Two Big Takeaways for the NDP on Canada’s 2015 election


Editor’s Note: On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted all across their country to elect a new parliament. There were three major parties contesting the election everywhere and a couple minor parties. After the last federal parliamentary elections (in 2011), the Conservatives held a majority, the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) were the second-place party (heading the opposition for the first time), and the centrist Liberal Party finished third. At the start of this year’s election, the NDP had a large lead in the polls seemed poised to form a government for the first time in Canada’s history. As the campaign progressed, however, the NDP’s support collapsed and voters instead chose to elect a Liberal Party majority to parliament. This majority will be led by Justin Trudeau, the son of former longtime prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who led the party from 1968 to 1984. The Conservatives finished second. The NDP finished a distant third.

Below, guest contributor and NDP supporter Adam Chaikof presents the two major lessons he drew from the NDP’s unsuccessful campaign to lead the federal government for the first time in party history.

Lesson 1: Don’t treat balanced budgets like a sacred cow (especially during economic downturns).

It certainly goes without saying that one of the most common right-wing retorts to any suggestion of expanding the welfare state or investing in jobs or infrastructure is that such measures are too costly and will only increase the national debt and deficit.

Besides the obvious ideological reasons, the Right constantly employs this line of attack because voters easily understand it. After all, many voters reason, if we have to live within our means, why shouldn’t the government do the same?

Within this framing, beyond completely rejecting the Left’s core principles, left-wing parties can respond to these accusations in one of two ways: they can either try to convince the electorate that they’re actually better at balancing the budget than the Right, or they can argue that running a short-term deficit isn’t harmful and is necessary to stimulate the economy.

In other words, the Left can either try to win the debate on balanced budgets on the Right’s terms, or they can try to reset the debate’s terms altogether. During this most recent election in Canada, the NDP chose the former route, while the Liberals chose the latter.

The NDP chose this strategy for two reasons. First, NDP provincial governments actually have better fiscal records on average than both Liberal and Conservative ones despite spending more on economic and social programs.

Unfortunately, there is one notable – and very noticeable – exception to the NDP’s fiscal record: Bob Rae’s provincial government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. Rae’s early 90s legacy still haunts the NDP in the electorally vital province of Ontario. This is the root cause of the second reason for the NDP’s strategy of campaigning on fiscal responsibility.

Rae’s record is still hotly debated – and he actually has long since defected from the NDP to the Liberals – but the most commonly accepted narrative is this: After leading the NDP to its first ever victory in Ontario in 1990, Rae unsuccessfully tried to spend Ontario’s way out of a recession and was then forced to implement austerity measures after exploding the province’s deficit.

Whether you accept this narrative or not, it’s undeniable that Rae’s poor economic record has been like a millstone around the NDP’s neck in Ontario at both the federal and provincial levels for the past 20 years. Ontario sends the most federal MPs to Parliament. In other words, eager to convince voters of its fiscal credibility and finally excise the ghost of the Rae Provincial Government, the NDP made maintaining a balanced budget one its main campaign planks.

This decision, however, had serious repercussions for the NDP. Many voters simply didn’t believe that the NDP’s proposals for raising revenue (e.g. raising corporate taxes by 2%, closing tax loopholes, etc.) would be enough to pay for its other spending promises. These included universal childcare and pharmacare, a national housing and transit strategy, reversing Harper’s cuts to health care and pensions, a national cap-and-trade system, and new investments in clean energy and manufacturing.

These proposals remained very popular, to be sure, but Canadians didn’t have much faith in the NDP being able to implement them properly because it seemed like they were trying to have it both ways: Spending a lot while balancing budgets. Read more

Election 2015: Canada’s political Americanization continues

President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, February 2009. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, February 2009. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

“The Closing of the Canadian Mind” – New York Times op-ed:

The prime minister’s base of support is Alberta, a western province financially dependent on the oil industry, and he has been dedicated to protecting petrochemical companies from having their feelings hurt by any inconvenient research.
His active promotion of ignorance extends into the functions of government itself. Most shockingly, he ended the mandatory long-form census, a decision protested by nearly 500 organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops. In the age of information, he has stripped Canada of its capacity to gather information about itself.
He has been prime minister for nearly a decade for a reason: He promised a steady and quiet life, undisturbed by painful facts. The Harper years have not been terrible; they’ve just been bland and purposeless. Mr. Harper represents the politics of willful ignorance. It has its attractions.

CBC Canada’s Federal election 2015 Poll Tracker, as of August 17, 2015:

There will be 338 seats in the next House of Commons. A party needs to win 170 seats to form a majority government. Each federal electoral riding corresponds to one seat. The Poll Tracker estimates the most likely number of seats each party could win if an election were held today, based on current polling levels.

The Conservative Party leads with 125 seats and is 45 seats from winning a majority government.

Social democrat New Democratic Party at 118, centrist Liberals at 92. (So, 210 if combined in coalition, which is not a certainty.)

Recently from AFD on this topic:

“Canada’s government re-election platform: Be Very Afraid”
“Passive-aggressive Canadian flag ‘battles'”
“Canada gov’t upset that they might have to consult native peoples on things”

Canada’s government re-election platform: Be Very Afraid

CBC Canada on a scandal involving the ruling Conservative Party’s attempt to manipulate the civil service into helping terrify voters into re-electing them:

Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were told this spring to produce three terrorism-related statements for minister Rob Nicholson to make to the media each week, ahead of a fall election in which security and Canada’s response to terrorism are expected to be key issues.

The email, dated April 24 and obtained by CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, suggests the regular ministerial statements should be crafted from an event reported by the news media, such as developments in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Security and Canada’s response to terrorism are expected to be key issues in the upcoming election. Canada is part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a mission opposed by the NDP and Liberals.

The email relays a request from Nicholson’s communications team and is addressed to all bureaucrats working in security-related divisions. It tasks them with providing the minister’s communications team with “…three MINA (ministerial) statements to the media regarding security in the context of terrorism each week.”

How very 2004 America of them. They should also issue color-coded warnings and recordings of Osama Bin Laden hoping for a win by the left-leaning parties. Well, the last one might be hard. While we know where he stood on U.S. Senator John Kerry’s candidacy, I’m not sure that before he died Bin Laden ever released his views on the NDP or on the eldest son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Apparently it wasn’t very successful manipulation of the civil service, though, as it turns out:

A review by CBC News of the department’s releases since the email was issued has found the number of security and terrorism-related statements has only rarely met the three-a-week target.