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With a month to go until election day, pundits seem to have agreed upon one simplistic and incorrect narrative: The Liberals are running to the left of the NDP.
The pundits are apparently basing this conclusion on one fact alone: That the Liberals are promising to run deficits (even though they said the opposite as recently as July), while the NDP believes that it can keep its promises while still balancing the budget. Let’s break that down, shall we?
1. There is nothing inherently progressive about running a deficit. The reality is that good or bad fiscal and political choices can be made by a government regardless of the colour of the ink on their financial statements.
2. There are different ways of balancing a budget, and there are different ways of running a deficit. Paul Martin balanced the budget by slashing transfer payments and social spending (something that Justin Trudeau has said was the right thing to do), while Stephen Harper ran repeated deficits because he cut corporate taxes (something that Justin Trudeau voted for). It’s perfectly possible — and perfectly progressive — to balance a budget while doing neither.
3. Running deficits when they are not necessary can impede governments from taking progressive actions in the near and distant future. That’s why Tommy Douglas ran seventeen balanced budgets as Premier of Saskatchewan, while bringing in a wide array of progressive policies that culminated in medicare. And that’s why NDP governments actually have the best fiscal record of any political party.
But, of course, there is more to this election is about more than a choice between deficits and surpluses.
It’s about who will deliver quality affordable child care and pharmacare to Canadians. The NDP will. The Liberals won’t (they used to at least pretend that they were in favour of both; now they denounce both as unaffordable).
The NDP will reinstate the federal minimum wage that the Liberals abolished and to move it to a living wage of $15 an hour. They’ve also promised to restore the federal role in housing that that the Liberals ended and to renew expiring federal subsidies to housing co-op members.
The NDP has promised to launch an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women within 100 days of being sworn in. They’ve promised to expand the CPP, increase the Guaranteed Income Supplement for Seniors, prohibit changes to private pension plans, and restore the retirement age to 65. They’ve promised to increase funding for infrastructure and transit and to cancel plans to end home delivery of mail. The Liberals have offered similar or lesser versions of the commitments listed in this paragraph.
None of these ambitious commitments are the sign of a New Democratic Party that is moving to the centre. In fact, quite the opposite. There’s absolutely no evidence that the NDP is running to the right of the Liberals (or even in the same lane).
But, beyond that, you have to consider the fact that we’re talking about the Liberal Party. It’s not like they don’t have a long history of faking left when running for office, then moving right as soon as they get elected. Most recently, their provincial cousins in Ontario claimed to have introduced the most progressive budget ever, then turned around and privatized Hydro One when they got re-elected.
In fact, they’ve pulled the same stunt so often that they are the Canadian political version of Lucy van Pelt with a football.
The only difference is that, in the cartoon, Charlie Brown never catches on. By contrast, Canadian voters started catching on to the Liberals’ tricks a dozen years ago, and have been handing them fewer and fewer seats in each election. There is no reason why this election should be the one to stop that trend.
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