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'Ottawa-knows-best' approach harming the economy: Poilievre

Federal Conservative leadership campaign frontrunner talks policy with Glacier Media after visits to Sidney and Nanaimo.
A line of people waiting to shake hands with Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre wound around the inside of Sidney, B.C.’s Mary Winspear Centre on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2022, during a meet and greet.| Nina Grossman, Times Colonist

About 750 people turned out to see Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre at Sidney, B.C.'s Mary Winspear Centre Sunday evening on Vancouver Island.

Poilievre, considered the frontrunner in the race, started the evening with a speech before posing for photos and shaking hands with attendees.

The crowd roared in response to Poilievre’s promise to defund the CBC and his condemnation of “woke culture.”

“Are there any woke folk here today?” he asked the crowd, which laughed and booed in response. “Really the movement is not about racial justice or equality, it’s about control.

“It’s about them telling you what you’re allowed to do.”

Arla Rendle, who came to the rally from Saanichton, said Poilievre would help make Canada “a free country again:” “If anybody can get us out of this mess, he’s the man.”

Amber Moss, who came from Victoria with her children and husband Philip Moss, said this was the first time she would be voting Conservative.

“To see the turnout at this point. It’s shifting,” she said. “It’s been very upsetting to see the divisiveness in this country. We’re so polarized at this point, and it’s super sad.”

Philip Moss said cost of living and woke culture — particularly in schools — are some of his biggest concerns.

“It’s totally fine for people to live their life the way they want to live it, but young children just need math and reading and simple things,” he said.

Poilievre’s Sidney meet and greet came after a visit to Nanaimo’s Benson Ballroom and preceded a Monday evening meet and greet in Vancouver at the Italian Cultural Centre.

The 43-year-old, who typically shies away from sit-downs with the press, spent 30 minutes on Zoom early Monday with editors across the Glacier Media chain to talk labour shortages, housing affordability, energy and more.

 Ottawa’s tax regime

“We have a system that is complicated and punishes good behaviour,” Poilievre said, adding he would reform the marginal effective tax rate — or METR — to encourage Canadians to work more.

The current tax regime has driven investments to other nations to the tune of $800 billion, he said, citing a 2020 Public Policy Forum report penned by former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge.

“We need to reform our business taxes to incentivize reinvestment, building factories, buying machinery, patenting new technology,” Poilievre said.

“You can imagine why American workers and other foreign workers are able to gain more wage-earning. They have more tools. Their businesses are investing more in machines and technology than ours are. I think part of that is because our system — our tax system — punishes investment and therefore we get less of it.”

The housing crisis

“The federal government flooded the economy with easy cash over the last two years. That boosted demand and the local governments have blocked supply with government gatekeeping,” Poilievre said.

The Conservative leadership candidate would require all federally funded transit stations to have pre-approved permits for high-density housing on surrounding city land. He is also proposing that Ottawa sells 15 per cent of its federal buildings and convert them into housing for young people.

A Poilievre-led government would link federal infrastructure dollars that cities such as Vancouver receive to the number of homes completed within their respective borders.

The feds must also expedite immigration for construction workers needed to build homes and lower taxes to allow young people to put more of their income towards mortgage payments, he said.

 Addressing labour shortages

Employers who cannot find workers in Canada should be able to sponsor skilled immigrant workers much faster than what the current system allows, Poilievre said.

“If a construction company is short five workers and they’ve advertised the jobs [and] can’t get them filled, then they should be able to quickly sponsor new immigrants to come first as temporary foreign workers, but then those workers should graduate quickly into permanent residency and eventually citizenship.”

Poilievre said he prefers the Express Entry model geared towards skilled workers but that it should be expanded to a broader range of occupations.

He would sign deals with the provinces to guarantee that hopeful immigrants would hear a straight yes or no within 60 days of applying to work in Canada.

Poilievre also proposes creating standardized testing for immigrant professionals such as medical doctors. It would be up to provinces to opt in.

“That would allow us to quickly qualify people based on their abilities, not based on where they come from,” Poilievre said, adding he also wants to make it easier for immigrants to begin getting credentialed before they arrive in Canada.

 Energy policy

Poilievre said the federal government needs to get “out of the way” of major energy projects that have the support of First Nations and a smaller carbon footprint, such as liquefied natural gas.

Poilievre said he would ditch 2019’s Impact Assessment Act, Bill C-69, and replace it with legislation done in consultation with First Nations groups.

He said he wants to ramp up approvals of LNG projects to help incentivize European markets to buy energy from Canada rather than Russia.

The media landscape

“My view is that we can support diverse and independent media without the sort of centralized control that the Liberals have imposed in the bailout fund,” Poilievre said, referring to Ottawa’s $595-million salary subsidy program for media organizations.

Earlier this year, the Liberals tabled legislation that would force tech giants like Google and Facebook to compensate news outlets for use of their stories.

Poilievre said he has no problem with a model that allows media to be compensated by these massive companies. “We just have to make sure that … the government does not discriminate and favour some media over other media. You know, it can’t just be liberal media that gets the money.”