What did Jack Layton mean?


Taking a different approach to Jack Layton’s legacy, Stephen Marche argues the party lost its way when New Democrats decided to defeat Paul Martin’s government in 2005.

And yet despite the marked improvement in the numbers, the left has never been in a worse state by the simplest and most meaningful gauge there is: its effect on the lives of Canadians. In hindsight, the most consequential decision in Jack Layton’s career, perhaps the most important political decision of the past decade, was when he chose to support a Conservative non-confidence motion and end Paul Martin’s minority government in 2005. It was the moment when Layton and the NDP held the most influence over the national agenda, and the Liberals at that time were well on their way to instituting affordable national daycare. That piece of legislation would have done more to help lower- and middle-class families, more to help women and the poor, more to strengthen the social fabric of the country than any other policy. The business case was outstanding: research from a host of economists and community development experts has shown that public investment in early childhood affects subsequent lifetimes of earning ability. Universal daycare would have increased national prosperity in the broadest sense of the term.

Layton, simply by letting things happen, could have helped deliver the policy that offered the single best reason to vote for a socialist government. But instead of taking a solid gain for working families, Layton concentrated on developing the NDP around his own personality. The result? Rather than functional, technocratic socialism, today we have Raffi socialism.


What did Jack Layton mean?

  1. Spot on correct…..the decsion by Layton in 2005 was self-serving and contradicted their own principles. Worse still? THEY should have been the first ones talking about Harper’s ineffective $100 a month subsidy. It has cost MORE than the Liberal program (double at this point) and delivered WAY less than promised (was supposed to deliver 125K spaces and take care of the most needy). At the very least, they could claim that they didn’t know until they saw Harper’s plan in action……but the failure to follow up just sort of proves the point. It was all about Jack and all about that win.

    Saint Jack indeed……and now people are lining up to watch Mulcair do the same?

    • While I agree that Harper’s approach is not the best, I’m not sure you are judging childcare policy by the right metric. The best metric should be one of which plan effectively cares for children. Universal childcare in Quebec achieved positive results in terms of allowing more women to enter the workforce. However, it accomplished rather poor results in terms of the well-being of either children or parents. 

      Here is the abstract from the most comprehensive study, published in the Journal of Political Economy:
      “We analyze the introduction of highly subsidized, universally accessible child care in Quebec, addressing the impact on child care utilization, maternal labor supply, and family well-being. We find strong evidence of a shift into new child care use, although some crowding out of existing arrangements is evident. Maternal labor supply increases significantly. Finally, the evidence suggests that children are worse off by measures ranging from aggression to motor and social skills to illness. We also uncover evidence that the new child care program led to more hostile, less consistent parenting, worse parental health, and lower-quality parental relationships”

      In other words, universal healthcare effectively subsidizes an inferior form of child-rearing. We gain in the short-term as more women enter the workforce, and lose in the long-term, as future generations are worse off. The welfare state makes a lousy surrogate mom. 

      There are two kinds of childcare that work pretty well – parents raising their own kids, and early childhood education. If we are going to subsidize childcare, I’d rather focus on extending maternity leave, while supporting early childhood education at an earlier age. Half-day schools for kids aged 2-3 would at least enable parents to take on part-time work, so they are not entirely out of the labour force. A system of means tested vouchers could make the system flexible as well, while reducing overall costs (we shouldn’t subsidize people who can afford to put their kids in Montessori’s anyway). 

      A policy like that wouldn’t be cheap, but at least we would be both increasing the maternal labour supply, and promoting high-quality forms of child-rearing. This would have measurable economic benefits in the long-term, not just the short-term – which is more than could be said about most government programs. 

      • hosertohoosier….I am judging Harper’s plan by the metric he himself asked to be measured by…….will cost less than the Liberals program (so far it has cost double), will provide 125K spaces (so far almost none) and will provide for the most in need (not even close on that one).

        Martin’s plan took a few years to develop and another 2 to negitiate with the provinces….by all measures, it was well liked and well planned.

        Harper’s was populist dreck that people bought becuase they were angry over the Sponsorhsip scandal….nothing more and nothing less.

      • The first car I saw today was black, therefore, all cars are black.

        You can’t generalize the results from Quebec to all systems of universally accessible child-care.

        • You could say that about any policy. Well, alcohol prohobition didn’t work in the 20’s, but you can’t generalize, maybe it will work now. The facts are that we have every reason to believe that Martin’s universal childcare proposal would have the same problems as Quebec’s, if not moreso.

          There is evidence of positive results from programs for kids 2 and over (earlier than that, separating a child from his/her parents has negative effects), much of which comes from high quality pilot projects. If you dump kds in low-quality daycares you will get bad results – which is precisely what happened in Quebec, and what was happening federally.

          When you prioritize cheapness, the number of spaces, and maximization of the maternal labour pool, you will get lots of low quality care (which is precisely what Martin was doing). Moreover, a lot of that money would be going to parents that would have sprung for childcare anyway (in many cases possibly better childcare). If you look at who uses the Quebec program, disproportionately, it’s rich people. This is a perfect example of the upper middle class welfare state, buying things that are not public goods for well-off people.

          That is why I would prefer a more targeted program, aimed at poor kids. By far you see the biggest long-term gains in childhood outcomes in poor families. And those gains are bigger when poor kids have access to high quality pre-schools (we should be thinking about this as education, not babysitting).

          As somebody who doesn’t have kids, that’s a much more justifiable use of my tax dollars. You’re creating a more even playing field, you’re reducing the likelihood I’ll get robbed 20 years from now, and you’re modestly increasing the maternal labour pool (offsetting the cost of the program somewhat). I’d much rather have a program focused on the long-term benefits to child outcomes than a short-term cash grab (universal childcare would probably have been near budget neutral, if not a net gain, because of the increased tax revenues from more workers)

          • And now you’re changing your story. Before it was universally accessible daycare that was the problem. Now it’s low quality daycare. See the difference?

            I heartily agree that low quality daycare is a bad thing. That dog is black. I do not assume any equation between that and universally accessible. All dogs are not black.

          • When you try to implement daycare that is UNIVERSAL and CHEAP, while spending little money, guess what kind of quality you get. The Quebec program, which Martin was emulating produced low quality daycare, and negative child outcomes. This is the product of thinking primarily about maximizing the maternal labour supply, and not about the childcare as education policy.

            My argument, which has been consistent in each post, is that if we are going to support forms of childcare, they should be ones that are effective – high-quality childcare and parents raising their own kids. The only way to do that affordably is to sacrifice universality (hence I support a means tested program). 

    • I was paying some attention at the time, and as I recall it had pretty much reached the point where the Liberals were treating NDP negotiations as a bluff, and calling them.  Layton’s choice was to show he wasn’t bluffing, or to never be taken seriously again, thus allowing the Libs to govern from the right from there on (which was certainly Paul Martin’s preference).

      The only reason the Cons have been able to govern from then on was the incredible pliancy (constantly folding and voting for Conservative legislation in the minority governments) and incompetence of the Liberals from that day to this.  But how could Layton have anticipated that?  Back then they were still the “natural governing party”.  Who knew they’d keep folding like a wet newspaper year after year?

  2. This is the great thing about Cullen, and I think it deserves more attention.  Because when he says he’s putting country above party that means something.   Something that is more than rhetoric, and can be a tangible difference as this case shows.  In this case not putting country before party has had a real and profound negative effect on many Canadians, while many Canadians can buy an extra coffee or two in the morning. 

    • It’ll be interesting to see what happens after Rae ( I really don’t think he can be leader after 2015, whatever he thinks).
      I had some hope JT would be the obvious guy to lead a Liberal/ ndp cooperative side of the party – not so sure now. That’s a pity really.

      • No way that’s Justin.  I expect it will be someone we haven’t even thought about for Leader.  Carolyn Bennett, maybe, or maybe some Provincial Minister from somewhere (not necessarily Ontario), or maybe some hitherto unheard of riding president or something like that.

        • I hear Dominic LeBlanc’s name coming up often.

  3. Have to say from a liberal perspective this a solid argument. I have a feeling lots of libs to this day haven’t forgiven Jack for that error.

    • I haven’t.

    • I’ve forgiven them, but I haven’t forgotten.  Which is to say, I’ve forgiven them until they piss me off.

  4. A strong but not irrefutable argument.  The kelowna accord has sometimes been substituted for universal daycare as well.

  5. It is about freaking time that someone acknowledged this act of political opportunism that left us with this so-called “conservative” mess. 

    It is not simply that. It was the ability for the NDP to actually share power with the Martin government to institute policies that would’ve been palatable to the large majority of the population. They could have done what Rae did with the Peterson Liberals, and could have gained legitimacy in the same way.

  6. Nice revisionist history. First, Paul Martin’s childcare plan was a joke (so is Harper’s). It was a commitment of $5 billion over 5 years. You cannot create a viable national program for that kind of money – Quebec alone spent $1.4 billion on childcare in 2004. 

    Second, why did Paul Martin suddenly want to enact a promise that the Liberals had been breaking since 1993? Because he faced a more viable electoral threat from the NDP than Chretien had. If everybody acted like good yellow Dippers, and strategically voted Liberal all the time, the Liberals would have no incentive to enact progressive policies. 

    • Geez…you mean they could have effectively instituted their policies with the threat of causing the government to fall over legitimate differences of opinion rather than the stupid politically motivated “time-out” BS as opposition is supposed to function?

      So instead of being able to being to implement even partially the NDP platform 7 years ago (hmmm…imagine what 7 years of government would have meant to daycare, kyoto, first nations etc…), that outcome is less preferable than the ineffectual but very camera-worthy faux outrage when the CPC basically ignored them (quelle surprise!) afterwards?

      • Yes, because every under-funded government program immediately becomes an enshrined national value and is never eliminated after the next election. If Martin had hung on longer, the Tories would have just eliminated universal childcare at a later date.

        So essentially you are saying that the NDP should have ignored its own political fortunes (and very real chance to eventually become the government) and prop up a corrupt government for maybe 2 years of childcare spending and heck I’ll even throw in Kelowna… never mind that this is the party that slashed EI, transfer payments, etc (back when the NDP had only 9 MPs if we’re counting).   

        If you already buy that argument, then what is the point of the NDP in the first place? Why don’t they pack up and head home already?

        But I suspect that most NDP’ers see the party as more than a vehicle to keep the Liberals in power. They may be willing to make small sacrifices in the short-run, if the long-term result is a viable Social Democratic party that is a legitimate contender for government. Something that, if you look at the 2011 election, was hardly a pipe dream.

        And if I follow your basic premise that anything that splits the vote helps to re-elect Harper and is therefore anti-progressive, shouldn’t we criticize Bob Rae for his charisma? Shouldn’t we ask the Liberals to elect an uncharismatic leader, so as to help the more viable party on the left? You guys are forgetting that the old strategic voting arguments now work against you. And unlike the NDP, the Liberal Party stands for nothing but the naked pursuit of power. The emperor most definitely has no clothes.

  7. The Liberals love to peddle that story.  Like Martin could have done all that in just over 3 months.


    Liberals forced to call election and lose

    As the testimony heated up – a year after Martin asked Gomery to look into the sponsorship scandal – the opposition parties demanded that the government resign and call an election. Martin resisted. He went on national TV to ask Canadians to hold off judging his government until after Gomery released his final report. He promised to call an election within 30 days of the release of the final report.

    The final report was released on February 1, 2006.  Martin would have called the election by March 1st 2006 (if he kept his promise). 
    Would the results have been different?  They would probably have been worse for the LPC.

    How was he planning on implementing a national childcare program, the Kelowna accord or whatever other policy people claim we “lost” in that period of time if he had no chance of passing a budget?

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