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NDP's federal finance critic stops in Nanaimo

NANAIMO - NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen spoke at the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.
NDP finance critic Nathan Cullen

New Democratic Party finance critic Nathan Cullen didn’t hold back about Canada’s current economic status when he met with members of Nanaimo’s business community yesterday.

Cullen, MP for the Skeena-Bulkley Valley riding, spoke to a handful of local business leaders at the Greater Nanaimo Chamber of Commerce, where talked about his party’s stance on a range of topics. Cullen’s stop in the Harbour City is part of an tour aimed at engaging small business owners in communities across the province.

“This is a bit of a whistle stop tour of the Island,” Cullen said.

Among the issues discussed at the nearly two-hour long meeting were job creation, youth unemployment, economic policy, clean energy, tourism and marijuana.

With the Bank of Canada slashing interest rates, the Canadian dollar dropping to its lowest level in more than a decade and a recent report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer indicating that the federal government will not run a balanced budget this year, Cullen says Canada ’s economy is in an “incredibly weak state.”

“We have had the worst job growth record in the last 18 months ... outside of a recession in 45 years,” Cullen said, adding that Canada has lost some 440,000 manufacturing jobs since the Harper government took office.

Cullen, a former small business owner in Northwestern British Columbia, says his party wants to address small business needs at the national level. He also suggested updating the tax code, which he says was last updated in 1968.

“[There was] very little attention to small business,” Cullen said. “Even though statistics have shown us that small business creates eight of 10 new jobs and that they are vital. They are the lifeblood of so many of our communities."

Some of the topics raised by business leaders included troubling numbers of youth unemployment, business succession and tourism.

David Littlejohn, general manager of Living Forest Campground and chairmen of the chamber, expressed a concern about youth unemployment, saying he would like to see a nationwide job program.

“I would argue very strongly for a national youth employment strategy,” Littlejohn said.

Cullen believes that more entrepreneurial education is needed in schools and that many of today’s youth are under equipped for the work force.

“We are having well educated, but not well equipped people graduate high school and university,” Cullen said. “They may have several degrees under their belt but they are not equipped for the economy that we need.”

Recent polls have suggested that the NDP could form the next government. Cullen made it clear that his party, if elected, wants to work with the province, but pointed out that the Clark government should also focus on industries such as forest and tourism, instead of just LNG.

“You can do two things at once,” Cullen said. “We can walk and chew gum. You don’t simply say all eggs in one basket.”arts@nanaimobulletin.comFollow @npescod on Twitter