Commentary  Progress over pessimism

The idea of a centrist NDP is misguided

As New Democratic Party members, we welcome Jules Tomi’s reflection on the 2015 federal election campaign (“Lessons in hope and disillusionment,” October 26, Commentary, page 9). However, we feel obliged to clarify some of the author’s misconceptions and remind him of the many progressive policies the NDP pursued during this campaign.

The author perpetuates the pervasive trope, repeated by the media throughout the election, that the NDP has moved to the centre. Tomi seems to only have two examples of this: the party’s removal of the word “socialism” from its platform and its commitment to balancing budgets outside of extraordinary economic downturns.

Tomi is likely one of very few Canadians who are aware that the party removed this word from its constitution in 2013 – a change supported by former leader Jack Layton. To believe that this change has had any influence on this year’s election campaign is naive. In addition, it is intellectually lazy to pretend that running deficits makes a party progressive. If that were the case, the outgoing Harper government would fit that description. After all, the Conservatives ran year after year of deficits, sometimes to stimulate infrastructure spending.

Progressives believe in government involvement in the economy, absolutely. But the government should fund that involvement by taxing those who have more. The NDP was the only party this election to propose raising the tax rates of our country’s richest corporations.

It is intellectually lazy to pretend that running deficits makes a party progressive.

Finally, the idea that the NDP has somehow shifted its foreign policy position on Israel to match that of the other major parties is untrue. Mulcair spoke out loudly during the 2014 Gaza conflict to condemn attacks on civilians and urged the Canadian government to admit injured Palestinian children for medical treatment in Canada. Hélène Laverdière, recently re-elected as the Laurier–Saint-Marie MP in the Plateau neighbourhood, also called on the Harper government to fund the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.

The NDP position, as indicated in the publicly available party policy, has long been (and remains) support for a two-state solution, including an independent Palestine. While we join Tomi in hoping for an open, critical, and democratic debate on all issues within the party, one should not conflate the party asking candidates to be cautious about how they express their opinions with a shift in important foreign policy.

Those arguments aside, Tomi also neglects to mention the NDP’s progressive commitments made during this campaign. We’ll remind him here: the NDP is committed to a complete repeal of the terrifying Bill C-51. An NDP government would institute binding greenhouse gas emissions targets and a national cap-and-trade system to achieve them. It would create a $15 minimum wage for federally regulated employees. It would invest $375 million over four years in clean water and housing for Indigenous communities and create a cabinet committee to ensure policy compliance with the inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous people. It would reform the electoral system to bring in proportional representation, abolish the undemocratic senate, mandate complete gender parity in appointments to federal boards and commissions, and create binding quotas for the number of women members on boards of directors of federally regulated corporations. It would offer financial support for affordable housing, invest $100 million over four years in youth mental health, and eliminate interest on student loans. The list goes on and on, and the author neglected all of it.

Perhaps most shocking is the author’s failure to mention the biggest expansion of the social safety net proposed by the NDP: $15 per day childcare across the country. This program would have marked a step in the right direction toward a truly universal social democratic welfare state in Canada. It could have been as key a piece of our nation’s social fabric as medicare and public pensions.

Real people are affected by politics. The author’s article, however, ignores the millions of people whose lives were at the centre of the NDP’s 2015 platform. This may be easy for some of us who live comfortably, but we do so to our detriment. We therefore invite the author and all other McGill students to go beyond ivory-tower criticisms made with the benefit of hindsight, and to instead put their ideas into action by helping us reflect, rebuild, and continue the struggle for a fairer and more equal Canada.

Malaya Powers and Jacob Schweda are co-presidents of NDP McGill. To contact them, email