Social democratic NDP could lead Canada’s next government

VANCOUVER, Canada –  If New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Thomas Mulcair has his way, he will head Canada’s first social democratic government. With an election just called on Aug. 3, polls indicate that this may happen.

The latest poll from Nanos Research reported that the NDP was the pick of 31.4 percent  of voters while the Conservative Party got 30.8 percent , Liberals 26.8 percent , Greens 5.9 percent  and Bloc Quebecois 17.3 percent  of those in Quebec. The last 10 polls have consistently placed the center left NDP ahead or in a tie with the Conservatives. Already a senior party strategist told the Globe and Mail newspaper that the NDP is looking for someone to become the next finance minister, a key post.

Until recently the NDP had always been a minor party on the Canadian political landscape, capturing between 8 percent  and 10 percent  of the vote each election. Since it was founded in 1933 during the depths of the great depression, it has never come close to winning at the national level, achieving more success at the provincial and municipal level. The corporate-backed Conservative and Liberal parties have dominated Canadian politics since the country’s founding in 1867. When Canadians tired of Conservative right-wing rule, they elected the Liberals who campaigned from the left but ruled from the right, implementing similar neoliberal policies as the Conservatives. The NDP made its first big breakthrough in 2011 when it won 30.6 percent of the vote and elected 103 members to the 338-seat Parliament, becoming the official opposition. The Liberals, with 18.9 percent  of the vote, were reduced to a rump group of 34 and the Green Party, with 3.9 percent of the vote, elected its first MP.

Another big breakthrough came earlier this year when the NDP won the provincial election in the province of Alberta, home of the environmentally damaging oil sands industry. Alberta had long been a Conservative stronghold.

Mulcair, a lawyer, who comes from the French-speaking province of Quebec, was elected leader of the NDP in March 2012. While the corporate-owned media is already beginning to speak of an NDP electoral victory in ominous, threatening terms, Mulcair actually comes originally from the center-right Liberal Party. From 1994 to 2007, he served as a Liberal in the Quebec Provincial Assembly. He was minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks in a Liberal government from 2003-2006 until he resigned over differences, supposedly because he refused to transfer park land to a condo developer. He was first elected to the federal Parliament during a 2007 by-election.

If elected, Mulcair promises: the creation of one million $15 a day child care spaces; ending federal cuts to public healthcare and strengthening the health care system; a federal minimum wage of $15; investment in municipal infrastructure and public transit; more stringent environmental regulations; lowering the retirement age from 67 to 65 and protecting private and public pension plans; and implementation of proportional representation to fix the country’s broken, undemocratic electoral system. Mulcair has been crisscrossing the country to raise his profile, and his French-accented message of “together, we’ll replace the politics of fear with hope and optimism ” has been resonating with Canadians, weary of years of Conservative and Liberal Party rule that have worsened poverty, inequality and unemployment.

While the party long ago moved away from the socialist principles (public ownership of the means of production to meet human needs) on which it was founded in 1933, Mulcair has moved the party further to the right, championing efforts to remove any lingering mention of socialism from the party’s constitution at the 2013 NDP convention. He supports the construction of a monument to the alleged victims of Communism that a Conservative Party front group Tribute to Liberty wants to build in Ottawa. On its website can be found a letter from Mulcair endorsing the project. The party has shifted its Middle East policy to an overt pro-Israeli position. Mulcair is open to forming a coalition government with the center-right Liberal Party.  

While Mulcair criticized Bill C-51 – recently passed Conservative anti-terrorist legislation that makes it easier for the state to crack down on opposition groups – and voted against it, he has only promised that he will remove the most disagreeable parts from the bill if elected prime minister, not scrap it entirely. A wide cross section – from leading corporate CEOs and Amnesty International to the Communist and Green parties – demand that the legislation be rejected in its entirety and tossed out.

The NDP under Mulcair has announced that it will support flawed free trade agreements with other countries such as NAFTA if they improve trade. In the past, the party opposed the free trade agreements with the USA and Mexico which eroded Canada’s manufacturing base and led to big job losses. Party trade critic Don Davies said the NDP is waiting to see if it can support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): “We have from the beginning supported Canada being at the table. But we don’t know what’s in it. We can’t say that we’re for or against the TPP until we know what’s in it.”

While Mulcair raises concerns about widening income inequality and the declining middle class, he has not clarified how he will address the problem or pay for his campaign promises. He has ruled out tax increases on the rich and big business, saying that the affluent pay enough tax.  Mulcair has promised juicy tax cuts to big and small businesses (defined as companies with taxable capital below $15 million) to encourage them to invest and create new jobs.       

Even the Liberals, now in third place, have begun to attack the NDP for not being progressive enough.  

“The NDP, and quite particularly Thomas Mulcair, are obsessed with downplaying their ideological aspects and emphasizing the idea of good, solid public administration,” said Jonathan Malloy, chair of Carleton University’s political science department. “The mantra of ‘tax the rich’ is a common NDP one,” Malloy said, “but that is exactly the edges that [Mulcair] is trying to sand down, any sort of idea of class warfare.”

Photo: Thomas Mulcair gives his acceptance speech after winning the NDP leadership post, March 24, 2012, in Toronto. Matt Jiggins/Wikipedia