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NDP Campaign Platform Analysis

Can Layton realistically deliver on all of his five key areas during his first 100 days? "Not unless the laws of time, space, and mathematics change during that period," says Akaash Maharaj.


Global Staff
11 April 2011

Global TV News Online

TORONTO - NDP Leader Jack Layton said he would deliver on several key social policy priorities for low and middle-income families during the first 100 days of taking office.

Speaking to NDP supporters in Toronto on Sunday, Layton unveiled his party's campaign platform, promising to balance the federal books by 2014-15.

The party also pledged to pull Canadian troops out of the Afghanistan training mission and compensate Quebec for harmonizing its sales tax.

NDP platform highlights:

  • Hire more doctors and nurses
  • Reduce the cost of prescription drugs
  • Cap home heating costs
  • Slash small business taxes
  • Offer tax credits to small and medium-sized businesses for new hires
  • Restore the corporate tax rate to 19.5 per cent
  • Strengthen public pensions
  • Cap credit-card rates at prime plus five per cent
  • Limit the power of the prime minister to prorogue Parliament

The Analysis:

Akaash Maharaj is a Public Policy Specialist at the University of Toronto's Massey College. His areas of expertise include Canadian and party politics, international diplomacy, and peacekeeping. Maharaj is the former National Policy Chair for the Liberal Party of Canada.

Who is the NDP tageting with this platform?

Akaash Maharaj: The NDP, like every other national federal party, is unambiguously targeting urban, middle-class Canadians, for the simple reason that this group makes up the bulk of the population and of voters. Despite its serious ambitions to win seats in rural and farming communities, what little the NDP platform says to these areas is astonishingly vague.

They appear to have made a tactical decision to break with their past practices -- in which their platforms often read like a handbook to government bureaucrats -- and instead created a tightly focussed, sound-bite friendly document that is attempting to catch the ear of the largest pool of voters who may hear no more than five to ten second clips on the nightly news.

It's been said that the Liberals have led a very 'NDP-friendly' campaign heavy on social policies, apparently a ploy to woo NDP voters to the Liberal party. What sets the NDP platform apart from the Liberals.

Akaash Maharaj: The Liberal platform focussed heavily on promises of social investment and development, rather than on the party's record of successfully transforming Conservative deficits into Liberal surpluses. This was a significant choice; it may have been because the Liberals feel that the public is now less concerned about deficits, because they feel that their social policies create a more vivid contrast with the Conservatives, or because they are trying to cut into NDP support.

Interestingly, the NDP has made the opposite choice, by asserting that they will balance the budget in four years. This may be an effort to forcefully address the key concern Canadians harbour about their policies -- that they are fundamentally unaffordable -- or this may be an effort to fill a political space that has been vacated by the Liberal platform and the Conservative record.

If elected, can Layton realistically deliver on all of his five key areas during his first 100 days?

Akaash Maharaj: Not unless the laws of time, space, and mathematics change during that period. Despite his periodic claims that he is running in the hopes of becoming Prime Minister, Layton's true intention is to win enough seats to become a decisive force in a minority Parliament. Realistically, his platform is less a series of promises that anyone expects him to fulfil, and instead a guide to the demands he will make of whomever forms government, if he wins enough seats to be able to make such demands from a position of strength.

Layton has pledged to balance the federal books by 2014-15. The NDP say they'll put their pledges into practice without adding to the deficit. Is this realistic or simply idealistic election rhetoric? What do you think about the cost of what's in this platform and how the NDP are promising to pay for it?

Akaash Maharaj: At first blush, the cost of his promises seem reasonable. His plans to pay for them are not. For example, more than ten percent of his spending plans are meant to be paid for by finding a billion dollars in tax revenue that corporations have avoided by the use of off-shore havens; there is, however, no substantiation of this figure and no plan for how funds that are now hidden would be revealed by an NDP government. Similarly, a further twenty percent of his spending is meant to be paid for by cutting support for the fossil fuel industry, but there is no calculation of what offsetting effect this might have on government revenues from that sector.

NDP says it wants to limit the power of the prime minister to prorogue Parliament. What are some of the pros and cons to implementing this limitation?

Akaash Maharaj: Limiting such powers would take away the ability of a Prime Minister to evade motions of no-confidence and to escape his or her constitutional obligation to remain accountable to the elected Parliament. There are few, if any, downsides to limiting this power. That this limitation has not been imposed in the past is a reflection of the fact that no previous government in Canadian history had ever used prorogation so high-handedly for partisan purposes.

Was anything in this platform surprising to you or uncharacteristically NDP?

Akaash Maharaj: Its brevity in uncharacteristic of the NDP, as is the absence of "big ticket" signature programmes. The NDP platform appears to be an effort to offer comparatively modest promises that Canadians might find credible, rather than more attractive grand promises that Canadians would disbelieve.

Is anything missing in this platform that could possibly help the NDP win voters away from the Greens and Liberals?

Akaash Maharaj: The NDP's relatively muted position on farming and agricultural policies may represent a significant missed opportunity in close races with the Liberals.

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