Crawl Across the Ocean

Friday, January 13, 2006

East or South?

So the NDP released their platform on Wednesday and the Conservatives have finally released their platform as well. I read through them both (unlike the Liberal platform, they are actually readable), and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the NDP platform appeals to me a lot more.

In fact, based on the 4 platforms I've read (or tried to read, in the case of the Liberal one), I'll probably vote NDP this time around. In terms of policy, I rank the Greens and NDP pretty close and, ring or no ring, Svend Robinson is a much stronger candidate, in my opinion, than Jared Evans.

Some thoughts on the Conservative platform:

Positives: Their policies for making government cleaner (Standing Up for Accountability) probably go too far, but they are an improvement over the current situation.

I also support gradually reducing the GST, and the magnitude of their tax cuts seems reasonable.

Their health care policies (maintaining the status quo, while putting some pressure on the provinces to reduce wait times) are reasonable as well.

Increased support for the military (compared to levels for the last couple of decades is a good idea, and it makes sense to have an army presence in B.C. (primarily to respond to natural disasters) and the military certainly seems overdue for a rebalancing of more front line personnel, fewer officers. One thing I'm not sure about is whether putting so much money into expanding the number of troops in the army is the best use of resources, but I'm no military expert.

Extending Canada's claim to cover the entire fishing banks off the East Coast makes sense as well.

Negatives: Almost too numerous to list.

The income redistribution measures (GST cut, reductions to capital gains taxes, reduced corporate taxes, reduced taxes for seniors on retirement funds, money for parents with small children, transit tax deduction) are almost certainly going to provide far more benefit to the wealthy than the poor, exacerbating income inequality and likely causing further deterioration in Canada's overall and child poverty rates.

Electing Senators without reforming the Senate first is a bad idea. So is reforming the Senate for that matter.

One thing I would have hoped the Conservatives could be counted on to do would be to scrap the wasteful and out of jurisdiction 'regional development programs' which randomly distribute money to all parts of the country except Southern Ontario, but political expediency means they pledge to maintain these programs.

The obsession with crime (roughly 15% of the entire platform) is written as if criminals were inhuman demons of some sort and is filled with costly measures which will do little to reduce crime but will cause a lot of hardship, and will reduce judges ability to apply their discretion and which perpetuate a misguided war on drugs.

The environment - what environment? I almost missed the paragraph on the environment tucked in near the back of the platform. There are a couple of useful policies here such as a Clean Air Act to reduce Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur Dioxide and penalties for bilge oil dumping. But mostly the message of the Conservative platform is that if environmental protection is important to you, don't vote Conservative.
Message received. I like how Harper has said that he wants to back out of Kyoto, and the platform says that the Conservative will develop a plan to deal with green house gases in coordination with other major industrial countries (uh, like all the major industrial countries that signed Kyoto?).

I'm no agricultural expert but the plan to make the wheat board voluntary sounds like a terrible plan to me, perfectly exemplifying the right-wing's total failure to understand the concept of collective action problems.

While there is some money for research, there is a lot of focus on established resource industries (forestry, agricultural, fishing, etc.), and very little on crucial industrial industries (Auto, Aerospace) or on future technological/cultural industries.

Nothing about electoral reform. Considering what our dysfunctional electoral system has put the various right wing parties through over the last 12 years, you'd think this might be on their list of priorities, but I guess either the dream of unfettered majority rule, or the realization that they are heavily outnumbered by left wing parties, prevents the Conservatives from pursuing this.

Some thoughts on the NDP platform:

Negatives: The usual, with respect to the NDP. I find the general antipathy towards private business and the misguided notion that profits are 'a waste' troubling. While I don't support tax cuts in all situations, I think that the federal government could afford to cut taxes further, and there are very few tax cuts in the NDP platform, although, to be fair, just maintaining the recently announced Liberal cut to the lowest marginal rate and increase in the basic personal exemption, is a significant commitment (which the Conservatives aren't making). The general approach of spending money on government programs in every area worries me, as does the NDP's record of opposing paying down the debt (although their proposed 'budget' does include some small amounts debt repayment.

Also, the focus on 'identifiable groups' such as women, the disabled, minorities, etc. seems excessive at times to the point of undermining the concept of all Canadians as equal individuals.

In addition, I see too much spending on students, especially since this spending doesn't seem to be targetted to prevent it from acting as a transfer of wealth from the lower, and lower middle class to the upper and upper middle class.

To some extent, the NDP shares the Conservative approach of spending more time on resource issues than on industrial / technological industries, although the NDP does have a broader focus, for sure.

Similarly, there are many areas where I think the NDP is trying throw money at everything rather than broadly redistributing income and then letting people decide for themselves what to spend on. For example, the idea of having the CMHC underwrite low interest mortgages for affordable housing seems unwise and overly bureaucratic.

Positives: A national pharmacare plan is one area where it makes sense for the federal government to be involved due to economies of scale and purchasing power. Similarly, opposing the 'evergreening' of patented medication will save on health costs.

The plan on climate change is a pretty good one, including support for the expansion of an east-west power grid, tougher emission requirements for cars and appliances and subsidies for green power. It would benefit from more use of market mechanisms such as carbon taxes or emissions trading systems.

Little things like requiring labelling of genetically modified foods also benefit the consumer.

Like the Conservatives, the NDP are proposing a number of sensible rules to make government appointments more merit based, to make government officials more independent and to strengthen oversight institutions like the auditor general. Unlike the Conservatives, the NDP also supports abolishing the Senate and bringing in electoral reform. I'm not that fussed on the the issue of abolishing the senate vs. leaving it in place as it is now but either approach is far superior to making it any one or more of elected, equal or effective.

Increasing the child tax benefit is good, simple policy.

Speaking more generally, a quick summary of the platforms would be to say that the NDP wants Canada to be more like Northern Europe:

* higher tax rate
* government sponsored child care
* low tuition
* significant income redistribution
* liberal social policies
* emphasis on prevention and rehabilitation over punishment and deterrence
* significant measures to protect the environment
* proportional electoral system
* commitment to international treaties and organizations
* stronger role of central government
* emphasis on collective fairness (fair trade, fair markets, etc.)
* little emphasis on military spending

while the Conservative want Canada to be more like the U.S.:

* lower tax rate
* no government child care
* lower level of government worries about tuition
* opposition to gay marriage
* war on drugs
* emphasis on punishment and deterrence over prevention and rehabilitation
* limited measures to protect the environment
* first past the post electoral system
* less party discipline
* more authority for parliament
* protection of private property in the constitution
* elected, equal, effective senate
* little or no redistribution of income to the poor
* emphasis on individual freedom (free choice, free trade, free markets, etc.)
* heavy emphasis on military spending

I don't have anything against America, it's a great country with great people, but, given a choice between living like a bit more like a Scandinavian or living like a bit more like an American, I know what choice I'd make.

The NDP have released a costing for their platform, it would be nice to see something similar for the other parties - anyone know if that is available?


  • Nice summary Declan. I agree with just about every comment. There was talk awhile back of a radical apparoach to upping military spending but that never seemed to materialize. I think the military policy from last time was better.

    I notice a lot of thinks that the NDP and the CPC can agree or come to a consensus on as well. Who knows, it may well work out.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12:58 PM  

  • I'll be fairly worried if the CPC wins a majority (unlikely as it may be) but a minority will probably go all right, hopefully the NDP and the Conservatives will temper each others worst impulses.

    By Blogger Declan, at 4:55 PM  

  • Thank you for this post, and for this part in particular:

    In addition, I see too much spending on students, especially since this spending doesn't seem to be targetted to prevent it from acting as a transfer of wealth from the lower, and lower middle class to the upper and upper middle class.

    I'm so glad someone else feels this way. I am all for removing financial barriers to education, but I find much spending directed at students troubling in light of the commonly-held view that you can't nowhere in life without a university education, even if you won't be using that university education in your career. I'd feel pretty resentful if I were a non-college-educated employee who couldn't even afford a subsidized education, but who was subsidizing the university educations of richer people who would then be competing - probably successfully, what with them having the educational background - for my job. Hmm.

    Also, re: military - this is probably the issue in which none of the parties' platforms even comes close to reflecting my views. I support a strong Canadian military, and that requires that we fund it much better than we have in years - but I'd like to see our military used mostly in a peacekeeping capacity, rather than as a source of free bonus troops for US interventions. During the last campaign, CBC Radio ran an excellent interview with a retired Canadian general - damned if I can find it now - who had some very harsh words for all of the party leaders. I'm simplifying a lot here, but his main point seemed to be that we had to figure out the mission of the Canadian military, and *then* budget based on that - and he argued that none of the parties was doing that. Were we, for instance, going to deploy troops to places like Sudan? If so, then we should shut up about buying fancier planes and invest in some ATVs. And so on. The NDP, the general said, talked about peacekeeping, but wouldn't commit to paying for it; meanwhile, the Conservatives just denied that they were as pro-American as their critics claimed, but they planned to spend spend spend on the military, and then send our troops to...oh, we'll talk about that later, but in the meantime, vote for us so we can buy better helicopters! Damn, now I really wish I could track down the interview, but more than that I wish that the powers that be had listened to him, because the man knew what he was talking about and the party leaders...don't.

    (Aside: you live in a much more interesting riding than mine, where the incumbent will easily win with or without my help. I'm voting anyway, but still - electoral reform can't come quickly enough.)

    By Blogger Moebius Stripper, at 9:03 PM  

  • On a pure readability basis, I think the Conservatives win. The platform was short, broken into thematic areas quite well, and the points were easy to read. I found the NDP plan to have far too many words prefacing each group of promises. I tended to get lost. The Liberal platform was just incomprehensible.

    I have different concerns than you do. I'm all for pulling out of an ineffective international agreement, and developing some real solutions. Those "other industrialized countries" by the way, would be the UK, the US, China, and India.

    But then, people hate arguing about Kyoto with me. I tend to say things like "if you really cared about global climate change you'd take all the money earmarked for useless Canadian measures and buy nuclear power plants in India and China", which makes environmentalists go insane.

    In your riding however, I'm shocked that you would vote for Svend. In fact, allowing Svend "I'm a criminal but I got away with it" Robinson back into the party is the number 1 reason why I would not consider voting NDP in this election. How can a party have any credibility on crime when it lets a convicted jewel thief back in with open arms? If I lived in your riding, I'd probably vote Green so at least they got my tax money.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:18 AM  

  • Hi Declan, fellow Van Center and Electoral Reform Junky. Although I'll be voting Green based on process of elimination, as well as they have a decent platform as well. I went NDP last time with Kennedy Stewart, but I'm not sure from a pure representation issue how I could align myself with Svend. The latest is the last in a series of grandstanding incidents, in my mind. He also focusses too much on social welfare policies, when Vancouver center has larger issues in terms of a large film and software development community whose issues I doubt he would be able to address from a business point of view.

    Hedy is better on the later, although just nuts, and Fograssi seems to lack a deeper insight into the micro politcs of the area, so I doubt he would bring anything to the table.

    So in terms of this area (similar to the provincial elections), we can toss the dice and know we probably get at best a lesser of the evils.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:10 PM  

  • "given a choice between living like a bit more like a Scandinavian or living like a bit more like an American, I know what choice I'd make."

    And I would make the same, if only I had a party down this way with such a platform and a chance of getting even one seat...

    But what I really wanted to comemnt on was the NDP's call to abolish the senate. Even I--an advocate of fundamental senate reform in the US--would not go so far as to call for abolition. There is no federal system in the world that has a unicameral legislature (OK, Micornesia, but note the "micro" in that).

    It seems to me that there is some pretty good logic behind an upper house in a federal system, though no reason why it should be on the American model of equal representation for each state / province and co-equal powers. The current Canadian senate is a very odd institution, but speaking as a political scientist, I have to say that outright abolition would not be obviously preferable to the status quo.

    Just wondering: What is the NDP's general policy on federalism? Abolishing the senate could be called a rather anti-federal proposal, but given that the NDP governs some provinces, the party must be friendlier to federalism than their position on the federal senate implies.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:48 PM  

  • Has anybody seen that 'Godfather spoof' internet-video that was created for the upcoming election? Anyone know what the URL is to see it?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:56 AM  

  • ms - From the sounds of it, my views on the military (although not based on very thorough knowledge of military strategy or costs) are pretty similar to yours. I also favour an effective intervention force, but am not inclined to automatically tag along with every U.S. invasion.

    I think that the idea of how education spending can be regressive and unfair - especially if it is not executed properly - is spreading, but it has a ways to go.


    Most of the ridings in the rain rain rain (and more rain) part of B.C. are pretty interesting, I can only think of a handful which are foregone conclusions...


    ginna - I agree with your platform 'readability' assessment, the Conservatives, as they usually do, had the most to-the-point platform.

    As for Kyoto, this issue is similar (from a theoretical point of view) to the grain board issue, in that climate change is a collective action problem, where if some people decide to take action and some don't, everyone gets the same benefit, so the freeloaders come out ahead - leading to a lack of action (see arguments that Canada shouldn't do anything because the U.S. and China aren't doing anything.) So the only solution is to create a global agreement which almost everyone agrees to work towards so nobody is at a disadvantage, or for countries to sacrifice some of their international competitiveness for the greater good.

    In this light, a promise to do 'our own thing' reads to me like a promise to not do much of anything.

    Still, if you want to encourage the Indians and Chinese to build nuclear reactors you should vote Liberal - they've poured hundreds of milions into subsisidies to try and get exactly that to happen, with limited success (China has built a couple, if I recall correctly).

    Outside of China and India, of course, there are proliferation concerns, especially with Canadian style reactors.

    As for Svend, a) I feel that when people have served their penalty, the past should be behind them and b) I don't worry much about politicians personal lives unless I see some impact on their ability to do their job.

    My one concern is that he will do something else dumb or just get too stressed and quit halfway through his term, although a byelection might liven up the between election blogging lull here in Vancouver-Centre.

    But, given that a Conservative government is likely, I think Svend will be a lot more effective in opposition than Hedy, who has never been in opposition.


    Daniel - My main concern with the candidates is their impact federally, rather than locally, but I can certainly see your concerns. We're not likely to get an effective, balanced local. rep., no matter what happens.


    Matthew - There may be no federation without a senate in the world, but Canada is also (based on spending/taxation distribution between central government and regional government) one of the most decentralized federations in the world so perhaps we are a special case - it's not like our Senate does so much, anyways, and the Charter of rights and freedoms could be seen as a substitute for the role of the Senate in keeping the House of Commons from getting too excited.

    I actually agree that abolition is not obviously preferable to the status quo, I personally think it is only slightly preferable, and I certainly admit I could be wrong.

    It's a balance between whether one thinks the Senate provides a useful check on the house of commons or whether you just see it as an unaccountable forum for special interest lobbying (it is both, but which is more important, that is the question).

    I'm not exactly sure I understand your question about the NDP and federalism. The NDP is generally regarded as the most centralist (if that's a word) of the parties, probably because they favour federal involvement in things like health care and education which are generally considered provincial responsibilities, so that might be further evidence of anti-fedaralism on their part.

    But they are certainly committed to the Canadian federation as currently structured (with the exception of the senate and the electoral system).


    anon: no, and no.

    By Blogger Declan, at 7:43 PM  

  • Also Van Centre, and also an electoral reform junkie.
    I'm going with Svend for pretty identical reasons to yours. I also think Svend's been pretty brave and open regarding his bipolar disorder and his treatment progress: he's not evading responsibility. I'm more comfortable with that than with constant denials of wrongdoing...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:55 PM  

  • Declan, thanks for your answers to my query. Very interesting. Actually, from your answer, I think you understood my question on the NDP and federalism perfectly! I thought the party was rather centralizing in their preferences, and you confirm that. I was just pointing out that that's sort of ironic, given that federalism (and FPTP) make the NDP a governing party from time to time in various provinces, where they presumably enjoy having autonomy from Liberal or Conservative federal governments.

    On Canada being one of the most decentralized federations in the world, you are right. I am doing research for a book on US government in comparative perspective, and one item I have collected data on is the percentage of revenue raised by each level of government. For Canada, the central government raises 54% of the revenue collected by all levels of government. The average for 13 federations surveyed is 76%. The US is at 67%. Besides Canada, the only other case below 70% is Argentina (56%).

    So, yes, I would say that Canada is the most decentralized federation in the world, at least on the revenue- collection side. I do not yet have the data, but it is certainly even more so on the expenditure side.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:56 PM  

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