Image: Facebook/Duncan Cameron. Taken by Ben Powless

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Last week we held a town hall on babble with rabble’s president and frequent contributor Duncan Cameron. Below you’ll find excerpts from that conversation, made up from questions solicited from babblers looking for some insights into how the election campaigning is going and how the issues unfold. For the full conversation take a look here.

Meg B: What do you think about the criticism that the NDP’s “moderate” stance on economic issues is not mobilizing their base and has allowed Trudeau to clip Mulcair’s left wing? Is it fair to say that the NDP is fiscally moderate in the first place?

Duncan Cameron: The base needs some convincing. People need a reason to vote. It takes some emotional appeal to get voters riled up and out to vote. 

The NDP has taken a cautious, aggressive stance in the election. So many voters have never voted NDP. To win you need them, therefore cautious. But the Cons are killing the environment in the name of the economy. Mulcair does green economy aggressively. Not getting the credit for it. Needs more direct statements about the ten corporations creating most of the green house gases.

Why did the NDP come out and declare themselves in favour of balanced budgets, no increased personal taxes on wealthy, and cuts in small business tax with small increase in corp taxes? Caution? Yes. Excessive, yes. Playing to the media which waited for them to “tax and spend” so American Republican mud could be thrown at the NDP. 

Could the NDP have called for expansive jobs programme, planned deficits, and tax increases? I would have done jobs, jobs, jobs; and left taxes to a fair tax commission, the last one was in 1966

MB:Taxing corporations, or taxing the wealthy — which is the way to go?

DC: Tax both the wealthy and the corporations but get public support first. An inheritance tax on large fortunes is really needed. Concentration of economic power leads to concentration of political power. The Demarais family perpetuates itself, this is unhelpful. Anything over $10 million (one house exempted) should be subject to a progressive tax, starting at 10 per cent hitting the 50 per cent rate at one billion.

Corporations should be taxed on their capital, not just their profits, which they hide. The sum of borrowed money, outstanding stock, cash, retained earnings, should be subject to a levy annually. A capital exists it needs to be strengthened.

The tax that should happen first is a financial transactions tax. It could be applied to stock and bond purchases. A foreign exchange tax should be on the international agenda.

Ending tax haven privileges is a big one money wise. The wealthy and corporations do not pay a lot of tax.

Unionist: Why “jobs, jobs, jobs”? That’s always intrigued me. The vast majority of Canadians have jobs. And those who don’t… will they rely on the ballot box to provide them with one? Serious question.

DC: Thanks Unionist. Jobs are the way to participate in the economy. Imagine if the NDP offerred a jobs guarantee instead of a guaranteed annual income for instance. Jobs boards for every riding, elected locally. It would be a revolution. Some of the heterodox economists want this. See Billy Blog for an example.

MB: ABC, strategic voting, Stop Harper – call it what you will – how do you view this approach?

DC: Strategic voting is very hard to plan. There are 338 elections. Targeted ridings abound though so it is going on. Duvergers law says that in a first-past-the-post system people will vote for the party best placed to defeat a hated incumbent. So people think about this and try to figure out how to vote efficiently. Lead Now with Vote Together have done polling and it is interesting to see.

My own take is that getting people to vote is the best thing we can do. Only 60 per cent of the population vote, 25 per cent elect majority governments. Get it up to 80 per cent where it was in the 60s and later and you have a more democratic outcome. This time strategic voters should vote NDP, they start with nearly 100 seats, the Libs have less than 40. Libs do not expect to win, only want to beat out NDP for second. Reminds me of Broadbent politics.

Strategic voting has a lot of problems, I agree with Sean. The biggest is not picking up a wave. In 2011 strategic voters were calling for Bloc members to be re-elected just as Quebec was turning away from them, to vote Le Bon Jack. Nobody in the party had a clue what was going on until it happened. That Saturday when the line-up to see Jack speak in Montreal went around the block was the real indication that something big was happening, a big orange wave. 

In normal times, some ridings are maybe predictable. Voting Green when you want to defeat a Con is not going to work. Swapping your vote, etc, not my idea of what to do. Talk to your neighbours, interact with others, and see what response you can come up with together, that’s about as strategic as any individual can be I would say.

MB: Much is said about the NDP drift to the right, but can we call a platform that includes pharmacare, universal daycare, a hike in federal minimum wage a drift to the right? Was this so called rightward drift more about how the party sold the platform than the platform itself?

DC: Agreed the NDP has some good progressive policies to offer, especially compared to what has been going on in Canada for 30 plus years. The drift to the right arose because the NDP as part of its cautionary approach said it would balance the budget.

Fiscal deficits. Repeat after me, when the economy is strong defined as low unemployment Canada has surpluses. When the economy is weak, like now, no real job growth, deficits follow. Create jobs today, no deficits tomorrow. How long does it take to create jobs, a few years. In the meantime, debt to income ratios stay low for governments.

The real financial issues are household debt, not government debt. Low wages, plus student debt, hard to pay down mortgage debt. Deal with it through new intergenerational bargain. NDP needs to promise something to indebted young people, jobs plus debt relief package.

Social housing is a big issue. 

I have long argued the NDP could win on pocketbook issues, bread and butter, wages, jobs. Maybe the economy has to get worse before people realize capitalism is not working. No NDP candidate wants to say that now, but it happens to be true.

Maybe the drift happened because left political economists, like me, have not done their jobs properly.

Lagatta: I like the idea of providing guaranteed jobs (in socially-useful work) rather than a GMI, what do others think?

Sean in Ottawa: Why not reverse all job creation-justified tax cuts and replace them with salary credits (a percentage of salary rebated — applicable to non-owners). This would allow companies who pay more in salaries to pay less tax and remove the lower tax policies from those not hiring. Why reward business across the board for creating jobs — and not require them to do it?

DC: The jobs guarantee needs to be fleshed out, its not even a part of the CCPA Alternative budget Lagatta. Sean jobs subsidies are poor policy for sure. I think a public investment bank is the best way to put money into job creation. Imagine if a workers co-op could buy out their company which a multinational wanted to close down for no good reason other than taxes. A social agenda can be attached to long term capital investment. Job creation, green, equality, official languages, youth, lots of things.

MB: Do you think that concerns about whether the Liberals and NDP could work together might be scaring some people back to the Conservatives out of a fear that we would not have a stable government if the NDP and Liberals had to rely on each other?

DC: Yes this is a good question indeed. How good do the Libs look as coalition partners attacking the NDP with everything they have got, and now the NDP responding in kind. Partisanship is bad politics for most of the population. The public expects parliament to work. And largely MPS do get along.

The issue in this election is a referendum question: more Harper, yes or no? The Libs expect to finish up the track, lose in fact, but win in the next election. So they will not focus on Harper but on the NDP.

Mulcair has been good at turning every issue question into a question about Harper. He needs to keep doing it.

Conservative voters need to be scared or otherwise encouraged into staying home on voting day. That’s how Harper won in 2011, Libs stayed home. Chrétien brought out the 20 per cent of Canadians who identify with the Liberal party. Ignatieff could not do it.

The Libs are looking for centre-right voters for sure. And the NDP are trying hard not to scare anybody.

MB: Why do you feel that the Conservatives are so successful in getting individual donations from people that in total are far more than what the other parties get?  Why are the NDP the least successful in fundraising of the three (apparently even the third place Liberals had raised more than the Official Opposition NDP did for this election campaign)?  Apparently all the parties use similar fundraising methods, so I don’t understand why the Cons do so well and the NDP do not as well.

DC: Fundraising.

The Cons appeal to alienated people. giving is their way of acting politically. 

The NDP wants donors not engaged members. NDP members get angry about something and quit the party or quit giving money, so treating them as mere donors is the wrong approach. The current policy-making model of conventions is not taken seriously at election time. The party has to be about more than the leader, and entourage.

If people believe their action matters, then the party will grow, and money will flow.

The Libs are using celebrity appeal to fundraise. It works, but for how long?

The NDP needs to be the party of engaged citizenry. I favour more riding control of the party direction, less central planning. In reality that means finding a way to build a mass organization of one million members that have a stake in changing Canada.

Jack Layton shared that idea I think. But its a huge undertaking doing democratic politics in a country as big as Canada. 

MB: I want to know — and I want a STRAIGHT answer — just how much we, the 99 per cent, are at the mercy of the 1 per cent.  Let me call a spade a spade:  How is it we have let a tiny minority of folks, such as the Bilderberg Group, take over our lives?  And why is it not ONE of our political leaders dares approach these questions?  Could they be cowards?

DC: The people who own Canada run it. That’s the big corporations, their media, their organizations like the Chief Executives. Call the whole bunch the one per cent and you are not far off. But the 99 per cent have power, its just not organized politically. The NDP does not come close, neither does the trade union movement. 

Mobilization is what electoral politics is about. Mobilizing money and resources to dominate public affairs is a full time occupation for representatives of the one per cent, and they are effective. At we believe in a peaceful revolution to overthrow this domination of our country by big money. Its proving dangerous to our health, and to our ecology. When enough people figure that out we will still have to find a way to channel that energy into a political project, and to change the government we need a party that fights elections on behalf of the 99 per cent.

Too much attempt to curry favour with the media is a mistake political figures on the left make all the time. That’s why I say support independent media even when it is critical of you. My own belief in is as a place where change can be incubated. Thanks for helping out. 

MB: So we’re out of time, but please do continue to discuss these issues. I’ll leave the thread open for a while. Thank you so much Duncan for your thoughts and time — it’s been a blast.

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Image: Facebook/Duncan Cameron. Taken by Ben Powless

Meg Borthwick

Meg Borthwick (aka Rebecca West) is a babble moderator and has been a member of since 2001. She has a decorative liberal arts degree in Quoting Chaucer at Dinner Parties (English/Drama double...