NDP retirement forum finds support in Victoria

It was billed as an opportunity to hear the NDP's view on the state of the Canada Pension Plan.

While federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair and Victoria MP Murray Rankin, the party's critic for national revenue and pensions, spoke to retirement and economic issues, Friday's panel discussion at the Cook Street Activity Centre had the tone of a campaign stop.

At various times Mulcair tossed out the hope of defeating the Conservatives – and the Liberals – in the next election, but he was largely speaking to the converted.

His offhand comment about the NDP's hope to abolish the Senate drew a round of applause, as did his suggestion that an NDP government would more strenuously pursue those high-income Canadians who take advantage of offshore tax havens.

The crowd of nearly 200 people, most of them seniors, heard Mulcair, Rankin and fellow panelists Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca MP Randall Garrison and Saanich South MLA Lana Popham, poke holes in the Conservative government's approach to the provision of retirement income.

Speakers from the crowd, most of whom were retirees, gave personal examples of hardships they faced due to life circumstances and a shortage of income.

The stories were low-hanging fruit for the well-spoken Mulcair, who argued that the CPP is underfunded because of tax breaks given to big business and the reluctance to increase premiums for businesses that complain they can't afford them.

Josh Steffler, who ran for MLA in 2011 in Esquimalt-Royal Roads, asked the MPs whether they would be willing to forego their MP pensions and strictly collect CPP when they were done. The answer was a roundabout no. 

While the next federal election isn't likely to happen until 2015, Rankin sees the NDP as being on a roll. And he likes the fact Mulcair is becoming a familiar face around these parts.

"When he was chosen leader, we asked Tom to come out here more often," said Rankin, who celebrated his first year as MP with the party boss Thursday. "He's been in the riding five times now."

Whether Mulcair's appearances here and elsewhere outside the NDP stronghold of Quebec translates into broader support for the party come election time remains to be seen.

But at least one attendee was impressed enough to change her mind.

Marie Brown, a Saanich retiree and beekeeper, voted Green federally last time but attended the forum specifically to hear Mulcair speak.

"I came here to meet him and see what kind of a person he is," she said. "I am pleased, and I think he'll get my vote next time."

 ddescoteau@vicnews.com

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