. Socialism means that we have a strong commitment to the abject poverty and terrible social conditions of so many First Nation Reserves and so many First Nation people. I think the world is very ready to see that kind of morality and that kind of humanity injected back into the discussion of how we are supposed to be living our lives. The second ideal of the New Democrats which is what people consider to be ‘socialism’ is in fact a respect for the democratic rights of the individual. That’s the opposite of what tyranny and the Harper government, and the Liberal governments before them, have encroached upon. So the world is ready for the New Democratic Party in Canada that upholds those ideals.
NH: Could an NDP win in October have an impact on our relationship with the US as our most significant trading partner?
SM: Yes. I think it will be a favourable outcome. I think the people of the United States are tired of their extreme right-wing, almost dictatorial approach to government. And socialism and socialist concern for the justice at the social level of caring for everyone within our society is well received. It will be well received within the US. I think the European Union has always been held out for comparison as how other people view social progress. So it’s certainly not going to be a stark contrast between the people in the EU or the people in the United States. And the rest of the Americas too.
NH: How can we diversify a local economy in Sault Ste. Marie that is almost entirely dependent on the steel industry?
SM: I think you have to make sure that the infrastructure is in place to allow creativity and innovation. I don’t believe we can dictate the capitalist structure of what new businesses take place. The easiest way for us to streamline the application process through agencies such as FedNor, where so many agencies have said that the process in the past through the Conservatives and the Liberals has been so onerous that they’ve often not even bothered to try to apply. FedNor was always hidden in the bowels of Industry Canada’s processes. And making small businesses more tax efficient- that aspect of the free market, once we’re given the tax breaks, that’s going to ultimately give people enough incentive to create it. But the infrastructure such as road, rail – if it’s there and expanded on then we can hope for the benefits from that.
NH: What are your thoughts on the loss of the Remote Passenger Rail Program subsidy that the Feds took away from ACR passenger service?
SM: I can’t believe that anyone could mess that up. It was such an easy and relatively inexpensive – when you look at the federal budget, for such an essential infrastructure. To allow that to slip through hands falls entirely on Bryan Hayes and the Conservative government that just absolutely messed that up. Right from the outset -to allow that rail service to be declared non-remote service shows complete and utter lack of awareness as to what the conditions in this riding are. I mean Mr. Hayes and Lisa Raitt –Minister of Transportation, have obviously never tried to enter those roads that they profess allow access to the railway. It’s just a total oversight. And a good example of the lack of representation that this riding has had for the last four years. This area, this riding, is one of the most unique and beautiful areas in the world. Not just in the country. It is an example of the infrastructure that does allow for so much more diversification in terms of eco-tourism, tourist resorts. It’s an essential piece of how we can expand and diversify in this area. It shows to me a disgusting lack of representation by a sitting government in this area to ignore that until the last minute and then try to use a dramatic fifteen minutes before midnight presentation of funding that wasn’t even going to be there.
NH: I’m interested in your thoughts about developing the tourism sector in the region? Are we doing as much as we can or is this a resource that we are not exploring as a way to diversify our economy?
SM: I don’t have concrete examples of the type of resort or lodge or service that I would create myself. There are so many aspects and interests that the creative people here can develop. Ice climbing, guided tours, fishing and hunting resorts, photography, art tourism, trains- they simply need to be encouraged and made more easily funded through agencies like FedNor and establishment of the infrastructure to feed those has to be there.
NH: An issue that has been somewhat contentious in our region regarding the possibility of creating tourism opportunities and also as an energy issue, is the propagation of industrial wind turbine farms along the north and eastern shores of Lake Superior. What are your thoughts about the green energy movement that is changing our landscape?
SM: I think ultimately any energy process has to be accessed for its viability and its efficiency and its cost-effectiveness. I don’t believe that simply stating that something is not using fossil fuels or nuclear fuel is a cut and dry way to say that there are no health effects from these. And if any energy source –wind mills or solar are subsidized to such a great extent and they are proven to be inefficient or health hazards why would we tout those as what we have to do. I’d have to beg off and that and say that I think there are health study and environmental studies that haven’t given us a complete overview of what the effects are on their efficiencies.
NH: Do you care to comment about their presence upon the landscape?
SM: I think there still is…Am I supposed to be comparing them to something?
NH: Nope. This is just a question that shows my personal bone. I have questioned the common sense in taking an area that is non-industrialized and a landscape that is unique upon the planet to clear out thousands of miles of forest for road to erect antiquated industrial wind turbines. It is an unchanged landscape and Northern Ontario has the ‘honour’ of hosting this relatively inefficient technology.
SM: I don’t disagree with what you said. If in fact, as I said early, if these were technologies that were vastly superior and truly efficient energy sources -and not just feeding the grid and selling excess energy below cost to the United States, all of that speaks to the inefficiency of the power generation. Aesthetically, we have to look at the risk-reward and eco-tourism or from a quality of life standpoint – for a lot of people it diminishes the attractiveness of the area –where you can say ‘come and relax and inject money into the local economy’. People don’t want that. They want a pristine look. Without it being a purely efficient and health-risk free energy source, it seems to be a negative investment as a new technology.
NH: What are your thoughts on the Port of Algoma? Do you see it as a redevelopment that has the potential to be an economic generator for Sault Ste. Marie?
SM: Absolutely. I see nothing but positive outcomes from that provided, as with any other major projects, that we are able to reintroduce the entire environmental review aspect that Harper, Kinder Morgan, Nestle and Monsanto have managed to eliminate from the proper due diligence that development projects of that scale necessitate. It’s been a project that’s been talked about than even longer than redevelopment of King Mountain in this area. It was talked about by my father and I fifty years ago. It’s been considered to be a ‘no-brainer’ in terms of developing that area. You can spot our location from space easily. Anyone can spot us on the globe and know where Sault Ste. Marie is. Why not take full advantage of the harbor potential and from that, with proper development and environmental assessment of course, create the extra potential for spin-off industries and tourism. That being said just because my name is ‘Skip’ doesn’t mean I sail!
NH: How does the NDP plan to counter the vast war chest of money to run this lengthy election?
SM: Well I started campaigning and introducing myself, door knocking the day after I won the nomination. So I don’t plan on doing anything differently whether the election was called two days ago or whether it was called September 1st. I believe those are decisions that the national NDP office will be trying to assess how to best handle. But here locally we plan to use the very same strategy we always intended. But again what I think is disgusting is it’s one more example of the Harper government’s complete disdain for the electoral process, forcing expenditures, taxpayers money to pay for a longer campaign on the heels of the Fair Elections Act which was the ‘Unfair’ Elections Act. So he’s trying to buy votes with our money now. He’s trying to eliminate as many people as possible from the voting process whether its expats or the changes to the Elections Canada Act. Primarily it’s targeted at people with limited proof of address- First Nation reserves, university students who will be moving. I’m not a fan of the lack of democratic process that the Harper government has become famous for.
NH: Thomas Mulcair didn’t come here on a recent tour. Any thoughts on why and do you anticipate he will be in the Sault at any point during the election campaign?
SM: I’m not sure when he’ll be here. That’s a complicated schedule. When he was in Northern Ontario recently I drove over to Sudbury. I was invited as were three other candidates who were not in the Sudbury area. He’s an extremely busy man and he managed to meet with us for one day and drove to North Bay and then flew back to Toronto. We had a great meeting talking about Northern Ontario. There were six of us candidates including Carol Hughes from Algoma- Manitoulin, Charlie Angus from Timmins. So were trying to capitalize on Thomas Mulcair, our leader, who has three hundred and thirty-eight ridings. So we try to make that as convenient as possible for maximizing our input together. We have an incredible team in Northern Ontario. We look at it that way- what can we do to represent Northern Ontario cohesively. I hope to see him here.
NH: In the 2011 election 54% of Canadians voted. Why are Canadians so apathetic about voting?
SM: I think there is something psychological- almost like despair, when people watch what the Liberals and Conservatives have done for years with scandal and fraud and criminal activities and lack of representation. That despair shows itself on voting day when they say ‘So I got to choose, as a mouse, between a white cat and a black cat. What’s the difference’, to use Tommy Douglas’s famous ‘mouseland analogy’. It’s the lack of representation and disgust with how the Liberals and the Conservatives have run this country for so long. It’s registered as apathy and lack of turn out at the polls. But I think we’re going to see those numbers vastly different. I think there are people that recognize that this is such an important election and if we don’t vote to eliminate this Harper and Conservative government- I see that so repeatedly, those comments when I campaign door to door, that they have to get rid of him. He has to go. I think you’ll see that reflected in the percentage of voter turn-out this time around.
NH: Is there anything you would like to add?
SM: This is a crucial time in this country’s history. We need to address and fully embrace the nation to nation discourse that is essential between the government of Canada and First Nation and Indigenous and Métis people in this country. We cannot in any way, shape or form call ourselves moral and ethical human beings unless we fully and fairly address First Nation issues in this country. Anyone who fails to be moved by the realization that the Truth and Reconciliation Committee addressed, and to look at the lack of attention and simply the lack of honouring Treaties that are in existence, we cannot call ourselves truly ethical Canadians unless we address that. The turning point for so many people has been Bill C-51. It is without a doubt a tyrannical and dictatorial and fascist type of document and Bill that has been passed, fully supported by the Liberals, by Justin Trudeau. It is without a doubt a burning point in this country’s history. If it is not repealed, if it is not totally repealed there is no freedom, there is no journalistic freedom, there is no association or thought freedoms left in this country. It is, without hyperbole, an evil legislation that threatens the rights of all of us. And I refuse to accept Mr. Trudeau’s acceptance of it with the promise that if elected he will amend it and add to it. The metaphor to that is –well, let’s put this explosive device in the house and later when I get in there I’ll diffuse some of the terrible parts of it and he’s prepared to put his family in that house. He showed complete lack of integrity by supporting that Bill.
NH: Do you have any intention to grow a beard?
SM: No. Not at all.
STATEMENT & MEDIA AVAILABILITY
August 3 2015 For Immediate Release
MORRISON READY FOR EARLY ELECTION CALL
Sault Ste. Marie NDP Candidate Skip Morrison is ready to hit the campaign trail. “I am very proud of my team,” says Morrison, “Together we have worked hard over the past few weeks to plan an energetic and ambitious campaign. This early election call doesn’t change our plans.” “We have been on hundreds of doorsteps already over the summer, and we’re hearing one clear message – it’s time for change in Ottawa. An early election won’t change the fact that Stephen Harper’s plan isn’t working. Tom Mulcair is ready to defeat the Conservatives and bring change to Ottawa.” Morrison will be available today to speak with media about the early election call and the official start of the 42nd general election.