On the existence of an NDP base


This column, a couple of weeks ago, posed a question about Thomas Mulcair’s ability to appeal to a broad segment of the population with an environmentalist, oil-sands-skeptical, protectionist-on-trade message. “To beat Harper, he needs issues that can rally active and broad support,” I wrote at the end. “I’ll offer no predictions, but whatever happens in Montreal on April 22 will tell much of the tale.”

What happened in Montreal was a great big rally for Earth Day whose messaging was, in part, overtly anti-oil-sands. And it seems to have been a hit. Apparently something like a quarter of a million people marched in lousy weather.

It would caricature the rally to depict it as, specifically, an NDP triumph. Mulcair and much of his caucus took part, but so did Pauline Marois of the Parti Québécois, and Daniel Paillé, who is reputed to be the leader of something called the Bloc Québécois. And no news acoount I’ve seen from the rally quotes Mulcair or anyone else from the NDP.

So you can’t directly translate this crowd into sustained or renewed support for the NDP. But my original point, I think, still holds: if our politics is going to polarize, increasingly, on questions of reource development vs. the environment, of prosperity vs. equity, then Mulcair is sunk if there is not even an engaged, emotive, base of any significant size on his side of those debates. But there is such a base. He’s not sunk.


On the existence of an NDP base

  1. But my original point, I think, still holds: if our politics is going to polarize, increasingly, on questions of reource development vs. the environment, of prosperity vs. equity, then Mulcair is sunk if there is not even an engaged, emotive, base of any significant size on his side of those debates. But there is such a base. He’s not sunk.

    I thought this interview on the House [Additions] with Mark Carney addressing “Dutch Disease” to be quite informative. He discounts Mulcair’s concerns – suggesting that in his view, high commodity prices are here to stay, and exporting to developing economies is one of the main tickets.

    Audio and transcript of the interview:

  2. I agree

  3. I agree that something can be made of this, but be VERY careful before you read too much into it… where Quebec goes says absolutely nothing AT ALL about the rest of the country, so reading the turnout of this rally as a potential base for the NDP is very, very limited indeed.

    • Plus, while there is a significant hard-core environmentalist base, there’s also a lot of mushy support for environmentalism that’s a mile wide and an inch deep.  Where the rubber really hits the road is when people are asked to make hard tradeoffs.  For example, are you willing to pay a carbon tax (such as was introduced in BC).  If so, how much?  We currently derive x in revenue from the oil sands.  Are you willing to have that revenue eliminated entirely?  Chopped in half?  If so, how would you propose that we replace that lost revenue?  And so on.

      • Sure, but for everyone outside Alberta it’s not really a tradeoff. Nobody else gets any of that oil money. Alberta gets oil money, Ontario gets their manufacturing trashed. Alberta gets oil money, BC gets their tourism, fisheries etc. etc. trashed when the oil starts spilling from pipelines and tankers. There are more Canadians–and ridings–in Ontario + BC than in Alberta.
        Actually, I think Mr. Wells makes a serious mistake when he describes the issue as “prosperity vs. equity”. Rather, it’s a question of whose prosperity. I think it’s far from clear that the benefits of the oil outweigh the costs, just in purely economic terms–Canada used to have a trade surplus and a mixed economy, now we have a trade deficit and an oil-plus-commodities economy. How is that an improvement in prosperity?

  4. Funny how you have a ridiculous student protest protesting an increase of $325 per year in tuition over the next few years. 

    Meanwhile, you have Quebec benefiting to the tune of $934 per person in equalization payments.  Alberta is the prime “have” province in the equalization scheme, and a substantial amount of the money they throw into the federal pot is coming from the oil sands.  There is also lots of oil development in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland that is keep those provinces in the “have” category (rather than “have-not”).

    And then you have this protest.

    This is typical left-wing schizophrenia.  Protesting for more government money, and then protesting against the source of much of that government money.  Meanwhile, Quebec already has the highest taxes in Canada, so it’s not like they can fill the gap themselves.

    •  So, you know that the equalization program is federal, right? And that not a single province, not Alberta or Saskatchewan or any other province *gives* money to any other province under equalization? Of course you don’t know that, because everyone and their horse thinks they know what they are talking about when they invoke the equalization program, but they don’t. Journalists are the worst culprits.

      Equalization is paid out based on a complicated formula set by the federal government which measures the potential taxation revenue available per capita in each province. A threshold is then determined, and all those which fall below it are given monies which are intended to fund services like healthcare and education. All of the money comes from the federal treasury exclusively, and is collected from all revenue sources all across the country — GST, federal income taxes, etc.

      Moreover, equalization is the *only* spending program which is constitutionally entrenched. People like to forget that. Section 36, in Part 3 of the Constitution Act, 1982 reads: “(2) Parliament and the government of
      Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments to
      ensure that provincial governments have sufficient revenues to provide
      reasonably comparable levels of public services at reasonably comparable
      levels of taxation.”

      I wonder, do you propose we open the constitution to abolish equalization?

      Finally, ZERO money from the tar sands goes to the federal treasury. All non-renewable resource revenue goes exclusively to the provinces in the form of royalty payments. It is entirely nonsensical to say that the Government of Alberta “funds” equalization. Bogus! No provincial government provides transfer payments to the federal government, the only way money flows in the federation is from Ottawa out to the provinces and then to Canadians.

      If you want to bitch about “the left” please feel free to do so, but don’t base your entire right wing indignation on sheer ignorance of the actual fiscal relations of the country.

      • I’m sorry, most of that is simple smoke and mirrors. Suppose Bob pays $10 in taxes and Bill pays $10 in taxes. Suppose then the government spends $15 for Bob and $5 for Phil. You do realize where that extra $5 for Bob came from, don’t you? All the mumbo-jumbo you’ve spouted above will not change the simple arithmetic.

        Not only that, you’re going on about the constitution and you fail to realize that Harper completely changed the entire equalization formula just a few years ago. Remember Danny Williams and his ABC campaign? Look it up! There was no constitutional amendment!! Read the news once in a while.

  5. I don’t know that an Earth Day rally is much of an indication of anything.

    The parties were joining the rally, not the other way around.

  6. “But there is such a base. He’s not sunk.”

    Virginia Postrel ~ Search For Tomorrow:

    How we feel about the evolving future tells us who we are as individuals and as a civilization: Do we search for stasis—a regulated, engineered world? Or do we embrace dynamism—a world of constant creation, discovery, and competition? Do we value stability and control, or evolution and learning? Do we declare with Appelo that “we’re scared of the future” and join Adams in decrying technology as “a killing thing”?

    Or do we see technology as an expression of human creativity and the future as inviting? Do we think that progress requires a central blueprint, or do we see it as a decentralized, evolutionary process? Do we consider mistakes permanent disasters, or the correctable by-products of experimentation? Do we crave predictability, or relish surprise? These two poles, stasis and dynamism, increasingly define our political, intellectual, and cultural landscape. The central question of our time is what to do about the future. And that question creates a deep divide.

    Stasists and dynamists are thus divided not just by simple, short-term policy issues but by fundamental disagreements about the way the world works. They clash over the nature of progress and over its desirability: Does it require a plan to reach a specified goal? Or is it an unbounded process of exploration and discovery? Does the quest for improvement express destructive, nihilistic discontent, or the highest human qualities? Does progress depend on puritanical repression or a playful spirit?

    • If that’s an endorsement of oil it’s kind of a failure.
      Gee, ask the huge centralized oil companies and the guys running the riot police whether they’re into puritanical repression, not the ones sporting the puppets, impromptu bands et cetera.
      Let me see if I understand this–a centuries-old mature technology involving burning stuff is all about the “quest for improvement”, but new and developing technologies involving coming up with better ways to get energy that don’t trash the place, those are just fear of the future. Oil technology that depends on centralized production, a very small number of refineries worldwide, and vast centrally controlled transportation networks radiating from those refineries, is all about a “playful spirit”, but solar, wind, wave, tide, etc which are all deployable independently in different ways and scales at different sites with local control, those are all about repression and nihilism.
      What you got going there isn’t philosophy, it’s just spin.

  7. I don’t understand how you reached this conclusion. From the street — that’s where I was yesterday afternoon — I felt the main target of the demonstration was Jean Charest, his corrupt government, and their cronies. 

    While we walked against the tar sands and the repudiation of the Kyoto protocol, we mainly took the streets to oppose the Charest government giveaway of Quebec’s natural resources to his buddies. We walked for groundwater preservation against unscrupulous shale gas promoters, against the refurbishing of Gentilly-2 nuclear power plant at a time Hydro-Québec admits it has trouble selling its huge surpluses of hydro power, against a free pass for developers on mining royalties. 

    Also evident to those who were at the scene was the omnipresence of makeshift red squares pinned on people’s clothing. Charest may joke (badly) about this, but Quebecers are quickly losing patience with him. He is in deep trouble. In all this, Mulcair’s presence at the demo is a sideshow, nothing more.

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