For a disciplined, pragmatic and imaginative New Democratic Party, this could be a summer of opportunity.
While Canadian workers are being crushed by inflation at a 39-year high, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is touring the country, gluing popsicle sticks together at summer camp. While hospitals across the country are collapsing under long-forecasted pressures, Mr. Trudeau and his provincial counterparts are squabbling over health care jurisdiction. While the country tries to navigate yet another COVID-19 wave, Ottawa reinstates seemingly useless airport mitigation measures.
There would be plenty for the Conservative Party to make hay of if it weren’t distracted by its coming Wrestlemania, which became all the more contentious after Patrick Brown, the party’s own Ric Flair, was kicked out for alleged dirty tactics. The remaining superstars are busy body slamming each other over who loves supply management the most (while lamenting increasing grocery costs) and which of the two front-runners will lead the party to overtake Liberal support (according to recent Abacus polling, the correct answer is “neither”).
There is thus an opportunity for a classical type of NDP – one that speaks the language of blue-collar workers, union members, young families and the like – to channel the frustrations of average Canadians who feel left behind: those who are struggling to fill up their gas tanks and stretch their grocery dollars while the Prime Minister samples cherries at a B.C. farm and smiles for pictures at a Scarborough, Ont., church.
The Conservative Party under Erin O’Toole tried to reach out to this demographic with specific policy proposals – ensuring worker representation on boards of directors, for example – and Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre certainly speaks the language of the aggrieved middle-class worker. Yet Mr. Poilievre’s particular brand of sophomoric jabbing and casual conspiracy-stoking won’t appeal to Canadians who might indeed feel as if Ottawa pays no heed to their struggles but would prefer someone other than the dude who thinks crypto is the answer to inflation.
In theory, the Leader of the NDP could provide that alternative, though Jagmeet Singh has struggled to present his party as anything more than an oppositional force. The NDP under his leadership has proven it can affect policy, sure – it demonstrated that by signing a supply-and-confidence agreement that saw to the inclusion of dental care for kids under 12 in the last budget – but hasn’t been able to showcase itself as anything close to a viable governing option.
This perception isn’t helped by the party’s sloppy communications, which, for the past few weeks, have seen Mr. Singh go around demanding that Ottawa deliver $1,000 to working families as inflation relief, which gives the impression that the party is being run by economic illiterates who like round numbers and think flooding the economy with free money will ease inflationary pressures.
In reality, the party’s proposal is actually more thoughtful – that the government double the GST rebate and boost the Canada Child Benefit for low-income earners, and offset that expense with an excess profit tax on oil companies – but most Canadians who are busy living their lives and only catch the odd NDP tweet won’t know that. Instead, they’ll see a lot of Mr. Singh demanding things – that Mr. Trudeau “act now and provide help to provinces and territories” when it comes to health care; that the Liberals “act for a fairer tax system” to improve the distribution of wealth – without offering actual solutions. (They’ll also see Mr. Singh lament the Bank of Canada’s interest-rate hikes, as if the BoC shouldn’t use the best tool at its disposal to rein in inflation, which disproportionately harms the poor.)
Perhaps the party is comfortable as Parliament’s irritating left-wing cousin, who will never actually host a family gathering but succeeds nevertheless in getting everyone to yield to a land acknowledgment before they sit down to dinner. But Canadians only stand to benefit from an NDP that can actually get its act together, figure out where it stands on important matters and suggest real solutions to pressing problems. There are progressive ways to approach the challenges in health care, for example (by expediting the accreditation of foreign-trained doctors) or demand for goods (by refocusing on domestic production) without resorting to vague pleas for the current government to do something.
The climate is just right for the NDP to come forward with bold ideas to address the frustrations plaguing Canadians this summer: The cost of living is top of mind, the Official Opposition is occupied and the government in Ottawa is finger-painting. An organized NDP would seize this opportunity, though Mr. Singh’s NDP might just let it drift on by.
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