Jagmeet Singh is unafraid to speak kindly of taxes.
The man who has led the federal New Democrats for a little less than five months told party members attending a convention this weekend they should be brave when developing policies to take the NDP into the 2019 election. And he demonstrated some of that bravery himself in discussing taxation. For more than two decades, it would have been considered an act of courage, or perhaps folly, for a Canadian politician to speak enthusiastically when asking voters to consider paying more for public services. But Mr. Singh says tax can be a good thing.
"Taxes are investments into building a fairer society for us all," he told the crowd in arguing for more public infrastructure and a stronger social safety net.
Under Tom Mulcair and Jack Layton, Mr. Singh's two most recent predecessors, the NDP moved slightly to the middle of the political spectrum. The result was a surprising second-place finish in the vote of 2011, and a less successful but still (by NDP standards) respectable finish in 2015.
But that centrist impulse may be changing. While those attending the three-day meeting ignored some of the more radical ideas in their book of potential resolutions, the policies they did endorse seemed to have a left tilt.
The nearly 2,000 delegates voted in favour of such things as paid sick leave, tax changes to promote the production of zero-emission vehicles, and free access to menstrual products. They decried the wage gap between men and women, promised to visibly support any groups that campaign against racial intolerance, and said no one should be required to indicate their gender on identification documents.
Mostly they talked about eliminating social inequities, and particularly those caused by disparities between the rich and the poor.
In his speech to delegates, Mr. Singh lamented income inequality, urged the protection of pensions, called for publicly funded pharmacare and dental and eye care, and said it is time to take on "a rigged tax system" that allows foreign internet companies to avoid paying their fair share.
In an interview with The Globe and Mail on Sunday morning, he said that he wants to "change the frame" on taxation because taxes are necessary in a society where people aim to lift each other up.
"My mom always told me that we are all connected and we all suffer together or we rise together so there is a connection that we have," Mr. Singh said. "So, if we look at what we pay into our society as an investment, it's a different way of looking at it. You don't look at it as something that's being taken away from you, as taxes that are being taken away from you, it's something that's being given back to everybody."
Taxes, he said, are investments. "And investments are good. You make investments because you want your home to be better. You invest in your home, you invest in your local park to make it a prettier park, and you invest in society to make it better."
Mr. Singh cited a recent poll that suggested that half of all Canadians have less than $200 of disposable income left at the end of the month after their bills are paid.
"If you tell that person you are going to give them an extra hundred dollars, how is that going to make their life better?" he asked. "But if you say we are going to make sure that your kids can go to university and we will make sure they can get an education, we'll make sure that that dental care which is going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars … is covered. That's the way to really actually lift people up."