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John Ivison: Preposterous NDP policy resolutions suggest the inmates are taking over

National Post logo National Post 2021-04-05 John Ivison
Jagmeet Singh wearing a suit and hat: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has the highest net approval rating among the three major national party leaders and polls suggest the NDP is seeing levels of support higher than it received in the 2019 election. © Provided by National Post NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has the highest net approval rating among the three major national party leaders and polls suggest the NDP is seeing levels of support higher than it received in the 2019 election.
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The NDP policy convention, taking place online this week, rarely disappoints.

In advance of the event, the party has released a raft of reckless resolutions submitted by riding associations across the country.

In this modern socialist utopia, the rich are taxed into insolvency, the military is disbanded and capitalism abolished.

That is an exaggeration – but barely. This year’s bumper crop of bad ideas includes: taxing all wealth over $1 billion at 100 per cent (“every billionaire is a policy failure”); compelling the Bank of Canada to buy all future Government of Canada bond issues; nationalizing “Big Oil”; expressing solidarity with Cuba and Venezuela; removing statues of John A. Macdonald, an “architect of a policy of genocide”, and, phasing out the Canadian Armed Forces (and subsequently retraining its members to work in community services, public transit and parks).

There is the usual toxic brew of anti-Semitism – Israel should be boycotted and sanctioned until it ends its “apartheid practices” – and foreign policy delusion – Canada should withdraw from NATO, NORAD and all major trade deals.

It’s no surprise that Modern Monetary Theory has its disciples among New Democrats, who see it as a way to finance their air castles. Under an NDP government, debt would be simply a record of the money spent and not taxed, with no need to worry about paying it back.

The party leadership will cry foul at this characterization. These are merely draft resolutions, they will point out, and none are likely to become official policy. Every party has its share of fundamentalists and their proposals often go beyond what the leadership considers politically palatable. Just ask Erin O’Toole.

But the sheer number of impractical and preposterous ideas suggests not so much an irrational fringe, as an institution that is in danger of being taken over by its moonstruck inmates.

The NDP has a well-deserved reputation for getting it wrong on the big things. J.S. Woodsworth, the leader of its progenitor party CCF, opposed Canada’s entry into the Second World War, even as German jackboots marched into Poland.

That lingering distrust is likely to work against the party in the coming election, even as other events move in its favour.

The pandemic has ripped up the old social contract between the state and its citizens and new welfare plans that help workers adapt to social change and technological disruption will be proposed by all the parties. Inequality and healthcare are home turf issues for a party that has been vocal in its advocacy for workers’ rights over the course of the pandemic, winning significant victories on income replacement levels and sick pay.

Jagmeet Singh has the highest net approval rating among the three major national party leaders and opinion polls suggest the NDP is seeing levels of support consistently higher than the 16 per cent share of the vote it received in the 2019 election.

Senior New Democrats say voters know Singh, after his high-profile federal election debut in 2019, and have a good feeling about him. “They feel he is authentic, hard-working and has overcome his own challenges,” said one insider.

The confidence is well-placed – Singh is a natural campaigner. In the last week of the 2019 campaign, the party was scoring an average of 18.4 per cent support in opinion polls, compared to an average of 13.4 per cent in polls in the month before the election was called.

The New Democrats are further encouraged by focus groups that suggest the love affair with Justin Trudeau is over among younger voters. “He’s not the asset he was,” said the senior source. “He’s not on the side of working families. He might talk about it but he won’t deliver on it.”

To that end, the New Democrats will target young people and working families with policies the Liberals have promoted but not yet delivered – student debt relief and national pharmacare – as well as proposing an end to private long-term care.

The NDP even see the prospect of picking up votes from blue-collar Conservatives disenchanted with O’Toole.

The party is better funded than it was last time out – 2020 was the best non-election fundraising year for the party in five years, which will allow the New Democrats to compete on advertising.

Given the enthusiasm gap for the Liberal Party, the NDP has a decent shot at picking up seats, perhaps even reclaiming its status as the third-placed party from the Bloc Québécois.

But to borrow from Peter MacKay’s description of the social conservative movement, the NDP has its own “stinking albatross” around its neck – the mistrust felt by Canadians with mortgages and registered retirement savings plans toward a party whose knee-jerk reaction to any problem is to tax it, regulate it or nationalize it.

To make major gains, Singh will need to convince mainstream voters that he is not taking direction from the anti-Semites, apparatchiks and activists who appear to have proposed the bulk of the policy resolutions.

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