The NDP Really, Really Wants You to Know the Liberals and Conservatives Suck

The New Democrats probably won’t win the next federal election, but might be able to ram their policies through if they end up in opposition to a minority government. Here’s everything you need to know about voting for Jagmeet Singh.
August 23, 2021, 1:24pm
Jagmeet Singh
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh makes his platform announcement in St. John's, N.L., on Thursday, August 12, 2021. Photo by Sarah Smellie 

Third in a series of political party profiles for the 2021 Canadian federal election. Read about the Liberals here and the Conservatives here.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh certainly didn’t want an election this September, but his party came prepared.

Days before Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau called the snap election, the NDP cranked out “Ready for Better,” a 115-page policy platform that builds on many of its promises during the 2019 federal election: a universal pharmacare plan, major investments in affordable housing, and higher taxes on big business and wealthier Canadians.

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“It is both expensive and extensive,” said Daniel Beland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, in an interview.

The NDP platform isn’t “costed,” so it isn’t clear exactly how much the proposals would cost if the party won, but Beland said that tax hikes wouldn’t cover all of what Singh’s party hopes to accomplish. Still, the party’s perpetual underdog status doesn’t preclude it from picking up progressive voters across Canada. 

In situations like that of the last federal government, a Liberal minority, the NDP not only slid into their long accustomed role of opposition attack dog—they became kingmakers. Singh is a relatively inexperienced party leader, but he’s managed to squeeze concessions out of the Liberals on wrapping up pandemic related EI and financial support by threatening to bring down the government. 

Here's what the NDP is promising to do if they do end up securing power:

Economy and jobs

Paid sick leave, expanded EI, and bonuses for front-line workers came front and centre during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic as millions of workers found themselves unemployed, poorly protected, or dangerously exposed to the virus. Throughout the first three waves, Singh often sparred with Trudeau over cutting back programs like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). His party’s platform is no different.

The NDP is promising to make EI available to Canadians who quit their jobs to go back to school, provide childcare, or protect their health. A proposed low-income supplement would ensure no one who is relying on EI or special benefits receives less than $2,000 per month—the maximum benefit CERB offered. Sickness benefits would be extended from 15 to 50 weeks.

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But the end goal of the NDP’s employment policy is a guaranteed monthly income. “We’ll start this work immediately by lifting every senior and person living with a disability out of poverty, and build from there until every Canadian can count on a basic liveable income when they need it,” the NDP’s platform says.  

Climate change and environment

Progressives across Canada have become very critical of Trudeau’s climate policies as incremental and—after the government bought the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project—hypocritical. The NDP wants Canada to reduce its greenhouse gas emission by at least 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 (slightly above Trudeau’s latest promise) but are promising a swathe of new proposals.

The NDP also plans to retrofit all buildings in Canada by 2050, create a climate corps of young workers willing to respond to climate impacts, and protect 30 percent of Canada’s land, freshwater, and oceans by 2030. There are also calls to expand transportation infrastructure, a push for carbon-free electricity, and the creation of an Office of Environmental Justice.

The policy details are fuzzy, but the NDP is promising to invest in green retrofits, child care and health care work, renewable energy, transit, and other major sectors to decarbonize Canada’s economy and create “1 million new good jobs.”

Indigenous affairs

Identifying every child who died at Canada’s residential schools and pursuing charges against anyone who “inflicted great harm on Indigenous children” are top priorities for the NDP. The party also wants to require churches and governments to hand over any records that could help identify children in unmarked graves, as well as anyone involved in their deaths.

Most of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action remain unfulfilled. The NDP plans on not only addressing all of them, but also setting up a National Action Plan for Reconciliation to ensure Canada’s laws and policies are consistent with its human rights promises.

The party vows to improve living conditions in Indigenous communities, particularly around mold and clean drinking water, and fund on-reserve emergency services. Closing the gap in healthcare between Indigenous communities and the rest of Canada (especially around suicide prevention), improving food access, and providing Indigenous-led home and long-term care facilities for Indigenous Elders are also on the list.

COVID-19 and health care

Pharmacare is an old mainstay of NDP election policies. This election is no different. The NDP promises to set up a public drug plan for Canadians, improve hospital wait times across the country, and invest in virtual health care options. Free dental and mental health care plans are also on the table—and so are reforms to Canada’s public health system.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed serious weaknesses in Canada’s pandemic preparedness and response capacities,” the NDP’s plan says. It wants to create a federal vaccination strategy, a Crown corporation responsible for producing vaccines, and federal stockpiles of PPE.

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Ending the use of private, for-profit long-term care facilities—where the majority of Canadian COVID-19 fatalities have taken place—is also on the NDP’s agenda. 

Crime and security

Police accountability is at the top of the NDP’s crime policy. The party is promising to review the RCMP’s budget and the RCMP Act to ensure the national police force is accountable to the public. It’ll also release details on all use-of-force incidents by the RCMP.

The NDP also wants Canada’s police forces to target white supremacy, terrorism, and hate crimes against marginalized communities across Canada. It vows to set up dedicated hate crime units within major urban police forces and set up a national working group to counter online hatred, fund anti-gang projects, and provide better addiction and mental health supports.

“When we focus on increasing social inclusion, promoting public health, ensuring food security, access to education, affordable housing and increasing youth engagement, we not only provide Canadians with important services,” the NDP’s platform says. “We also reduce the risk of crime.”

Housing

“Too little, too slow” is essentially how the NDP summarizes the Liberal government’s past six years of housing policy. “We need to take urgent action now towards an ambitious plan to build affordable places to live in every community across the country,” the party’s new platform reads. The NDP is promising a colossal investment in affordable housing—500,000 units over the next 10 years. (By contrast, the Liberal government’s National Housing Strategy, launched in 2017, promised to build up to 160,000 new affordable homes in a decade.)

The NDP is also promising to put a 20 per cent “foreign buyer’s tax” on the sale of homes to individuals who aren’t Canadian citizens or permanent residents, a response to the phenomenon of overseas buyers owning Canadian homes and condos as investment properties.

But the NDP’s policies aren’t confined to renters and investment property owners. They’re promising to reintroduce 30-year mortgage terms for first-time home buyers, double the federal Home Buyers Tax Credit to $1,500, and even allow for co-ownership mortgages that allow buyers to purchase a percentage ownership in a building.

Drugs

On top of declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency, the NDP is once again promising to “end the criminalization and stigma” of drug addiction, according to its platform, while also cracking down on drug traffickers. For Canadians with substance use disorders, the NDP vows to support overdose prevention sites and expand addiction treatment.

One notable change is the NDP’s promise to create a safe supply of “medically regulated alternatives to toxic street drugs,” a longstanding demand of drug user activists and medical professionals across Canada. There aren’t any specifics on how an NDP government would make this happen (or even the medically regulated alternatives it would offer) but this represents a shift from 2019 when Singh was criticized in Vancouver by the father of a 26-year-old man who died of an overdose for not explicitly supporting safe supply.

The NDP is also promising to launch an investigation into the role of pharmaceutical companies within the opioid crisis—another carry-over from 2019—and seek financial damages from them.  

Student issues

Cancelling tuition fees is the NDP’s ultimate goal for Canada’s post-secondary institutions, but the party acknowledges it has a long way to go. “Our vision is for every Canadian to have access to quality post-secondary education, regardless of their income,” its platform reads.

In the meantime, the NDP is promising to remove interest from federal student loans entirely and launch a debt forgiveness program that wipes away up to $20,000 in student debt. “In the first year alone, this will wipe out 20 percent of all student debt and help 350,000 borrowers save money every month,” the NDP platform says.  

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The NDP also wants to permanently double non-repayable Canada Student Grants—currently, eligible undergrad students who are enrolled full-time can receive a maximum of $6,000 per year.

Foreign policy and immigration

As the Taliban overran the few remaining areas of Afghanistan under government control earlier this month, Singh called for the government to expand eligibility requirements for Afghans hoping to settle in Canada to include not only interpreters who worked alongside Canadian troops, but also their extended families. 

The NDP platform does not mention the Taliban offensive against Afghanistan’s government that began in May following the U.S. decision to withdraw. However, it does call for Canada to focus more on peacekeeping around the world and boost Canada’s international development assistance spending to 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income. 

Canada, under an NDP government, would also push for nuclear disarmament and “make sure that Canadian-made weapons are not fuelling conflict and human rights abuses abroad”—a reference to the Trudeau government’s decision to sell billions of dollars worth of light armoured vehicles and other military equipment to Saudi Arabia.

Women

Trudeau has spent the past six years running an explicitly pro-feminist government, but the NDP doesn’t believe he’s backed up his promises with bold action. It wants a National Action Plan to end gender-based violence (something the Liberals have announced, but not completed) and the implementation of all the calls to justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. 

Access to safe and accessible abortion options is also on the NDP’s agenda. “New Democrats will enforce the Canada Health Act to make sure that the provinces make medical and surgical abortion available in all parts of the country, without barriers,” its platform says. The NDP also wants birth control and contraceptives to be available through Medicare at no cost to Canadians. 

The first steps of a national child care plan were announced by the Liberal government in its 2021 budget, but the NDP is also on board with the idea. “It’s time for quality, affordable not-for-profit child care that’s available to all Canadian families, no matter where they live,” its platform says. It doesn’t offer any specifics that would differentiate it from the Liberals, although it may rely more heavily on not-for-profit providers rather than the Liberals’ proposed mix of options. 

And then there’s pay equity—another issue near and dear to the Liberal government, but one the NDP says remains unaddressed. The NDP plans to pass laws “right away” that would require employers to be transparent about what they pay their workers. 

Miscellaneous

Unsurprisingly for Canada’s main centre-left party, the NDP is pushing for higher taxes on what Singh calls the “ultra wealthy.” His platform includes a 1 per cent tax on households with over $10 million in assets, and a top marginal tax rate of 35 percent for Canadians who make over $210,000 a year. “The revenue raised by these measures will kick-start Canada’s economic recovery and build a more secure future for everyday families,” the NDP’s platform says.

Best-case scenario

Another Liberal minority government with the NDP as opposition, especially if the party sees a strong showing in fertile electoral ground like British Columbia and maybe a riding or two in Montreal. No one expects the NDP to win the election, but returning as the opposition to a centre-left Liberal party could allow it to implement its platform (under the perpetual threat of a non-confidence vote) without actually forming government.

Worst-case scenario

The Conservatives do much better than expected, especially if they pick up diverse suburban seats in the Toronto area. The threat of a Conservative minority could also prove fatal for the party’s chances—progressive voters who might otherwise cast their ballots for the NDP could switch to the Liberals if they feel Trudeau has the best chance of stopping O’Toole. Low voter turnout, a distinct possibility during a pandemic election, would hurt youth-dominated parties like the NDP far more than more reliable Conservative voters.

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