NDP Party Profile: Everything You Need to Know About Voting for Jagmeet Singh

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Third in a series of political party profiles for the 2019 Canadian federal election. You can read the Liberal Party story here and the Conservative Party here.

As usual, the NDP want voters to remember that both the Liberals and the Conservatives will only make the rich richer while everyone else lags behind.

That’s how party leader Jagmeet Singh opens his campaign platform video: the Liberals and Conservatives are working for them, not us. The NDP is calling their platform the “New Deal for People.” The list of proposals is long and quite ambitious.

This includes raising taxes for those making over $20 million a year to pay for a sweeping expansion in Medicare, housing, and an assortment of other services. But polling at just under 14 percent nationally, it also feels a bit like the NDP is making huge, sweeping promises while knowing it won’t have to deliver on them.

The NDP will have to overcome perceptions of Singh as an untested and inexperienced leader. Singh has had his fair share of gaffes, particularly right after he won the party leadership. For example, Singh had trouble answering a question about China blaming Canada’s arrest of a Huawei executive on “white supremacy.” Flummoxed, Singh asked, “who accused who of white supremacy?”

But many had him as the winner in the first all-candidates debate (minus Justin Trudeau, who is kinda important to the federal election) last week.

Singh tried to distinguish himself as the real progressive candidate during the debate by jabbing at Green Party leader Elizabeth May, whose party is polling close by at around 10 percent. The first person of colour to ever lead a major Canadian political party, Singh has been open about his experiences with racism throughout his life.

It’s an important part of Singh’s story that helps him connect with potential voters. He gave a powerful, emotional response Wednesday night right after Time Magazine revealed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in brownface at a 2001 party.

“I want to talk to all the kids out there, all the folks that live this and are growing up and are still feeling the pain of racism,” Singh said. “I want you to know that you might feel like giving up on Canada, you might feel like giving up on yourself. I want you to know that you have value, you have worth and you are loved and I don’t want you to give up on Canada and please don’t give up on yourselves.”

The Greens absorbed a number of NDP members in New Brunswick, where at least one former member said that the province may be hesitant to vote for Singh given his ethnicity and turban.

These perceptions issues have followed Singh around since he became party leader. That, along with progressive voters who don’t want the NDP and Liberals to split the vote, make electoral success an uphill battle.

Economy and jobs

The NDP is making some ambitious promises, including creating 300,000 new jobs as well as implementing a federal minimum wage of $15 an hour, covering about 900,000 workers. They also want to build 250,000 affordable housing units in the next five years and double that in 10 years.

On top of that, the NDP also wants to put in “rules to require that part-time and contract workers be compensated equally to full-time workers.” They’ll also ban unpaid internships outside of purely educational programs.

The general party message is that both Liberals and Conservatives favour privatization of essential public services, whereas Singh will stand up for public healthcare and restore things like door-to-door mail service while making sure that all government services (eg. unemployment, passports) are up to standard.

They also want to implement more watchdogs within the government to make sure that consumers aren’t being gouged at the gas pump.

Critics like Andrew Scheer argued in last week’s debate that the NDP’s proposals, if realized, will add to the national deficit, resulting in more taxes for the average Canadian.

But no major party has made it an immediate priority to balance the budget, as even Scheer backtracked his promise to eliminate the deficit in five years instead of two, which was his original vow in 2017.

Environment

Singh promises to keep the carbon tax, but will increase it for the worst polluters in major industries. The NDP also want to retrofit all government large-scale buildings and housing stocks by 2050 “to reduce energy demand, create jobs, and save people money.” The party’s national housing strategy proposes changes to the National Building Code to make all new buildings use only as much energy as it can produce (net-zero).

The NDP also say they’ll ban single-use plastics across the country, implement a number of ambitious schemes to protect fresh water, the oceans, and wildlife, and work to power the whole country with carbon-free electricity by 2030. Again, ambitious, sweeping stuff.

The NDP didn’t support the Liberal Party’s Bill C-69, which put in some regulations for how energy projects are assessed before they can be built. The NDP thought the bill didn’t go far enough and amounted to a missed opportunity to implement real regulations.

But Singh has also been evasive when it comes to giving outright verbal support for the large liquefied natural gas project in B.C., preferring instead to say how effective the NDP government there has been at protecting the environment.

Crime and security

Getting tough on crime has never been part of Singh’s highly progressive rhetoric, which often revolves around rethinking the criminal justice system and addressing systemic racism and hate.

Singh has criticized both the Trudeau Liberals and the Conservatives for being too soft in their condemnation of white supremacist groups in Canada. He levelled this criticism at Public Safety Canada’s latest threat assessment report, which he said stigmatized Muslim and Sikh Canadians while overlooking the growing threat of far-right violence.

Singh also vows to give judges more discretion in sentencing instead of relying on mandatory minimums for crimes, along with promising to increase funding for legal aid for those who need help in court.

Indigenous affairs

The NDP promises to “fully implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.” It remains unclear what the practical ramifications are for implementing the UN declaration, making the commitment both ambitious and, for now, symbolic.

Other commitments include ensuring that “Canada’s laws, policies, and practices are consistent with Canada’s human rights commitments – including cultural rights, land rights, and rights to self-determination and self-government.” It goes without saying that this very ambitious proposal would take more than several years to achieve, were the NDP to win.

They also promise to essentially solve the clean drinking water problem on Indigenous reserves within two years of being elected.

Healthcare

Again, here, the NDP have a highly ambitious plan to expand Medicare to include prescription drug coverage, along with mental, dental, eye and hearing coverage for all Canadians.

They promise to put the pharmacare part into effect by 2020 with $10 billion in federal funding. The NDP estimates that the plan would save the average Canadian family about $500 per year. The new plan would “put an end to costly co-payments, deductibles and premiums that cost families hundreds and even thousands a year.”

To pay for all this, the NDP says it’ll raise taxes for those earning over $20 million per year. They also promise to raise corporate taxes, implement a foreign home buyers tax, and close tax loopholes.

Additionally, the NDP want to “develop national care standards for home care and long-term care that will be amended into the Canada Health Act.”

Drugs

The NDP say they’ll declare a public health emergency for the opioid crisis and “end the criminalization and stigma of drug addiction.” The previous NDP government in Alberta declared the crisis an emergency within the province in 2017.

Singh vows to investigative big pharmaceutical companies for their role in promoting opioids, and to put money into harm reduction, mental health, and mental health services. The party was the first to speak about giving amnesty for non-violent weed crimes last fall when cannabis was legalized.

The NDP government in B.C. launched a class action suit last summer against over 40 pharmaceutical companies for contributing to the opioid crisis in their province.

Student Issues

In the long term, the NDP wants to make post-secondary education free.

In the short term, the party says it will work to eliminate interest at the federal level for student loans. They estimate that translates into about $5,000 saved for a student with a $20,000 in loans.

They’ll also make it easier for students to become eligible for Canadian Student Grants.

Best case scenario

Trudeau’s racist brownface and blackface scandal continue to dominate the headlines and voter consciousness, making it hard for people to envision him as PM for another few years, and progressive Liberals move to the NDP.

Then, either the Liberals or the Conservatives completely screw up in Ontario or Quebec, providing Singh with newly-found campaign magic that results in the NDP picking up seats in both provinces. BC voters decide to align with their choice of a provincial NDP government and help deliver a narrow second-place win for the party.

Or: The Liberals win a weak minority and the NDP holds the balance of power. A distinct possibility.

Worst case scenario

Singh stumbles and makes a series of gaffes that makes him look even more unfit in the eyes of voters. Voters in usually reliable ridings for the NDP are spooked by this and give their vote to the Liberals. The party gets shut out of the Maritimes, where the Green Party earns several seats, in addition to new-found success in BC. The NDP finishes with single digit seats, roughly the same as the Greens and Singh’s leadership is jeopardized. The Conservatives win an easy majority as Liberal voters stay home.

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