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Election Diary Episode 5: Faint praise for the NDP

Left JAB by John Bell

September 19, 2021

Well Diary, I’ll admit I’ve been putting this one off. Is it a matter of saving the best for last? If so it is only because the bar is so, so low.

So I'm going to vote NDP, and encourage everyone to do so too. But when it comes making the systemic changes we need to deal with climate change, reconciliation, defending public services and all the other issues the multi-headed crisis of capitalism throws at us, we need to go beyond the NDP. We need to go beyond the very idea that politics and fightback are limited to occasional election campaigns. 

Credit where it is due. Without doubt Jagmeet Singh is for me the most likeable political leader on offer. Oh sure, he can evade a question with the best of them, but on occasion he will give as straight answer to a tough question. Can’t say that about Trudeau or the O’Tooligan.

And the NDP’s performance in the previous minority parliament was…adequate. Without them nipping at the Liberals’ heels the COVID response would have been far worse for many working Canadians. The Liberals have been talking about affordable daycare forever, but thanks to Singh’s caucus there is finally a plan on the table. They led the fight for a ban on conversion therapy, a bill that died when Trudeau called the election. 

And when they proposed important reforms like a pharmacare program – even a watered down one – it forced the Liberals to show their true colours and bloc with the Conservatives to shoot it down.

And on many issues Dear Diary, they say the right things, sort of. Take their wealth tax proposal. Please.

Singh and the NDP are campaigning as the party that will make the “ultra-rich” pay. When Singh introduced the NDP platform he opened with:

“We know that people are worried about the cost of the pandemic, they’re worried about the cost of recovery. We’re the only party stating clearly…that the burden shouldn’t fall on you and your family. It shouldn’t fall on small businesses that have already suffered so much. We are going to ask the ultra-rich to finally start paying their fair share and invest that in people.”

“To put it bluntly, no other party can make any commitment to invest in people without either cutting existing services or putting the burden back on people.” 

All of that is right, as far as it goes. The problem is, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Their tax proposal is to add a 1% levy on households with more than $10 million wealth, and to add a luxury goods tax on things like yachts and private planes. They promise to return corporate tax rates to 2010 levels, about a 3% increase. They have promised, without specifying how, that they would close off-shore tax loopholes for corporations and the rich.

Corporations – like Canada’s big banks – have been posting obscene profits during the pandemic. Bank profits are up almost 50% over last year. Even if they couldn’t figure a way to hide their profits and avoid paying (don’t put it past them, Diary), a 3% tax increase isn’t exactly my idea of tax fairness. And I wasn’t born yesterday; 2010 isn’t my standard of the “good old days” of corporate responsibility.

They would declare telecommunications and internet access an essential service, and work to reduce the grossly inflated prices we pay. But they would not follow that to its logical conclusion and nationalize the service, which is what we need.

They promise to build 500,000 “affordable” rental units over the next 10 years, by renewing the co-op housing movement and investing in municipal housing. Okay, but what is “affordable”? And 50,000 units per year, spread across Turtle Island, will not even keep pace with population growth, let alone address the housing crisis we are in today. Where is the promise to ban evictions, full stop?

As for the environment and climate change, the NDP’s platform is as good as the Greens and better than the all-talk-no-action Liberals. And after this summer’s climate emergencies – more than 600 sudden deaths in BC alone due to heat waves; forest fires so large smoke filled our skies – you would think the NDP would be campaigning loudly on it. But no, Diary, it is on the back burner because they are afraid to alienate their provincial counterparts in BC and Alberta.

And so it goes throughout their platform. They are generally on the right side of issues. Their diagnosis of the multi-headed crisis we face is mostly accurate. But their prescriptions are too mild to get excited about, too weak to mobilize the 35% to 40% of the electorate who don’t bother to vote.

That means the NDP has shackled itself to a self-limiting strategy, competing with the Liberals and Greens for “progressive” votes. Oh Diary, you know how I cringe at the “P” word. Everybody an inch left of centre calls themselves progressive. The difference between the NDP and Liberals can be measured in inches; it should be miles. So, as always, the NDP leaves itself hostage to strategic voting.

Yeah, yeah, yeah Diary. You know that on Monday I’ll push my walker down to the polls and vote NDP. Their weakened but not-yet-extinguished links to the labour movement remain, making them different from the corporate duopoly of Liberals and Tories. That, not their watered-down policies, is why I still vote for them without illusions or much enthusiasm.

But until they table policies big and bold enough to address the dire crises we are facing – things like nationalizing industry to create good, green jobs – the NDP will continue to go from election to election shooting itself in the foot.

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