Sep 2, 2015

The best of all policies: my wish for the ideal platform


I’m often asked which opposition party, with a potential to win the election, has the better platform when it comes to tackling climate change and inequality – the two great inconvenient truths of our time, and the focus of much of our work at CCPA. (I’m leaving out from this comparison the Conservatives, who have thus far proposed nothing meaningful in this campaign to address either of these urgent issues, and the Greens, who have some very good policies with respect to both, but who have no chance of forming government.)

So here’s the thing. When it comes to those core issues, both the NDP and Liberal plans have their strengths (and weaknesses). And neither have released their full platforms at the time of this writing.

Both have a dog’s breakfast of positions on tarsands pipelines. Both parties are strongly opposed to the Northern Gateway Pipeline, but highly confusing when it comes to Energy East and Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain. The NDP is stronger against Keystone XL.

They are both sounding pretty good on carbon pricing, and are offering a modest grab-bag of other climate action policies. (Stay tuned for more CCPA platform analysis in the coming weeks.)

The Liberals have a better position on raising personal income taxes for the rich, but are proposing to offset much of this with a cut to the middle tax bracket (on incomes between $45-89K) that is expensive and unnecessary, and also benefits upper-income people. Effectively, their tax package mostly shuffles income within the top 20% of income earners (for more on the distribution of the Liberal’s proposed tax rate changes, see this post from CCPA senior economist David Macdonald).

The Liberals have sensibly chosen not to run on cutting the small business tax rate, a silly and cynical NDP proposal that will have no economic benefit and would give a tax cut to wealthy lawyers, doctors and other high-earners who structure their income as a business. The NDP, however, have a better and much-needed position on raising the general corporate income tax rate.

Both wisely promise to scrap income-splitting for families with children, and would redeploy those tax resources in better ways. And both have said they would not increase the contribution ceiling for Tax Free Savings Accounts (as the Conservatives recently did in a brash gift to the wealthy).

The Liberals have a better position on scrapping the mis-named Universal Child Care Benefit and turning it into a targeted Child Benefit, while the NDP have a much stronger position on building a true national child care program, with fees capped at $15 a day.

The NDP are rightly proposing to re-establish a federal minimum wage, which the Liberals have oddly opposed. Both parties have proposed worthwhile infrastructure plans that would provide a boost to job creation.

The Liberals have made some important announcements with respect to tackling Aboriginal poverty, while the NDP have done similarly for seniors’ poverty.

And no doubt we’ll hear more specifics from both parties in the days to come (so far, online details are thin).

For those wanting to see what a truly ambitious and comprehensive plan to tackle inequality would look like, check out the CCPA’s new inequality platform here.

On overall fiscal policy, the NDP, in a ridiculous grab for the center, have committed to a balanced budget from the get-go. This is an economically and socially foolhardy promise given the state of the economy and the likelihood of an inherited deficit from the Conservative government (according to the Parliamentary Budget Office). And it makes no sense to promise a balanced budget when there is such a desperate need to invest public dollars to meet our climate obligations (transit, green infrastructure, renewable energy, etc.) and deal with social needs from affordable housing to seniors care. That said, hearing the party of Paul Martin disparage austerity is a bit rich.

Of course if there were a minority government outcome, all the parties would be “liberated” from the most ill-conceived elements of their platforms, and instead would have to bargain hard for their preferred ideas. Then the next government could cobble together a new program that draws upon the best from all platforms, the result of which could be the start of a real agenda to address climate and inequality.

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