An Intervew with federal NDP candidate Steve Armstrong

September 13, 2009

Steve Armstrong, federal NDP candidate for Leeds and Grenville, took time this week to answer a series of interview questions for this column:

How have things changed since the last federal election?

Things have become significantly worse. Just in August of this year 22,000 jobs disappeared in Canada. In the last year we have lost hundreds of jobs in Leeds-Grenville. Manufacturing is the backbone of the Ontario economy, and it is dying.

Gord Brown boasts of $20 million of stimulus money coming to Leeds-Grenville, but ridings in Canada have received an average of $147 million dollars each! And Leeds-Grenville is one of the most hard-hit areas in the country.

Waiting times at Brockville General Hospital (BGH) are horribly long. I recently had to take a friend to Kingston because there was a seven-hour wait at BGH. At BGH the staff are doing their best, but they need more resources.

Why is it vitally important that the NDP form the next government of Canada?

The three most important programs we have in Canada were all because of the NDP – Medicare, Canada Pension Plan and EI. We look after people, especially in bad times.

The NDP is the only party that has as its central goal the helping of Canadian citizens. Our policies are for Canadians, not rich corporations and banks. We have job creation ideas that will add employment in every city and town. Check out our energy retro-fit programs, for example.

The Conservatives and Liberals have destroyed our manufacturing in Canada. They have let our health care standards drop substantially. Free trade with Mexico only benefits corporations. It allows companies to move out of Canada (ie. Hershey’s and Black and Decker). Since the last election Stephen Harper without parliamentary authority has signed free-trade deals with eight countries including Columbia, Chile, and Panama. How can this help Canadians trying to find jobs?

In the 1990’s the Liberal government cut $29 billion out of Medicare. That is the main reason why our health care system in Canada is hurting today. The NDP will restore proper funding for our public health care. This will mean shorter lineups and more doctors and nurses.

People ask where we can we get the money? Somehow Harper found billions of dollars for his stimulus plan to help bail out foreign corporations, so I think we can “find” the money. But there is an easier way: get out of Afghanistan! We spend $200 million dollars a month there! How about spending that money on Canadians?

Does Canada need another general election at this time?

People did not want an election last year. When Harper started to think about it in late August of 2008, 68% of the people said they did not want an election but he called one anyway, breaking his own law.

Everybody seems to have a policy on EI at the moment. Care to comment?

We need to increase the pay! In today’s dollars the maximum EI weekly benefit in 1996 was $607. Today the same benefit is $447! That is crazy! All of the politicians have received substantial increases in pay to cover their costs, so why have they reduced benefits to people who have lost their jobs? Even the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the big banks say the EI benefit should be increased. The current NDP bill C-280 calls for an increase in weekly pay of about $50. That is still too low but they are trying to get the bill supported and passed by all parties. The final reading is on Sept. 28, 2009.

What is one local issue in this campaign?

We are one of only three ridings in Canada without a MRI machine! That is crazy. Every hospital needs one of these. Stop the shipment of money to Afghanistan for one day and we could have an MRI in Brockville.

Why should the voters of Leeds and Grenville choose you as their Member of Parliament?

I have been fighting for worker’s rights and the protection of our Medicare system since 1995. I am not a parachute candidate. I was born and raised in Brockville. The only time I left Brockville was to go to university. I have an honours B.A. in History. I know what mistakes the Canadian government has made in the past and understand what we must do to avoid repeating them.

I am a factory worker. I know what it is like to have a feeling you may lose your job. I work at Invista and they have announced layoffs of up to 240 people. I may be one of them.

The policies of the Liberals and Conservatives have decimated our great country. What future do we have? I know what needs to be fixed – just look at the past to see what has worked before. Get rid of the free trade policies with Third World countries, renegotiate with the US, get out of Afghanistan, create jobs when needed (like the New Deal in the 1930’s), and bring Medicare and EI coverage back to where it used to be.

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