August 29, 2015

Defining True Progressives

After almost ten years in power, the biggest question of this fall’s election is which party represents the true progressive alternative to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. This resulted in the nastiest campaign to date in which political party leaders are calling each other out on their promises and determining what is true can be difficult. Even within parties, loyalties are being tested such as disgraced Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau calling for Harper’s defeat[1], Liberals leaving the party over anti-terror Bill C-51, and New Democrats criticizing leader Tom Mulcair’s positions on issues such as pipelines and Palestine.[2] For this blog post, I will discuss past Liberal and NDP records, as well as certain key campaign promises and accusations.

Party Records

When Justin Trudeau won the Liberal leadership in 2013, many pundits at the time believed he would become the party’s saviour after their disastrous 2011 election result, and that Canada would return to the old Liberal-Conservative dynamic. The polls had the Liberals between 30% - 40% and the NDP in the low 20% range for two years.
Polling averages from - Link to original image

However, Justin Trudeau’s policy positions – including one before becoming leader when he endorsed the foreign takeover of Nexen in fall 2012 – made it clear why Mulcair defined a Liberal as “a Conservative who once every four years pretends to be a New Democrat.” Here are three Liberal lowlights and how the NDP compares.
  1. Environment – In spite of the Liberals signing and ratifying the Kyoto accord (later repealed by the Conservatives), emissions rose almost 20% during their time in office from 1993 to 2005.[3] Trudeau’s Liberals joined the Conservatives in supporting the Keystone XL pipeline, which was vetoed by US President Barack Obama. The NDP has been calling for climate change accountability since the 2004 election and a recent Environmental Defence report had their targets stronger than those of the Green Party, though both parties remain close.
  2. Electoral Reform – While the Liberals did endorse a motion to investigate electoral reform at the 2014 policy convention, Justin Trudeau expressed opposition to proportional representation; instead supporting preferential (or ranked) ballots. While ranked ballots are great for cities without political parties, they risk compounding the false majority problem with the current system. The NDP consistently supported proportional representation with Mulcair specifically favouring Germany’s mixed member proportional system which accounts for both local representative and party preferences. (link to blog post)
  3. Terrorism – The Liberals’ ignoring their grassroots by voting for Bill C-51 in May – coupled with the NDP winning the Alberta election at the same time – lead to the NDP leading the polls ever since. The NDP’s position on civil liberties has been consistent since the 1970 War Measures Act and they fully committed to repealing the legislation should it form government. (link to blog post)
Given the Liberal record on these issues pales in comparison to the NDP, the Liberals’ use of “Real Change” as their slogan insults the intelligence of Canadian voters.

Campaign Promises and Accusations
The Mulcair beard pin says "Beard a part of it" in English
No political party is perfect and even the NDP has made decisions which upset certain supporters. Here are the three most contentious ones and why the NDP’s decision is reasonable.
  1. Pipelines – While the NDP consistently opposed Northern Gateway and Keystone XL, they were called out by anti-pipeline activists over Energy East (EE). Mulcair has a fine line to walk here, given Jack Layton supported the idea of upgrading resources within Canada (which EE would do) and unemployment is a significant issue in Atlantic Canada. Even so, the NDP plans to reinstate the environmental assessment process gutted by the Conservatives in 2012 and ensure pipelines go through the process before being approved. The Liberals were known for criticizing EE in Québec while supporting it elsewhere.[4]
  2. Palestine – The NDP was called out for kicking out candidates who publicly supported Palestine.[5] While Israel’s treatment towards Palestinian civilians is questionable at best, endorsing a state with links to a known terrorist group (Hamas) is political suicide. Still, the NDP remains committed to a two state solution, which contrasts from the Conservatives’ unwavering support for Israel.
  3. Progressive taxation – The Liberals and others called out the NDP for not increasing taxes on the rich. While the Liberals promised to raise taxes for those earning more than $200 000 per year, their plan to reduce the second lowest tax rate from 22% to 20.5% provides the most help to those earning $89 401 to $200 000 per year.[6] Since provinces like Ontario and Alberta are already taxing the rich, the NDP is focused on increasing corporate taxes, though the degree is unknown. The Liberals also proposed enhanced child benefits, but the NDP’s plan for $15/day childcare would provide a larger benefit; especially in Toronto where such costs approach $1700/month.
With 51 days left until the election, expect the political attacks to increase, especially as campaigning ramps up after Labour Day. Regardless of your political affiliation, it is important to go beyond the accusations and find out the truth for yourself in order to make an informed decision. Most importantly, don’t forget to vote on October 19!

Progressively yours,
Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] Patrick Brazeau. Loonie Politics. “Time to throw Harper under the bus.” August 25, 2015. 
[2] Mark Kennedy. Ottawa Citizen. “Mulcair must tax corporations, super-rich to fund agenda, says left wing NDP activist.” August 29, 2015. 
[3] Environment Canada. “National Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” April 17, 2015. 
[4] Ethan Cox. Ricochet Media. “Liberals and NDP play both sides on proposed Energy East pipeline.” July 9, 2015. 
[5] Andrea Gunn. The Chronicle Herald. “Kings-Hants NDP candidate Morgan Wheeldon resigns over anti-Israel post.” August 10, 2015. 
[6] Stephen Gordon. Maclean’s. “How the rich would benefit from the Liberals’ middle class tax cut.” May 7, 2015.

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