Over the last week, most of Canada’s major newspapers have endorsed Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in Monday’s federal election. Many of these endorsements are lukewarm at best. The Globe and Mail‘s endorsement comes across as almost embarrassed: it first dismisses the other candidates with barely any explanation and then recounts a list of Stephen Harper’s sins before finally endorsing his party. The Montreal Gazette goes a different route, complaining at length about bothersome elections and then explaining that the best outcome is therefore a Tory majority. The Ottawa Citizen declined to make an endorsement of any one party, instead endorsing candidates in local Ottawa ridings, luxuriating in the fantasy that we don’t live under a political system where individual MPs are held to a strict party line on the vast majority of votes. The Economist took time out from its busy schedule of endorsing neoliberal economic policies for the entire world to declare Stephen Harper “the least bad option.” The National Post, unsurprisingly, broke this trend of tepidity by proclaiming the glories of Conservative government. Similarly, the Sun, to nobody’s surprise, gave the Tories a long, wet kiss with tongue.
The Liberals’ few endorsements have been tepid ones. Andrew Coyne’s is emblematic thereof: a laundry list of entirely valid complaints about the Conservatives’ antagonism to the democratic process, followed by the admission that five years of not dramatically screwing things up constitutes “economic stewardship,” and then a single-sentence dismissal of the NDP (and Greens) as “not ready for government,” ignoring that most of the Tories’ most horrendous policy decisions were supported either implicitly or explicitly by the Liberal Party of Canada, who have never found a middle they could not split down.
Common to all of these endorsements, though, was a flat dismissal of Jack Layton and the NDP as big-spending, pie-eyed fantasists, a trope that is both unfair and simplistic. Of major newspapers, only the Toronto Star has recognized both the dramatic failures of the Conservatives and the quiet failures of the Liberals, and endorsed the best choice for Canadian voters this election: the New Democrats. We here at Torontoist do so as well.
Much of the NDP’s platform is not only tolerable; it is excellent. Only the NDP have any sense of ambition for what government can do to improve our environment, both in terms of a climate change strategy and in possessing an interest for a 21st-century renewable power grid. The NDP’s crime policy proposals are realistic, defined, and compassionate. Their immigration policy intelligently addresses many of the issues with our current system, including the opportunity for immigrant families to sponsor a single non-close relative, while still accepting that crackdowns on immigration consultation and updating our professional certification programs for immigrants must remain priorities. Their cultural policies promote homegrown content and recognize the massive return on investment that smart cultural funding can generate. Of the three major national parties, theirs is the only one with internet and technology policies relevant to the needs of modern Canada. The NDP’s take on national defence is very well reasoned: Layton’s announcement that his government would focus on the shipbuilding program that the Tories have been dragging their heels on, including a renewed focus on the oft-delayed Joint Support Ship program, is commendable indeed. And the NDP have committed to ending our deployment in Afghanistan—a mission our military has undertaken with skill and dignity, but one which increasingly appears to be a lost cause and which Canada can no longer afford.
More important than any of that, though, is the NDP’s commitment to political and electoral reform. Both Jack Layton and the party as a whole are determined to do their best to reform Canada’s electoral system away from our outmoded, obsolete first-past-the-post structure into something modern which better reflects the true intentions of Canadians through more proportional representation, be that through party list voting, single-transferable vote, or mixed-member proportional representative voting. This reform is something our country desperately needs. Similarly, the NDP’s proposals for preventing the abusive use of the proroguing power and Layton’s suggestions for governmental bodies to audit proposed legislation are good ones. The NDP’s proposed abolition of the Senate is drastic but not without its appeal, especially in the wake of Conservative use of the Senate as an anti-democratic tool to prevent the passage of popular legislation.
We grant that not all of the NDP’s policies are good. Their fiscal policies are, at best, questionable: a balance must be struck between their ambition and the needs of Canada’s economy, and it is most certainly their fiscal policies which have led so many in the media to flatly dismiss them as an alternative even when the NDP are within a few percentage points of being the frontrunners in this election. (That so many of these same media figures are, to be blunt, quite well-off is only cause for cynicism as regards their motives.)
However, their fiscal policies do not even remotely justify the collective collapse upon the media’s fainting-couches that has emerged as a response. If we were discussing the Stephen Harper Tories, who treat every budget as an opportunity to dare other parties to an election, then perhaps the worries would be merited. But we aren’t discussing him. We’re discussing Jack Layton, who in his long career as a politician at multiple levels of government has demonstrated himself, first and foremost, to be a pragmatic dealmaker.
Make deals he must, because even with the groundswell of support that has shown up for the NDP thus far in the campaign, the numbers are clear: the NDP may have a shot at a minority government, but they do not have the popular support to form a majority. This is fine and good—it means that any NDP federal government will need the support of veteran Liberals (and Elizabeth May, should she win her seat) to operate.
Some of these Liberals are currently running in ridings where the NDP have little chance of winning a seat, but where NDP votes may create the right conditions for Tories benefitting from vote-splitting; we suggest that readers in ridings such as York Centre and Eglinton-Lawrence, along with any other riding where the primary political battle is between a Liberal and a Tory candidate, vote Liberal. Strategic voting is still, unfortunately, a consideration we must apply when deciding how to best cast ballots in these ridings; our endorsement must be qualified to present the maximum opportunity for Liberals and NDP to partner together in government to prevent Tories from accumulating more seats.
Yes, we mean a coalition government when we say that. Stephen Harper’s cynical attacks on the idea of a coalition as antidemocratic during this campaign have been embarrassing: they are openly hypocritical given his support for a coalition government in 2004 (which he has since desperately tried to claim as mere curiosity), and worse, they are simply wrong: Stephen Harper has run a campaign predicated on lying to Canadians about the basics of civics in this country. Coalitions are fully acceptable forms of government with a long pedigree, and nobody familiar with parliamentary history or procedure doubts their legitimacy. It is not the first time Harper has lied and will not be the last, because Stephen Harper’s record is fundamentally one of contempt—both for those who disagree with him and those he wishes to dishonestly convince. That is why we encourage voters in tight Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds to vote strategically. Those Liberals, in combination with veteran NDP members with experience in fiscally responsible NDP provincial governments from across Canada, will provide the restraint in a coalition government; the rookie Dippers can provide the idealism.
And it is idealism, at this time, that Canada needs. We have had almost a decade of cold, callous government from Stephen Harper’s Tories and to a lesser extent from Paul Martin’s Liberals before them. The Tories see government as an impediment; the Liberals all too often use it for inducement, to bribe voters into supporting the Grits rather than offering a coherent platform, as evidence by Michael Ignatieff’s scattershot campaigning in recent months. The NDP looks upon us and tells us that we are Canadians: that we are a society that believes in helping one another, in helping the downtrodden and weak, not because it is economically expedient or eventually profitable, but because it is right, and that this is worth fighting for.
That is why Jack Layton and his party have skyrocketed in the polls. That is why they deserve your vote, and our endorsement.