22 October 2008

Why I am drifting away from the NDP

I confess. I voted Liberal on October 14th. As someone who has been a life-long member of the NDP, this is something I haven't do very often. It is, however, becoming easier. Not because my philosophy is shifting, but more rather because of specific issues.

I voted Liberal because I am a strong supporter of a carbon tax as a fundamental component of the struggle against global warming. I don't like single-issue voting normally, but as this issue overrides all others, it wasn't difficult to make an exception. In fact, although I say this with some reluctance, I would vote Liberal in the next B.C. election and for the same reason: the Liberal government brought in a carbon tax and the NDP oppose it. It wouldn't be easy voting for a party that often seems more conservative than liberal, but again, the issue involved is sufficiently important to overcome any reluctance.

A second issue is proportional representation (PR), another favourite of mine. I distinctly remember Jack Layton promising that the price of co-operation with Paul Martin's minority Liberal government would be a referendum on PR. Well, the NDP co-operated, at least for a while, but Jack apparently forgot all about PR. It wasn't breaking a promise that bothered me -- politicians have been known to do that on occasion -- it was the sheer stupidity of it. Nothing the NDP could do would boost their strength in the House of Commons more than bringing in PR. It would increase their number of seats by 50 per cent in one fell swoop. I began to wonder at the time whether I should be supporting a party that was too obtuse to see that. I've never quite gotten over it.

A third issue is the NDP's increasingly tiresome insistence on increasing taxes on corporations. This is a self-defeating policy if ever there was one. Who, after all, pays corporate taxes? The consumer does of course, just as we pay all the costs incurred by corporations when we buy their goods and services. All taxing corporations does is reduce their efficiency which in turn reduces their ability to create jobs, and it hardly makes sense for a "workers' party" to promote that. Politically, it taints the NDP with the musty odour of 19th century class war. The Swedes, despite having the highest income taxes in the world, have about the lowest corporate taxes and their economy prospers mightily (as do their corporations). This isn't a coincidence.

Taxation aside, capitalism remains a major problem for democracy. Seeking an alternative is an issue of the greatest importance for democrats and is therefore, deserving of serious discussion. If the NDP wants to join the discussion, and a social democratic party ought to be in the forefront, they could advocate policies that powerfully advantage co-operative enterprise over competitive capitalism. The co-op is an economic instrument that is not only thoroughly democratic but highly successful at the local, national and international levels. And it is perfectly compatible with social democratic ideals. The NDP could offer the mantra "We must co-operate in the global society" as a replacement for the tedious corporate mantra "We must compete in the global marketplace."

We have not reached the end of history. If the current economic crisis illustrates anything, it is that there is still lots of room for new approaches and fresh ideas in the world of economic policy. The left should be getting its dibs in. British Labour PM Gordon Brown certainly is. Jack Layton and the NDP, seemingly mired in old battles, are not. Being a member of the NDP used to offer a feeling of being at the forefront of progressive change. Now ... not so much.


  1. This is great post. I have some very similar qualms with my NDP support.

  2. Your post made me smile because you remind me of me except I did the opposite. I am usually Liberal but I voted NDP because I cannot live with the Liberal position on the War. Another reason was one you sighted except I take the exact opposite position. Cutting corperate taxes is nothing but a race to the bottom. We cut our taxes to attract business so our competition cuts taxes so we cut taxes so our competition cuts taxes etc.The only winner is the corperation.we would be better off to collude with the other G8 countries and set our rates the same.

  3. Bill: I am sorry to hear that you voted Liberal. I respect that there is a difference of opinion on how best to price carbon but I personally didn't and don't believe that the LIberal's weak carbon tax would have done much to address climate change. I also believe that there is no way that a federal Liberal government would have enacted a carbon tax, in large part because Dion did not get buy in from his own caucus, only one premier is on side with carbon taxes, the US government is choosing cap and trade (as are states and provinces). So I guess I just don't believe that they would have implemented it at all had they actually won. They were already trying to walk away from the Green Shift in the last two weeks of the campaign.

    In terms of PR, the Liberal Party has no intention of implementing PR. I know that some grassroots and netroots Lib activists want it but there is no way the backroom boys will allow it. Just look at how McGuinty and the LPO undermined the referendum in Ontario.

    PR was in the 2008 platform of the NDP. (It wasn't even in the GPC platform although it was in their Vision Green document)

    I hope you realize that there was NO corporate tax increase proposed by the NDP. The rate would have stayed at the rate set by that 'tax and spender' Paul Martin (22.12%) which is 6th or 7th in the world below the corporate tax rate of the US. Layton also made it clear that corporations that committed to job creation and/or greening their production would be eligible for tax credits. The idea being that blanket corporate tax cuts that demand no quid pro quo from corporations are a waste of taxpayers dollars. Oh and BTW - the lib radio ads played in Toronto (and I think other places) that claimed the NDP would raise taxes on small business were an out and out lie since again, tax rates would have stayed at 11%.

    I agree that the NDP tax policy was characterized by the Liberals and Conservatives as a corporate tax raise but in fact it wasn't.

    Your final point concerning capitalism. The NDP has forcefully defended the Wheat Board (as an example of cooperative entreprise). I would suggest that it is too early in this crisis to know how things will shake out. But it was Jack who was the first to talk about some of the measures he would take as PM to ensure that Canadian markets are sufficiently regulated to ensure that small investors are protected. He also was the first leader to suggest that all the leaders be briefed by the Bank and Canada and the Dept of Finance so that they could have a fulsome discussion during the debates. Unfortunately, neither Dion nor May were willing to step up and Harper was able to shrug off the request.

    Anyway - I thought I would offer some thoughts in response to your post.

  4. Hi Bill. Anon expresses much of what I would say, so I'll add just two points.

    First, like you, I want to see voting reform higher on the agenda. But it's just not accurate to say Layton "forgot all about PR" through the Martin regime. In Spring 2005, a parliamentary committee adopted Ed Broadbent's process leading to a referendum. Martin and his minister responsible, Mauril Belanger, committed to create the infrastructure for the process over the summer. But they did nothing. That failure was part of Layton's rationale for withdrawing support for Martin's minority government.

    Second: I bristle to see Dion get any positive cred from his Green Shift, even in the history books. Mere months ago, Dion advocated a carbon auction, not a tax; there was NDP/Liberal/Bloc consensus on this. The three parties collaborated to rewrite Harper's Bill C-30, based on a carbon auction and proactive green solutions. Meanwhile, Harper was flailing with his third green "plan" and looking isolated. He prorogued Parliament to wipe the recast C-30 off the Order Paper. This was the time for the opposition to keep pushing together. But red flag: Layton was getting too much credit for brokering consensus. So Dion suddenly broke that consensus to differentiate himself, hug the Greens, and wedge out Layton. Even if that meant putting wind back in Harper's sails and delaying progress on emissions reductions for years longer.

    In my opinion, a carbon tax was never in the cards federally. The concept is too divisive in a country like Canada, the progressive world is heading a different way, and there's a solid alternative available. And now the opposition parties will need to work through a whole lot of baggage to get back on track to force the practical change we need to bring emissions down.

  5. You voted Liberal that is your choice. For a longtime NDP supporter I am not certain how you could get so many facts wrong about the NDP in one post.

    There was no corporate tax increased proposed by the NDP. (Irony being the CPC might just cancel theirs on the advice of the banks that it is bad policy)

    The Liberal Carbon tax was quite the smokescreen. It would generate revenue, do nothing to prevent GHG, and goes against all policies of implemented carbon taxes in other countries. On top of that, to think that a OIL companies, Rogers, Bell, Telus and Banks would get tax breaks with no benefit to the environment baffles me. It was a nice shell game that couldn't pass the simplist scrutiny. Meanwhile, the NDPs hard cap and trade system is the one that has Global implications. And it has takers on other countries and across the border with the WDI.
    I still can't figure out how it is benefits us, to tax the small % of users in Canada, while subsidizing our export of Oil for the US and China. But even Ralph Goodale highlighted that fact to placate Sask when he visit. Don't worry, your exports won't be affected.

    The rest of your post I lean towards, except that I don't see how voting Liberal could change anything.

    That said, at least you voted and too many people are staying home.