The NDP: Moderates not Socialists
Aug 17, 2013

The NDP: Moderates not Socialists

Many Canadians simply will not consider voting for the NDP and one of the most common reasons for this provided, either explicitly or implicitly, is that the NDP are socialists, or at least far left nutters. While there is undoubtedly any number of more legitimate reasons to not support the NDP, this reason - the claim that they are something approaching socialists - is simply objectively false. The NDP are not socialists, they have not been for a long time, and are currently positioned the furthest right in their history.

NDP leader Tom Mulcair has given recent comments on taxation that drive this point rather poignantly home:
“I am categorical on that,” he said. “Several provinces are now at the 50 per cent rate. Beyond that, you’re not talking taxation; you’re talking confiscation. And that is never going to be part of my policies, going after more individual taxes. Period. Full stop.” 
… He said the NDP would spend money on different things, and the NDP would make cuts, but they would be better cuts. “Yes, you can order your priorities differently. Yes, there is enough money there,” he said. “This is the type of thing that has to be done with a scalpel. They’re hacking away with a rusty machete. They don’t know what they’re doing. They’re lousy managers, and the NDP will provide really competent public administration.”
This metaphor of using a scalpel and not a hatchet or machete to go through the budget and better provide savings than the conservative side (and using this to fund your new proposed programs or tax cuts) is hardly a new metaphor in politics, but was made particularly famous in Obama's 2008 campaign where he used it extensively to contrast his approach to the budget with the Republicans. Now consider that the US is quite far to the right of Canada (indeed, Canadian Conservatives support many established programs most US Democrats would refuse to consider). The NDP is thus meant to represent the most left of three parties all to the left in many ways of US Democrats. Yet, here we have Mulcair giving the same kind of claim to a more pragmatic approach to budget management as Obama. He sounds more like a reprise of George H. W. Bush's infamous broken "read my lips: no new taxes" promise than the leader of a progressive left party.

This isn't socialism. It isn't anything remotely close to socialism. It is taking a quintessentially right wing position (cutting government spending) and claiming to be able to do it more judiciously than the right does it. Questions of structurally changing the tax code or even accepting any increase in government revenue are seemingly off the table, much as they are from any right wing party. The NDP leadership is simply not proposing any form of societal upheaval, but small moderate tweaks to the status quo.

Crowding out the Liberals:
While part of this is I believe Mulcairs legitimate temperament and viewpoint, part of this may be about attempting to crowd out the Liberals. Namely, the long standing Liberal claim as a centrist party is that they have the experience, the history, and the pragmatism to simply be good managers of the country. The claim that your party will be simply less incompetent at managing is simultaneously appealing but also a rather empty one to make. It offers no real new ideas or changes in values - what drive the core of a party identity - just a claim to be better than the other guy at what the other guy is doing.

I've written before about the difficulties facing the Liberal party in terms of forming an identity (and how it needs to do more than cling to claims of superior management) as the parties converge from their ideological extremes in the past. As the NDP continues its steady march to the right, the available room for the Liberals shrinks, and results in issues like the Liberals (and recently Justin Trudeau) supporting marijuana legalization putting them to the left of the NDP.

It's fine to criticize the NDP and there are many legitimate reasons to do so, as I will do on occasion on this blog. But let us focus on the actual reasons, and dispense with this decades old bogey man of the NDP being far left socialists which is now unquestionably false.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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Marie Snyder said...

It's true that the NDP are far closer to centre than they've ever been; all the parties have shifted to the right (regardless the liberal's stance on marijuana). But the NDP now risks losing some of its lefty supporters. There are supporters of the party upset at Mulcair's taxation ideas because many NDP supporters are socialists, and traditionally the NDP has supported a socialist agenda - like under Tommy Douglas . (You say socialist like it's a bad thing!) They seem to realize the key to getting in power is to shift to the right, but then we may as well vote Liberal.

bazie said...

Perhaps I am idealistic and naive, but I have always thought that it is possible, and possibly even preferred, for a party to give a strong and compelling case for its position opposed to abandoning its base and try to triangulate towards the center.

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