Jagmeet Singh laid out the NDP vision for Canada at the Ontario NDP convention in Hamilton on Sunday, June 16.
In a 109-page document that will serve as the basis for a costed 2019 electoral program, the NDP leader addressed a host of issues troubling Canadians.
Canadian politics could do with a refit. Nearly one-half of the population are hard hit, unable to cope with a financial emergency of $700.
Stagnating wages, precarious employment, unaffordable housing, and holes in public services have created a malaise across the country.
In its New Deal for People, the NDP is saying that since Liberal and Conservative governments have left Canada with pressing concerns, citizens need to rethink their political choices.
The subjects addressed and the policy ideas put forward will appeal to NDP activists across the country. Virtually all the proposals to make government work on behalf of Canadians come directly from policy resolutions adopted by the party in conventions going back decades.
Instead of trying to fit a few policy ideas into the dominant media frame of government spending is bad and taxation is worse, the New Deal lays out dozens of areas where governments need to plan, lead, spend, and better serve the population through the creation of new programs.
The Jagmeet Singh New Democrats want people to think about how government can improve lives; for instance, by greatly expanding health care to include dental services, mental health, and procedures not currently available even to those with private health insurance.
Examples of what can be achieved to improve life for more people — through government planning and public investment — abound in the New Deal document. These range from breaking monopoly pricing of internet and cell phone service; to limiting gas price gouging; to properly funding the arts, culture, and the CBC; to a New Deal for Indigenous Nations.
Despite its contradictions, neoliberal thinking still dominates the political landscape: it posits that the economy operates separately from politics. Adjustments supposedly occur seamlessly, through price changes that allocate resources fairly and allow business to supply consumer demands efficiently.
The neoliberal believes low-cost, small government does facilitate business, but that governments should limit direct intervention in the economy.
Underlying the NDP New Deal is the idea that the political and the economic are intertwined, and that current poor outcomes of neoliberal policies create havoc in the lives of “everyday” Canadians.
The way of thinking inherited by the NDP from its socialist ancestors in the CCF and its partners in the 20th-century Socialist International is reflected in the New Deal. The document focuses on the social world, where the economy and politics intersect. Here workers confront employers, governments are bribed, cajoled, and captured by capitalist enterprises, and the basic operating principle is to maximize profit, whatever the cost.
Looking at the social world today, the climate emergency virtually shouts out that things need to change. The causes are what neoliberal economics misnames as “externalities.” These are the environmental liabilities society gets left with while the polluters and the resource exploiters — oblivious to environmental costs — calculate how to increase dividends to shareholders, and bump up stock prices and executive payouts — while reducing wages and laying off employees.
Since the environmental emergency centres on the way we produce goods and services, and exploit resources, there is a need for governments to lead the way to a green economy through a thoroughgoing transformation of economic activity.
Instead Canada finds itself with right-wing premiers in Ontario, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick, and Quebec. Not simply climate emergency deniers, they are openly attacking federal Bill C-69 that would re-introduce environmental protections removed by the Harper Conservatives.
The New Deal for People can be strengthened by the party forging alliances with community and social groups whose support it will need if the NDP plan is to become a reality.
Research done in conjunction with groups like those that have worked for years to create a child-care program, such as the one envisaged in the New Deal, can only make it more attractive and underlie its feasibility.
The late Tom Kent, an architect of the 1960s liberal welfare state and adviser to the Mike Pearson Liberal Party, used to say that when a party develops a strong electoral program, it facilitates recruiting strong candidates.
The Singh NDP has inherited a weak financial situation and is behind schedule in nominating candidates for the October 21 election.
However, with its New Deal document, the party has put itself in a position to build support not just in the months ahead, but for the next 10 years, which promises to be a crucial time in Canada and in the world.
Duncan Cameron is president emeritus of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.
Photo: Jagmeet Singh/Facebook