Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Alternate strategies

Duncan Cameron suggests that the NDP put its focus on pocketbook issues going into the next federal election campaign:
The NDP needs to become election ready by building on its strengths in urban centres where people see the deterioration of the social fabric. Homelessness and begging are not just accidental occurrences; they emerge from a low wage economy where the social safety net is no guarantee of minimal subsistence. CLC economist Andrew Jackson has shown how precarious employment, stagnant wages and regional differences characterize the jobs market, despite lower unemployment.

Corporate earnings have outpaced salaries. Incomes, including the social wage (pensions, student loans, welfare, employment insurance), and jobs are the top concerns of most Canadians. The NDP must campaign on these economic security and social cohesion issues. Its ability to represent those Canadians who have issues with the way Canada has been governed for decades is how the party will be judged at the polls.

For the NDP caucus, leader Jack Layton, and party supporters across the country, the arrival of Stéphane Dion announces a new challenge. But for the Liberal leader the issue of economic justice presents a challenge as well. The Liberals have governed from the right for long enough that they have limited ability to mount a credible campaign addressing workplace, and pay-cheque issues. Stéphane Dion has no record in economic debate, or in backing working people. It will be revealing to see where he and his party stand when the House of Commons votes on anti-scab legislation.

The NDP pre-campaign should set out the economic and social issues facing most Canadians, and offer solutions. Caucus positions on setting a federal minimum wage at $10 an hour, and denouncing bank charges are a good start. In a likely minority situation, Canadians need to be able to choose something more than tax cuts or debt repayment when they vote.
Now, there are certainly some possible problems with taking Cameron's plan too far: I'd want to see some balance lest other issues such as the environment (which itself can be pointed out as the ultimate long-term pocketbook issue) get pushed too far from centre stage, and would want to see a lot more policies ready to go than the ones mentioned by Cameron. But from a contrasting perspective, it's never a bad thing to mention that the Cons seem determined only to make inequality worse, while the Libs don't seem to have any shame about the increase in wealth inequality on their watch. And if the NDP can usurp the Cons' focus on pocketbook issues by presenting ones which will actually have more of an impact on the majority of Canadian voters, then it should be in an excellent position next time Canadians go to the polls.

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