Federal Election 2015 – Part 2

This is a continuation of Part 1, where I evaluated the record of the last ten years of Conservative government.   In this part, I’m going to consider the pros and cons of the platforms of the three major opposition parties: Liberals, NDP and Greens.  I went to the website to look for platform details, which was a much more miserable that I expected.  Most of the websites are very light on content and very focused on the identity politics of their leaders.  If I were to rank the websites, the Green easily win; they had easily located policy, multiple links to more specific content, and a reasonable navigation.   The Liberal website, with its miserable navigation and buried platform details, comes a miserable second but only because the NDP and Conservative websites are so terrible.  For the last two (NDP and Conservative website), I was simply unable to find a detailed platform whatsoever, even after putting up with the wretched navigation.

The Liberal Platform (after navigating the thoroughly ridiculous and frustrating website), has five planks.

  1. Growth for the Middle Class.  This plank focusses entirely on tax cuts, which already frustrates me.  Tax cuts tell me nothing about how you will to actually govern in a way that help the middle, or any other, class.    Tax cuts are not what the middle class needs; we need vision, policy and leadership.  That rant aside, the plank does argue for a more graduated tax, the one tax policy I am happy to see.
  2. Fair and Open Government.  This plank is excellent.  It focuses on access to information, oversight for agencies including national security, empowerment of watchdog offices, fairly reasonable Senate reform ideas, and a rejection of the questionable practices of prorogation and omnibus bills.  Whether a Liberal government would live up to a platform is something I have skepticism about, but, as written, this is almost entirely great.
  3. A New Plan for Canada’s Environment and Economy. Immediately, the decision to couple environment/economy as one of five planks appeals to me.  The realization that these are often (but not exclusively) competing interests that need to be explicitly balanced is appreciated.  Unfortunately, the first half of the plank fails to live up to that realpolitik of balance.  It argues, with platitudes and and a naive trust in technology, that green energy and green jobs solve the problems of environment and economy.  While some green industry is helpful and should be strongly supported, what I’m looking for it a realistic discussion about necessary hard choices, such as the future of the oil sands project and our societal reliance on oil.  This plank ignores that discussion and tries to pretend that we can have our cake and eat it too.  The second half of the plank is more positive, with reasonable initiatives to protect fragile landscape and oceans, increasing the authority of environmental oversight groups, and looking to science and evidence-based argument for environmental policy.
  4. Education and Economic Opportunity for First Nations.  This is a brief plank with lots of bolded large dollar figures combined with boilerplate language about preserving culture.  Frankly, I have no idea how to solve the challenges of the First Nations of Canada.  I see nothing terribly new in this plank and worry that it might just repeat the mistakes of the previous governments.  Again, I don’t have a good insight here on what we ought to do.  That all said, the fact that this issue makes a whole plank, one of five, in the platform is encouraging choice of focus.
  5. Canada and the World.  Strangely, on the website, this is the only plank which doesn’t have a downloadable PDF, thus forcing me to deal with more of the infuriating website.  Moreover, the website sections have, essentially, no real information.  In addition, this section seems to focused entirely on North America, and even there almost entirely on Canada/US relations.  Nothing on the style of international governance across the world, no criteria for involvement in peacekeeping or military operations, and no commentary on global trade treaties.  The only comment on trade is a commitment to reduce trade barriers.  This makes me nervous, not because I’m committed to a policy of protectionism, but because reducing trade barrier must always be balanced against the necessary regulation, oversight and protections we need.  Focus on one without the other, as in this platform, is problematic.

The NDP website is even more infuriating to navigate than the Liberal one was.  As I mentioned above, I was unable to find any downloadable platform.  After a pile of digging, I discovered that a detailed “Policy Book” was taken down at the end of August; apparently, a replacement election-ready policy document is due to arrive sometime later in the campaign.  I found an archived version of the Policy Book, which informs these comments.

If the Policy Book were actually a campaign platform document, I would praise it for its scope and attention to detail.  Its organized into six sections plus an appendix on Quebec’s national identity.  Since there is so much detail, I’ll comment on some highlights and general tone of each section.

  1. The first section is a broad collection of policy on industry, the economy, taxation and finance.  Some of the content is non-specific boilerplate (protect shareholder’s rights, targeting tax incentives towards job creation, provide incentives for innovation) which almost any party and any voter would approve of.  These sections basically tell us nothing.  However, the majority of the content is quite specific to the labour-influence social democratic perspective of the party.  I like most of these points, include these examples: dedication to progressive tax structures, skepticism towards privatizations and P3 projects, specific improvement on consumer protections (particularly in the financial sector), support for cooperatives such as the Wheat Board, commitment to rail travel development.  My reservations come mostly from the obvious ideological bent of the platform; I would like a government which is capable of transcending its ideological roots when good evidence points to policies in conflict with those roots.  Lastly, the commitment to balanced budgets is in this section.  The language here is surprising, but I expect it’s meant to counteract the (mostly ridiculous) idea that a socially democratic government is obviously a poor economic steward.  While I realize that it’s naive to expect from a platform-like document, I wish this section made the explicit point that a commitment to balanced budgets along with increasing government spending means that higher taxes are required.  I’m fine with higher taxes — I think I should be taxed at a higher rate to allow worthwhile social democratic government programming — but I wish there was a more direct, honest connection here between balanced budgets and higher tax rates, instead of just a commitment to balanced budgeting.
  2. The second section is on sustainability.   There is a fair bit of non-specific boilerplate here as well.  In the more substantial sections, I really like the explicit coupling of environment and the economy, realizing that one can’t be discussed outside of the other.  I support the sections on renewing environmental protections, water rights, food security, public transport, and reducing fossil fuel subsidies.  The promotion of clean energy is terribly vague; I don’t really see any vision of how we tackle the enormous problem of weaning our society off oil.  That concern makes this whole environmental section seem naive.  As much as I appreciate the focus, again I want a bit more honest discussion of the necessary difficult decisions that environmental policies imply.  Lastly, I’m disappointed by the antagonistic stance towards nuclear power and GMO food.
  3. The third section is focused on social programming, including health, education, justice, housing and poverty.  There is a lot of overlap with provincial jurisdiction on many of these issues, but I’m comfortable with the recognition that the federal government has input and influence on these important social concerns.  The priorities throughout this section are excellent.  I’m also particularly pleased to see a social vision for the country clearly laid out, with housing, elimination of poverty and access to education as strong foci.  My only disappointment is the relative naivety of the section: these are immensely difficult challenges that require difficult decisions about how we structure our society.  I see here a positive vision without a realization of the scope of the challenge.  Finally, there are two points under justice which I am extremely pleased to see.  First, there is a balance of the rights of both victims and prisoners, thus humanizing our prison population.  Second, there is a liberal approach to enforcement and sentencing, including discretion for judges and decriminalizing marijuana.
  4. The fourth section is on foreign policy.  There’s lots to like here.  I like the defence/peacekeeping vision for our military; the focus on aid and human rights driving our foreign policy decisions; the support of working through international bodies such as the UN; and changes to immigration/TWF policy driven by care for our non-citizens.  There is a section here on trade agreements, which deserves some attention.  First, I like the explicit statements that free trade agreements must not trump our own ability to protect our workers or environment.  What I’m unsure about is how that protectionist attitude actually plays out in trade agreements.  Neither the Mulroney PCs, Chretien/Martin Liberal, nor Harper Conservatives have been particularly protectionistic in trade agreements.  Since we haven’t really seen protectionism since free trade agreements became a reality, I really don’t know how to evaluation the cost/benefit analysis of NAFTA or the other 11 free trade agreements listed on the government’s website.  I am concerned about the potential for these agreements to cede control to international corporate interests, thus I’m mostly happy to see the protectionist language in the NDP platform.  However, I’m open to the possibility that a great deal of good is done by allowing international trade and I wouldn’t want that unilaterally destroyed by a skepticism towards any international agreements.
  5. The fifth section is on governance.  Some excellent stuff here, though very similar to the Liberal platform.  The obvious contempt of the Conservative government for parliament, oversight, and democratic principles makes these sections very welcome.  I have no further comments on most of this other than general approbation.  However, a couple specific planks are quite interesting.  I’m not sure that abolishing the Senate is the best mode of parliamentary reform.  I am pleased to see proportional representation clearly stated as a goal, though I feel reform of the voting system might be a more reasonable and achievable first priority. I’m very pleased to see a commitment to First Nations self government and land claims.  Lastly, I’m intrigued by the asymmetrical federalism approach to Quebec and currently undecided about its wisdom.
  6. The last section is on human rights, with subsections on children, women, LBGTQ, disabilities, first nations, and veterans.  I’m in general agreement with basically all of this and happy to see it here.  Points later in the section include supporting the funding and independence of the CBC as well as a commitment to net neutrality, both of which are met with my strong approval.

The Green Party website is by far the most reasonable of all four parties and had an easily locatable complete PDF of the platform.  Well done, Green Party!   Moreover, the PDF is a full 184 pages of policy!  I’ll see how much of it I can get through.  As for the website, there are fourteen platform sections with links to greater policy detail on each page.  I’ll focus on responding to those fourteen points instead working through a giant 184 policy overview (though I must reiterate my pleasure in its existence and findability.)

  1. Sustainable economy. This focuses on a commitment to funding green energy instead of traditional oil/gas. I’m in supported, for sure, but my previous concerns hold here as well: where’s the realization of just how dependant we are on oil/gas and how to manage the difficult choices required?
  2. Healthcare.  Focus here is on a national pharmacare program and the health difficulties of an aging population demographic.  I quite like the former: I don’t see why a single-payer pharmacy program can’t have the same advantages of our existing single-payer health care.  On the later, I appreciate the realization of the scope of the problem and there are some good ideas in the specific policy.  However, I feel that immediately after stating the demographic challenge, the response is unreasonably optimistic about it all working out though preventative measure and good choices.
  3. Housing.  There is a strong focus on housing-first programming, which seems excellent.  The overlap with provincial/municipal jurisdiction exists here as well, but the federal government has some visioning and funding role to play on housing, so I’m alright with it.
  4. Climate Change.  The Green Party strategies include promoting green energy and a carbon pricing scheme (also part of the Liberal and NDP platforms, though I didn’t talk about it previously).  There are good ideas here, though again the section is lacking in discussion of the major societal challenges of reducing oil dependence.
  5. Fairer Tax System. There are many ideas here which I support, including the focus on progressive taxation; reversing the dropping corporate taxation; and explicitly taxing externalities such as pollution.
  6. Investing in Small Business.  This phrase itself is perhaps the easiest commonality to find in all four major party platforms — everyone loves investing in small business and supporting the middle class.  There are some good ideas here, but nothing substantially different from what everyone promises every election.  (I hate the phrase “reducing red tape”).
  7. Democratic Reform.  The focus here is on proportional representation, but they also mention voting systems, which I appreciate.  Empowering individual MPs and eliminating party whips is also interesting; I’m not sure how this would work, but I’m intrigued.  I’m skeptical enough about party politics to be inclined towards movements that spread power around to the individual MPs.
  8. Tomorrow’s Technology, Today’s Jobs.  This is mostly about our poor record for R&D investment, particularly for environmental technology.  I’m for investment in R&D, particularly if it’s coupled with a trusted role for government scientists.  However, I remain generally skeptical about technology as the solution to all our environmental problem — this is a sociological problem that we can’t magic away by technology.
  9. Green Transport.  There is great stuff here: urban renewal for active transit; support for rail travel and transit;  and reducing car reliance.  This section gets close to the important discussion about the radical changes required in the set-up of our society.  However, it doesn’t talk about how to enact these changes over the strenuous objects of a car-addicted population.
  10. Pipelines.  The websites states a bold and straightforward opposition to basically all oil shipping.  A noble goal, but again, lacking in discussion of how to get our society to the point where it can enact and handle such a substantial change.  That said, the Green party is (unsurprisingly) the only party which takes the environmental challenges of the oil industry as seriously as they need to be taken.
  11. Freedom and Civil Liberties.  This focuses on opposition to bill C-51, which I’m very happy to see (the opposition, that is).  A focus on civil liberties in desperately required in all discussion of policing, intelligence agencies, and terrorism.  I’m also strongly in agreement on the priority of empowering police oversight.
  12. Canada’s Global Role.  I like the realignment of military actions towards UN work and peacekeeping.  A foreign policy focused on aid and poverty-reduction is also appealing.
  13. Secure Retirement.  This overlaps with the plank on health, focusing on a single-payer pharmacy plan.  I’m not really sure on the details (and the links to more information seem to be malfunctioning on this page).  The plan seems well-intentioned but I have no idea how it all works out.  In particularly, it seems to ignore the serious challenges of paying for all this health care.
  14. Ending Poverty.  I appreciate the general commitment to the welfare state and extending it with a General Living Income guarantee.  There’s lots of social and financial claims about the returns of GLI program.  As much as I want to believe, I’m skeptical and need to see more evidence that this GLI would accomplish all that it promised.  That said, I love the vision and focus on the need to directly and substantially support the financial vulnerable portions of our population.

In part 3, I’ll compare the three opposition parties and try to draw some conclusions.   I’ll also work through some miscellaneous remarks and ideas on the election and the campaigns.