The NDP decided to take the opposite tactic that parties have established in recent election cycles, and put out their entire platform before Parliament has even been dissolved. After campaigning for a full week before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has even headed to Rideau Hall to request a dissolution, Jagmeet Singh released “Ready for Better: New Democrats’ commitment to you” (emphasis theirs) to minimal fanfare from his stop in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday. For a leader who likes to criticize Trudeau as only speaking pretty words and taking no action, Singh has demonstrated that he has only the same to offer.
The document is 115 pages of pretty words. Lots and lots of them, interspersed with photos of Singh around the country, but it’s a document that is hard to take seriously once you actually read it. A lot of it are platitudes, and some back-patting for things they are taking credit for that they didn’t actually do. Because most of their promises are simply reheated versions of their 2019 platform, they didn’t even bother to update it to reflect the fact that the Liberals have either already accomplished or have been actively pursuing and are at various stages of completion many of the things they describe. Well, one generously assumes that they simply neglected to update the pledges, lest it be said that they’re lying about the state of accomplishments in order to create a sense of disillusionment to drive votes, and the NDP would certainly never do that, now would they? (That was sarcasm – it’s one of their most common tactics).
Of course, they padded out the document by repeating many of the pledges over, and over, and over again in each different section, so it looks like they’re really being comprehensive. But more than anything, it’s a lot of what we’ve come to expect from Singh and the NDP, which is a complete inability to distinguish what falls under areas of provincial jurisdiction, and where they do acknowledge that they need to negotiate or “work with” the provinces, the expectation in the text is that the premiers will sign right up to everything that they have on offer – pharmacare, dental care, guaranteed liveable income, changes to labour codes, changes to building codes, free public transit, binding carbon budgets, you name it. Meanwhile, back in the real world, the federal government has been working for over two years to implement the Hoskins’ Report on creating national universal pharmacare, and in that time, the only province they’ve managed to convince has been Prince Edward Island, and it’s only to implement the very first steps of the program, which is to cut some of their existing costs. Early learning and child care has progressed more rapidly because of the amount of money the federal government put on the table, but even then, there are still three provinces including Ontario which have thus far dug their heels in and refused to sign on. And no, just applying more willpower won’t change those facts – there is no Green Lantern Ring of federalism.
There is also a pervasive sense throughout the document that everything can happen at once – pledges upon pledges that can happen at the drop of a hat. Not only will negotiations with provinces resolve satisfactorily overnight, apparently there is also infinite capacity within government to accomplish these things, and the laws of physics don’t apply when it comes to solving pervasive problems like boil water advisories on First Nations reserves. There are also some literal impossible pledges sprinkled throughout as well, such as promising to expunge the criminal records of those convicted of cannabis possession – something the current government explored doing but realized that it could not be done because those records are too disparate and scattered for this to happen. Even the current commitment to expunge the records of gay men convicted of gross indecency has proven exceeding difficult to uphold.
There are also a number of promises that stretch the bounds of credulity, such as making social media companies stop the spread of disinformation (good luck with that), abolishing the Senate – and in the interim, “insisting” that they change their own rules to rubber stamp all bills rather than exercising their constitutional veto powers (not going to happen), and lowering the voting age to 16. They’re also promising to institute a form of mixed-member proportional representation that “works for Canada” – and farming out the design to an “independent citizens assembly” so that they are absolved of any accountability for the decisions that are made. Once again, good luck with that.
I will say that I was surprised that in an age of “defund/abolish the police” rhetoric and aping American Democrat talking points at every opportunity, the document was not calling for that in any regard. Not breaking up the RCMP, ending their contract policing services, or anything remotely like that. If anything, it called for the expansion of current police forces by providing them with even more resources for dealing with hate crimes, gun control, and by enforcing “zero tolerance” policies, you would basically need a steady influx of new police officers to replace the ones who are being drummed out. It’s certainly not what I would have expected from a party that bills itself on being the progressive voice in Canada – the branch plant to the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez crowd – and my only guess was that this was their way of forestalling the “soft on crime” taunts rather than being bold in setting policy, especially considering that they don’t care about jurisdiction in any other regard.
All of this to say that this particular platform was an entirely predictable effort from Singh and company – a lot of blue-sky ideas, unachievable promises, disingenuous characterizations of the current situation, and the belief that simple willpower will make all of their dreams come true. Singh may accuse Trudeau of being a man of pretty words, but he should look in the mirror.