Let me start by saying that what I am saying applies to the NDP as it is the only large political party on the left. But it can be true for other parties on the left that are smaller. We should not assume exclusivity to the NDP and if it ceases to be a party of activism (as it has at times provincially) it will not apply to the NDP.
This does not apply to non-activist parties of the centre or the centre-right such as the Liberals or parties of the right.
Canada is experiencing a painful lesson that is slowly becoming clear to the public. A rising tide does not raise all boats at all. The economic performance of the country has increased this country's total wealth dramatically while the living standards of most Canadians are seeing no benefit.
Once there was a cry for wealth generation. Almost everyone bought into it seeing the need for government to get out of the way of progress that presumably could only be delivered privately. Governments of all parties responded. People of lower economic means have been asked to sacrifice their benefits, security and living standards to policies designed to create more wealth and to leave that creation in the hands of private citizens seen to be the creators of wealth. These policies have succeeded. The wealthiest Canadians are indeed more wealthy. However the poorest are also poorer and income and wealth disparities are growing. The middle income earners are dwindling. More money is being made but with fewer good jobs and higher unemployment. Arguably the rich have never done so well at a time when unemployment has been so high and everyone else is suffering. The Conservatives plan on making this worse. They have more tax cuts on the table and more program cuts with noting to offer the people left out of the wealth generation of the present.
Once Canadians fully recognize this they may be open to looking at parties differently. While people on the left have sounded the alarm it is now becoming more and more difficult to ignore. Even businesses who rely on a population with disposable income are feeling the pinch.
When the focus is on wealth generation, amount of money in the economy, removal of red tape and presumption that smaller government is better, the Conservatives are the political beneficiary.
When the focus is on managing a largely successful direction without rocking the boat or creating much by way of policies, the Liberals have the prescription most want to swallow. The tinker but change little.
But, once people realize that there is plenty of wealth in the economy as even the Conservatives are proclaiming but that wealth is being distributed unfairly, it is a party of intervention on the left that people will want to reach out for. Such a party would work towards better taxation policies to reduce disparities, better education and health policies for better social security, better pension policies for security in old age and better income security programs for unemployed or underemployed persons. No longer would people want the government out of the way. Instead they would appeal to it to reverse some of the obvious inequity they are seeing.
Today it is clear that, thanks to technology, you can produce more wealth than ever before with fewer hours of work. A party that recognizes this and considers increasing wages, perhaps shortening the work week to allow more people to get a share of less employment and looking to minimum incomes as well as minimum wages. A minimum income is needed when you have part time employment at low rates that requires employees to be available almost all the time so they are virtually full-time on-call for an income that you cannot live on and no ability to take a second job if one became available. Many companies manipulate work schedules to maintain their exclusivity over the employment of an individual without offering full time work.
Once people are aware the problem is wealth distribution rather than wealth creation they will look to left of centre policies. The arguments for such policies are made stronger by the evidence we see and by the anecdotal experiences of people not seeing the benefits of the wealth that we are told is all around us. The vanishing middle income group (I hate the word class as it is improperly used to describe income levels) is further evidence that our society is facing an equity crisis.
Labour should be all over this. They should proclaim that we have an equity crisis tearing at the social fabric of this country. It is undeniable that the strongest tool in an equity crisis is a labour union. Policies favouring stronger labour unions and much more widespread participation in labour unions are essential to reverse the growing income disparities. In fact, I cannot imagine any improvement in economic equity without a stronger labour movement.
There is another social justice issue in the environment. A deteriorating environment affects us all but it disproportionately hurts poorer people.
Labour unions and left of centre political parties have to learn to talk more about economics. They need to own the topic. They need to connect it to the environment. They need to champion the justice for First Nations and Inuit people who are left out of the massive wealth being generated from their lands and the measure to provide social supports. And they need to use the best communications and statistical information to make their case. But looking to the next couple decades it is clear that the parties of the left of centre and labour unions are the only ones with any answers. This bodes well for the NDP should it want to show leadership and take advantage.