NDP links environment with economic justice to head off Green challenge

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Jagmeet Singh. Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

The NDP has released its full set of election campaign commitments early, in the hope that voters will take the time to absorb them, and that those policy proposals will become a key part of the national conversation leading up to the October vote.

The media took notice -- at least for a day or two.

Some reporters and commentators focused on the big differences between Jagmeet Singh's ambitious proposals and Tom Mulcair's constrained and modest platform last time around. In 2015, the party tied its own hands with a base promise to achieve a balanced budget within a first mandate.

Other commentators took note of the progressive hue of the 2019 platform, and decreed that the NDP has gone back to, as a National Post headline put it, "interventionism, protectionism and fiscal insanity."

In fact, the NDP's platform is not radical.

On the revenue side, the 2019 NDP calls for restoration of the corporate tax to its former 2010 rate, and for a modest increase in taxes on the highest income earners, notably in the form of a wealth tax on total assets of over $20 million. It also proposes an increase from 50 to 75 per cent on the taxable amount of capital gains.

In terms of programs, Jagmeet Singh's NDP emphasizes affordability.

Its platform pledges to deliver: truly universal healthcare, which would include eye care, mental health and, of course, prescription drugs; a half million units of affordable housing over 10 years; expanded employment insurance; a cap on cell phone fees; and measures to increase the number of child care spaces while reducing their cost for parents.  

The environment also occupies a big place in the NDP's plans.

The party pledges to eliminate oil and gas subsidies and invest that money in renewables. It will also invest in low carbon transportation, especially public transit. And it even promises to work with jurisdictions that want it to provide free public transit.

These and other key promises all fall within the mainstream policy framework of most developed countries, with the notable exception of the United States. The NDP's policy proposals are designed to humanize and rationalize Canada's private enterprise, market-based economy, not limit or undermine it.

True threat to liberal democracies is not the spectre of socialism

There are no proposals in the NDP policy book for 2019 to take over major private sector entities through nationalization, or even to significantly expand the public sector. Rather, the platform emphasizes regulation (especially environmental), more progressive taxation, the expansion of the welfare state, and measures to protect workers and decrease the inequality gap.

What the NDP now wants is what enlightened proponents of democratic capitalism -- such as former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz and Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the 21st Century -- have advocated for quite a while. Their view is that western societies must seriously tackle the twin monsters of environmental degradation and increasing inequality, because it is those monsters, and not the spectre of socialism, that are the greatest threats to liberal-democratic, market-based societies.

The current NDP, under leader Jagmeet Singh, links environmental responsibility to social and economic justice, at a time when many in Canada are looking with increased interest at the Green Party.

The Greens in Europe and the Ralph Nader and Jill Stein Greens in the U.S. have worked hard to connect an agenda of greater social equality with the environment, but that has not been particularly true of Canada's Greens, at least not up to now.

On trade, labour, social welfare and social equality, Canada's Green party has, historically, been all over the map, sometimes sounding social democratic, sometimes almost conservative.

That might explain why you'll find a group of voters who could be called Conservative-Green switchers. To them, the NDP is beyond consideration. It is an old-school, class-warfare, trade union-based party, which would impose bureaucratic regulations on the economy and raise taxes to intolerable levels.

By contrast, in the eyes of this group the Greens are modern, pragmatic problem-solvers, unburdened by any ideology other than environmentalism based on science.

In reality, the Greens might not yet feel compelled to take the non-environmental part of their offer to voters seriously. They might be quite comfortable with a kind of formless and vague eclecticism.

That vagueness on everything but the environment could create an opening for the NDP.

Just as Justin Trudeau's favourite mantra has been that the environment and the economy go hand in hand -- ergo a pipeline approval and climate emergency declaration in the same week -- so might Jagmeet Singh's new mantra be that the environment must go hand in hand not simply with the economy, but with the vigorous pursuit of economic justice.

Karl Nerenberg has been a journalist and filmmaker for more than 25 years. He is rabble's politics reporter.

Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook

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