Federal election candidate Q&A: Bill Sundhu, NDP of Canada

Bill Sundhu, New Democrat Party of Canada. Photo provided.

SPIN will be highlighting each of the major party’s candidates ahead of the 2021 federal election. Questions were composed with the help of you, the readers. Voting day is Sept. 20 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and can be done at the Sun Peaks Grand hotel in Sun Peaks.

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This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

SPIN: What is your connection to or knowledge of Sun Peaks and do you feel issues affecting rural and remote communities like Sun Peaks in the Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo region are reflected in your platform? How will you ensure rural issues aren’t overlooked in Ottawa?

Bill Sundhu: I have deep roots in this riding, I was raised in the south Cariboo by a pioneer and immigrant family. I’m the only one with roots there, growing up in a small town, and then, for the past 25 years, I’ve lived in Kamloops. I’ve served 10 [years] as a judge, travelling all over the riding and hearing cases from Sun Peaks, coming up to Sun Peaks to see friends up there, so I have extensive knowledge of Sun Peaks, including seeing when development really took off in a major way. 

I’m familiar with some of the development issues as they evolve there. And also, of course, the atrocious wildfires that we’ve experienced and even the adverse impact not just generally in the region, but the concerns around that this summer in Sun Peaks. I’m mindful that housing affordability is a significant issue throughout Canada and including throughout this riding and Sun Peaks. Although there are some very impressive homes there, there are a lot of people that work at Sun Peaks and I’m mindful that some of them have challenges around affordable housing, that’s a significant issue. And of course, Sun Peaks is establishing itself as a municipality and there are challenges around that. Within our three levels of government and Canada, local, provincial and federal, we always have these challenges and successes around accommodating the different levels of government and meeting the needs of people.

SPIN: Our readers have told us they are interested in combating climate change, and have raised issues regarding stopping the Trans Mountain pipeline, dealing with wildfires and a transition to net-zero emissions. How would you address these concerns in our riding?

Bill Sundhu: You have to understand that we [were] particularly impacted this summer with the devastating wildfires. The terrifying effects of climate change has been upon us three of the last five summers with the wildfires and across the globe. We’ve seen massive floods, devastating storms, and it appears that the adverse effects of climate change are accelerating even more quickly than many scientists predicted. Now in Canada, both the Conservatives and Liberals have failed to meet a single target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. The Conservatives, in their own convention, the majority voted that climate change isn’t real and Justin Trudeau, although he says lots of fine words, he doesn’t back it up with action. In the last six years, while he’s been Prime Minister, emissions have gone up in Canada, and are the highest in the G7. So, as New Democrats, we are aware that this is an existential crisis. It must be addressed urgently with urgent action, and this is a crucial decade, and our policy is that we will reduce emissions in Canada by 50 per cent by 2030. In order to then meet the targets for 2050 that Canada has agreed to in international treaties, and of course we know in this fall, there is the major world gathering of world leaders in Glasgow, Scotland.

Additionally, we will eliminate the billions of dollars in big oil subsidies that the Conservatives and Liberals plan on maintaining and that Mr. Trudeau has provided. And, we know that there are tremendous opportunities in the Green economy, in a Green New Deal that the New Democrats introduced in Parliament, but was not moved on by the Liberals or the Conservatives. We know there are tremendous opportunities in building energy efficient homes, electrification of our public transit systems, retrofitting all homes in Canada, and Canadian production with good jobs in electric vehicles, and this will create hundreds of 1,000s of jobs. It’s a question of priorities, will and values. And, what I would say is the Conservatives, and about Erin O’Toole, he’s done an about face, but I look at his track record over the last 10 to 12 years as a Conservative, and it does not engender any confidence or credibility about his commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. As one prominent Canadian writer wrote, only the Conservatives could bring in a carbon tax that doesn’t reduce carbon. So we know this is an urgent priority. And if people in this riding want meaningful action on climate change, your best bet is a new Democrat MP.

SPIN: The tourism industry has been significantly impacted by the pandemic; Sun Peaks businesses are understaffed due to a reduction in temporary foreign workers and facing steep declines in revenue.  What is something you would do for these businesses in Ottawa?

Bill Sundhu: First of all, let’s look at where we have been and where we’re at and then where we need to go during the pandemic. Originally, Justin Trudeau proposed EI (Employment Insurance) for workers. The New Democrats leveraged in a minority Parliament, the creation of the CERB which helped many, many families keep their head above water and when Trudeau proposed a 10 per cent wage subsidy, it was the New Democrats who leveraged the 75 per cent wage subsidy, which helped save 1,000s of businesses and millions of jobs, and we also got relief for students, and we got relief for seniors. And now, Mr. Trudeau is talking about eliminating or closing down those programs this fall, perhaps right after an election, that was an election that was unnecessary. But we’re not through the pandemic, we have the fourth wave, the risk of variants, and we need a recovery in which, if it’s to be recovery, it must be recovery for everyone. We are committed to supporting small businesses. And that means rental subsidies keeping a rental subsidy going incentives to re-hire workers that have perhaps temporarily not being at work, and new workers, and those incentives include paying the CPP (Canadian Pension Plan) and EI premiums for workers, and a variety of other supports including credit supports for business, and we know that the tourism industry has been particularly hurt, and it’s not going to be back on its feet until we’re through the pandemic. We need a meaningful pandemic program including vaccinations and a vaccine passport where leadership would be involved, we would have a national passport without having the confusion and frustration around each and every province having its different standards, even though persons are moving between the provinces, which creates confusion and some provinces have better standards than others, and that’s not what we need to get through the pandemic. 

We also need to accelerate our foreign offices, the movement of people for migrant workers for immigrants because they’re stalled and backed up, where our offices are not functioning and applications are not being processed, because we know we have an aging population. We know we need a labor force for tourism and other industries. And that ought to be a priority for the Canadian government.

One more thing, small business, you know, there’s many incentives that we have, but one is also to cap and reduce credit card fees that they pay. Canadian businesses pay amongst the highest fees to the big credit card companies, and that should be money that remains in the pocket of our merchants. We also are committed to bringing in a wealth tax where the billionaires pay their fair share, so we can support sectors such as tourism, health and small businesses and students.

SPIN: Affordable housing is a major issue in Sun Peaks. Development is ongoing but that doesn’t necessarily mean minimum wage workers can afford standard living situations. Does your party have a platform on this issue and how would you like to see it implemented in a place like Sun Peaks?

Bill Sundhu: As I campaign, the top issues are the concerns around climate change and the wildfires, affordability and healthcare, and within affordability housing affordability is number one. If it was to be fixed, the Conservatives and Liberals had many, many opportunities and they haven’t done it. They are in the pocket of the big developers, and basically any plans that they may have to increase housing supply, which we do need to increase housing supply, will likely be expensive and out of the reach of workers; those working at minimum wage, and young people who are starting families or embarking on their careers. 

So, we have an ambitious plan to refurbish, preserve, and build 1.7 million homes, because when people tear down a home and put up a new home there. That’s not an addition to the housing supply, that’s just another more expensive home. 

Additionally, we are committed to accelerating 500,000 social housing units, affordable housing for Canadians that will create many jobs. We are committed to a 30 year mortgage which on average across Canada would reduce monthly payments by $300 per month for homebuyers, which is money in their pocket. We will reduce or eliminate virtually the taxes up front and return them as a rebate to homebuyers. We are committed to helping renters because renters are really struggling. Rents are skyrocketing and housing units are not available. So in addition to rapid accelerated aggressive construction of 500,000 social housing units in Canada. We are committed to immediately providing up to a $5,000 subsidy directly to renters to help them through these difficult times and paying their rent. It’s really atrocious that housing prices have skyrocketed even under Justin Trudeau in the last six years. The average price in Canada has gone up $300,000. And, although we have an unnecessary selfish election call by the Prime Minister, in the last two years, the average price has gone up $146,000, and in Kamloops 40 per cent during the pandemic and its surrounding communities, on average around 25 to 27 per cent, it’s appalling. It’s a major policy failure by the Canadian government by both the Conservatives and the Liberals. We are also committed to bringing in a 20 per cent foreign buyers tax and use that money for housing construction and helping renters. And furthermore, to go out aggressively after money laundering.

SPIN: What would you like Sun Peaks voters to know about you?

Bill Sundhu: I have deep roots in this riding. I’m a lawyer, I was called to the bar 37 years ago, former provincial judge. I work in human rights. I have my feet on the ground. I actively represent Indigenous peoples, workers often marginalized, poor people because they are often forgotten, neglected and their rights are the most abused. But, I also work at a very high level internationally. I’m on the list of counsel of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, that deals with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

I’ve also been appointed to an international panel of experts to train judges, including in Tunisia, in human rights, in the administration of justice after the Arab Spring, and I have been actively involved in the national level with the Canadian Bar Association, National Criminal Justice section as an executive member, helping write submissions to Parliament and Senate on criminal law legislation and I’m on the Board of Governors of UBC (University of British Columbia). I have extensive background, proven experience in solving problems throughout my career for people as a lawyer, the most serious kinds of problems they can have, and my commitment would be to use my skills, my experience to solve the problems of our constituents. And, most significantly, we need a representative who will be a voice for the many and not just the few. A person who can reach across the divide and get things done and that is my history. I come from humble roots, my father was disabled when I was a boy and my mom washed floors and dishes. I know what it’s like to struggle. I don’t forget my roots, and I’m in it to serve the public and the people of Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo. And as I mentioned during the pandemic with the results that New Democrats have got in Parliament by leveraging their minority in a minority Parliament. When you send a new Democrat to Ottawa we get results. Erin O’Toole didn’t get a single benefit for Canadians. And what’s significant about that is we can’t count on the Conservatives to fight for Canadians. During one of the most significant crises in our history. There’s not much reliance we can put on them to support everyday Canadian workers and families.

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