This week marks the final official sitting week of the 42nd Parliament of Canada, the end of four years of Liberal governance. And while the House may come back for what amounts to Parliamentary overtime in a couple of weeks to tie up some loose ends, this week still marks an interesting point of the calendar before the 43rd General Election in the Fall.
We’re about to head into the summer, one that will be full of campaigning, door knocking and really, the election will be already on, just not officially. Every party has their strategy and approaches that they are taking into this campaign, each coming from the positions they find themselves in. So it was with that in mind that I noted what took place in Hamilton on Sunday morning:
Jagmeet Singh and the NDP launched their election platform. Using the friendly backdrop of the Ontario NDP convention, Singh released details of what the party will be running on in the 43rd election. But not all details where on hand; the full costing of the platform will not come until later, something I will come back to. The Orange Team has put together a platform full of promises, including:
- Commit to fully and equitably fund health education and other services in Indigenous communities.
- Create an action plan to prevent suicide.
- Cap and reduce tuition fees and student loan interest, with an eventual goal of free post-secondary education.
- Ban unpaid internships.
- Introduce federal incentives for zero-emissions automobiles and prioritize cars made in Canada.
- Invest $1 billion in affordable childcare in 2020.
- Focus on revitalizing industries like forestry, fisheries and agriculture.
- Put a price cap on cellphone and internet bills and introduce a telecommunications bill of rights.
- Close tax loopholes and introduce a one per cent “wealth tax” on personal earnings over $20 million.
- Increase access to public transit, including along rural routes cut off by Greyhound service discontinuation.
- Power Canada with net carbon-free electricity by 2030.
- Ban single-use plastics.
- End veteran homelessness.
- Launch a basic income pilot project.
- Strengthen the air passenger bill of rights.
- Create an affordable housing plan that includes construction of more low-cost and co-operative housing across the country.
That is a very comprehensive list of promises and there’s nothing there that I could disagree with; if you’ve been watching the NDP in this Parliament, many of these items have been front and centre so there isn’t a whole lot that is new there. And when it comes to the fiscal changes piece, the proposed measures to bring balance and progressivity back into the taxation system are welcomed overall.
But I have to admit I didn’t come away from reading this platform, the “New Deal for People”, feeling very confident or even enthused for that matter. My honest reaction to this release was “Meh” with a smattering of “D’Oh!”. When I see this platform, I see a major problem with it; this is simply not a platform of a party seriously seeking government. By not releasing the full costing of this platform yet, and even in some parts admitting that they can’t be costed for, any credibility of these promises is stripped away. Also looking at the cursory promises in there regarding new revenue, there is no way that will all cover some of the massive new expenses promised. Does that mean never balancing a budget again? If that’s not what they meant to say, that’s the message they are sending. That’s very antithetical to the memory of Tommy Douglas, who ran balanced budgets for over a decade and a half while still offering the better social services, programs and Medicare.
And for me, this is where this platform leaves me feeling cold. Some are trying to paint this as a “return to our roots”, but that’s only half-true. The NDP is rooted just as much in good fiscal management as it is in social progress, and this platform flat out ignores the first part of that legacy that helps to pay for the second part. This is a reaction to what happened in the last campaign, or more precisely, an over-reaction. This is an attempt to re-run the 2015 campaign in 2019, and that strategy never works out for the party trying to do it.
The ideas that the NDP is putting forward in this platform are not controversial or bad ideas. They are good policies that deserve to be talked about and see the light of day. But folks, in the real world none of that matters if you can’t get elected and prove that you have a plan to actually pay for those promises. We live in the real world, and that is where elections are held too. By putting this half-baked platform out and wilfully ignoring the fiscal piece of it, I can’t take it seriously. To take it seriously, you need to show how you’ll make it happen, not just leave huge voids of empty spots for your opponents to fill with the potential worst case scenarios, as the NDP has done with this. And given that the Parliamentary Budget Officer will review this platform too, I can just imagine the coup de grâce that report will be.
This platform release might be the lowest moment for the NDP in a decade in my mind. It’s sad because this platform presented a chance to strike out in some new directions, stake out some new ground and be bold. This platform is none of the above; there is nothing there that you wouldn’t expect to see in an NDP platform. This platform marks the end of the time when the NDP was serious about trying to form government and is the end of an era. This platform may make some people feel better inside but that’s all it will do. It won’t change policy, it won’t improve peoples lives and it won’t reverse the problems that these ideas are meant to improve. It won’t because it will never become government policy, because it won’t elect an NDP government and others won’t pick it up. This is a lost opportunity for the NDP, to add to the many others we’ve seen over the past two years. The saddest thing of all is that this might be the last one, because eventually you run out of chances to blow before they stop coming at all. I pray that I’m wrong on all of these counts when it comes to this platform, but I can’t ignore what I see with my eyes, hear with my ears and know inside. I haven’t come away from such a launch in over a decade feeling so down about what I saw, and that speaks volumes that I can’t ignore.