The problem with the NDP

The NDP have now grown up into a mainstream, increasingly centrist party nickel-and-diming the poor for their vote and misleading on the environment.  I’m deeply disturbed by their success in Toronto-Danforth.

Over a week has passed since the night while I watched in horror as the Harper government got its majority coupled with the relatively minor shock of seeing the Green vote collapse in Toronto-Danforth despite the widely acknowledged strongest campaign we have ever had.

Nationally I am most concerned about a majority government which clearly caters to oil industry priorities.  In Toronto-Danforth specifically, I’m concerned about the success the NDP has had with convincing voters with timid and contradictory policies that will do little for climate change and will hurt the constituents the party has professed to care about in the past.  I ran a campaign promoting the positive aspects of the Green plan without challenging the obvious defects of NDP policies.  But it’s clear to me now that these need to be made explicit.

I had never expected to win in the NDP leader’s riding this time around, but I did hope for a strong Green vote to pressure Jack Layton and the NDP to improve their climate change policies and address some of the priorities of Green voters.  That didn’t happen, so I need people who care about the Green Party, the thousands who told me that they were considering voting Green, to help put the pressure on the NDP to get it right.

It’s time to stop mincing words.  The stakes are simply far too high.

Canadian elections — Great media show, little substance

In general, I’m concerned by the increasing focus of all parties on leadership tours with flashy, market-tested meaningless soundbites and the disconnection from any public accountability.  Leaders no longer take questions from the public at all and candidates are discouraged from attending all-candidates debates or even bothering with local campaigns.  This reflects the increasingly tight party discipline centred around the leader’s goals and the increasing irrelevance of local candidates.  The corporatization of politics has succeeded in maximizing the voting share for parties that use these tactics.  However, voter turnout is dismal, reflecting the disdain the public has for the political process.  If the aim of political parties is to get themselves elected, they’ve done a splendid job of perfecting the methods to achieve this.  If, however, the aim is to promote the policy objectives of their members, then political parties have failed dismally, and true democracy is the victim.

The NDP is unexceptional in this respect and deserve no more blame than the Conservatives and Liberals.  But they did sell themselves in this election as a fresh alternative when they are anything but.  In both their campaigning style and in the specifics of their proposals, they succeeded precisely because they moved into the mainstream and have become virtually indistinguishable from the other parties, offering bland and timid policy proposals that mostly benefit the middle class to wealthy and do nothing to address systemic injustices and looming challenges.

NDP — Pretending to help families

If we want a prime example of policy that sounds good but accomplishes absolutely nothing, let’s look at the NDP’s promotion of reducing credit card interest rates to “give families a break”.  Reducing credit card interest will benefit those with highest credit card balances most, overwhelmingly the wealthy.  Those too poor to have a credit card are entirely unaffected.  It should also be obvious that if interest rates are low then banks can lend more, leading to the identical debt burden.  The real problem with credit card financing is the mentality of counting on endless high growth and encouraging a buy-now, pay-later approach which hurts the poor, especially in times of low growth, economic stress and high unemployment.  These are the conditions we can expect for the foreseeable future.  The NDP platform does not address this at all.

The Green Party plan to address income stress

The Green Party would address poverty and income stress economically by streamlining income support with a Guaranteed Annual Income.  This would capture all kinds of people the current system fails, and it would enable people to rise out of income support who are currently discouraged by the system.  It is a grand endeavour like universal health care that sets a baseline of dignity for everyone.

How is it that instead limiting credit card interest and other bandaid measures were successfully sold by the NDP as a solution?

NDP — Damaging the climate

As climate change critic for the Green Party of Canada, and someone who entered politics specifically to address the lack of adequate policy on climate change, I’m deeply disturbed by the completely inadequate and in some important ways seriously damaging plan the NDP promotes to “Tackle Climate Change”.  The rest of this post will deal with my frustration that this damaging plan is now presented as the best opposition to Harper on the climate file.

Probably the most disturbing aspect of consecutive NDP platforms is their promotion of fossil fuel subsidies of one form or another for every election since Jack Layton became leader.

Climate change groups succeeded through tremendous efforts to convince even Stephen Harper to sign on to agreements with the G-20 to eliminate perverse subsidies to fossil fuel industries.

So I ought to be thrilled that Jack Layton announced that he would eliminate fossil fuel subsidies right away, right?  No, because while eliminating existing fuel subsidies, Layton’s number one campaign demand was introducing a new one, the elimination of the HST from home heating.  This new fossil fuel subsidy has a value comparable to that of all federal fossil fuel subsidies out there today.  One step forward, one step back.

What’s more, Layton spent far more time campaigning on his new fossil fuel subsidy than he did talking about eliminating other subsidies.  In fact, removing HST from home heating was his number one demand for changes to Harper’s budget, and eliminating other fossil fuel subsidies was nowhere on the list.  Layton’s top priority is an item which sets back the one potential success climate groups have had in pressuring Prime Minister Harper on the climate.

NDP — Tax cuts for the rich

Like the limit on credit card interest fees, removing the HST from home heating should be immediately recognized as a policy that benefits the wealthy above all.  It reduces taxes most for people living in large, sparsely occupied and poorly insulated buildings, and least for people in small, efficient rented apartments.  It cuts provincial and federal revenues for needed services.  And it enables the fossil fuel industry to continue to sell its product and keep Canadians addicted.  It is a perverse proposal.

NDP — Hurting the poor

What’s more, offering reassurance to the poor that removing the HST will offer meaningful help in meeting heating bills is disingenuous when natural gas prices have fluctuated by 700% over the last decade and when even the ever-hopeful International Energy Agency has admitted that global oil supplies can only be expected to decline from now on.  It only sets people up for greater dependency and pain when they can be walloped by the next price spike which will dwarf any benefit to be gained through the elimination of the HST.

What’s more, removing the HST from heating bills will only offset the higher prices on heating bills that will be the inevitable result of the NDPs industrial cap and trade proposal.  Again, anyone who is looking forward to relief from the overall NDP package may be in for a nasty surprise.

There is another important way that the overall NDP plan hurts the most vulnerable.  The proposed NDP cap and trade mechanism creates a revenue stream that is used for green programming.  That means that a significant percentage of the money collected in higher energy bills from the poor will be allocated to people who can use it to retrofit their homes, buy more energy-efficient vehicles, or toward other unrelated green initiatives.  As a result, many low-income Canadians, particularly those living in rental housing, will see nothing but higher prices and no relief at all.

The real solution to the rising costs of heating

There is in fact a real problem with the high cost of heating, and we can expect more price increases in the future.  But it shows a real lack of imagination to think that the only solution is to subsidize the costs.  To be fair, the NDP do recognize that retrofits will be needed in the future to reduce heating costs over the long term.  Still, the obvious solution in the short term to high heating prices is to put more money into the pockets of people who need it, focusing above all on the people who need it most.  Whether you do that through a generous carbon tax rebate, through a guaranteed income that takes the need to heat homes into account or through a dividend distribution of the revenues from carbon pricing, there are innumerable ways to approach this problem without perversely subsidizing the fossil fuel industry.  We need to put money where it’s needed.  We need to give Canadians who already have a hard time making ends meet an opportunity not only to pay their bills, but to invest in emissions reductions so they reduce their bills permanently at the same time that we allow the true price of fossil fuels (which is high) to encourage everyone, rich and poor alike, to make better choices.

NDP — Hypocritical and inadequate on climate pricing

In 2009, the Harper Government commissioned a study by the National Round Table on the Environment (NRTEE) and the Economy for what it would take to meet its absurdly unambitious emissions reduction targets.  The study suggested that an economy-wide carbon price of at least $50/tonne by 2015 and $100/tonne by 2020 would be necessary for emissions reductions of 20% below 2006 levels, rising after 2020 to at least $200/tonne to continue meeting long-term goals.  The study warned that restricting the price to only some sectors of the economy would only raise the costs overall.

Bill C-311, the NDP bill which attempted to force the Harper government to adopt more scientifically based targets, suggested 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 (39% below 2006 levels), almost double the Harper government’s then proposed rate of emissions reductions, so we should expect the NDP to adopt much more stringent goals and consequently much higher carbon prices.

Instead, the NDP budget suggests carbon revenues of $7.4 billion in 2015, a number less than half of what might be required to reach Harper’s inadequate target even if it were economy-wide.  But it is not economy-wide, it is tightly restricted only to large industries, so an even higher price would be required.  Layton is big on imposing strict demands on the Harper government but is completely incapable of coming up with a plan to meet those demands himself.  Layton’s plan would not even meet the Harper targets.  It is no consolation that Harper’s current plan is likely to be even more inadequate to meet its own inadequate targets.

Why it matters

The other parties and the media may have decided that climate change is not an issue, but the atmosphere has decided otherwise
Elizabeth May, April 2011

In the spring of 2009, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research conservatively estimated that at the current trajectory, the Earth would be able to support fewer than 1 billion people at the end of this century.

If we continue on the insane path we are on, we will consign our grandchildren to a world where 90% of humanity perishes in the second half of this century, a higher extermination rate than the Jewish holocaust in Europe.  They will go in floods, droughts, hunger, thirst, resource wars, diseases sweeping through huddled masses of desperate refugees.  There will be hundreds of years of misery.

Half-baked measures will produce half-baked results.  Already an estimated 315,000 people die each year from climate change related effects.  Hundreds of thousands of environmental refugees are swelling cities.  Island nations are being evacuated.

If we fail to address this looming crisis in a timely manner, the impacts will overwhelm us and we will be unable to continue delivering the health care and other essentials a civil society relies on.  We will descend into a brutal and chaotic world of increasing destruction.

This is why I got into politics.  This is why sane voices are desperately needed in Parliament.  We have one voice now.  Just one.  The NDP are only pretending for political gain, and we need to hold them to account.

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