By Medicine Hat News Opinon on September 16, 2017.
With the vote for the national NDP leadership beginning Monday, now is an appropriate time to reflect on how the party can make its biggest impact on the federal scene.
It must be recalled that the party lost its Official Opposition status largely by allowing the Liberals to outflank them on the left.
Then-leader Thomas Mulcair vowed to balance the budget every year of an NDP government, which allowed Justin Trudeau to present himself as the fresh face of progressivism with his promise of “modest deficits,” which have since increased.
The new NDP leader — whether it’s Jagmeet Singh, Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton or Guy Caron — would be wise not to repeat Mulcair’s error.
To their credit, none of the four candidates have advocated the balanced budget dogma that sunk Mulcair, but some are more vulnerable on their left side than others.
Ontario legislator Singh has the most momentum going into voting, given his fundraising acumen, ability to attract new members to the party and personal appeal.
However, when it comes to his policy of transforming Old Age Security from a universal program to one solely for the poor, he exposes himself to Trudeau attacking from the left.
Although it looks progressive on paper, Singh’s proposal would turn OAS into a two-tiered system, something most left-leaning Canadians wouldn’t accept for a universal program like health care.
Prior to Singh’s late entry into the race, Charlie Angus was the favoured candidate of the party establishment and more than any of the others represents a continuation of Mulcair.
He’s said that Canadians need a prime minister who’s willing to work with Alberta’s NDP Premier Rachel Notley, suggesting that the current federal government isn’t. Yet both the federal and Alberta governments share a commitment to the contradictory goals of pipeline expansion and carbon taxation.
With the future of the Energy East pipeline, which Notley supports, up in the air due to tougher new regulations for the National Energy Board, a potential wedge is emerging between Trudeau and Notley.
Will Angus seize upon this schism and come out in support of Energy East? If so, that provides a clear opening for Trudeau to attack him from the left.
It was highly revealing that in the final leadership debate held last week, when asked what differentiates the NDP from the Liberals, Angus said nothing in terms of policy, only that the NDP will keep its promises.
The point is if the NDP wants to return to relevance it ought not to opt for a leader who is Trudeau-lite.
That leaves Ashton and Caron as the standard bearers of the party’s social democratic faction.
Ashton’s call for free post-secondary tuition is reminiscent of the same pledge made by Bernie Sanders, arguably the most popular politician in the U.S.
She also wants to halt pipeline expansion, creating a Crown corporation and public investment bank to promote green energy and retrain oilfield workers in wind, solar and hydro.
Caron’s made a guaranteed annual income the central plank of his platform, stressing the need for it to supplement, rather than replace, present social services.
Both candidates were recently tripped up by Quebec identity politics, as Mulcair was in 2015, coming out against Quebec’s proposed niqab ban while saying they would support any decision by its provincial government.
Can Ashton or Caron beat Trudeau in 2019? Perhaps not, but history shows the NDP has been most effective as the kingmaker in minority Liberal governments.
The CBC and universal health care were achievements of Tommy Douglas putting pressure on Lester B. Pearson’s minority government to put NDP platforms into practice, which stand in stark contrast to what the party accomplished by moving to the political centre.
(Jeremy Appel is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions.)