I got into an interesting, though entirely unproductive, twitter exchange this morning concerning the issue of the Left and balanced budgets. It all began when someone posted a link on the issue of balanced budgets and the leftwing. The accompanying twitter statement was "if you think the NDP is rightwing to balance a budget, you need a history lesson." My simple reply was that "it is not rightwing to balance a budget, but it is rightwing to insist that all budgets have to be balanced." This set off a small storm in a teacup exchange with a blogger who I respect but who, I think, was confused about what I was saying. (To be fair, this confusion is easy to generate on Twitter where complex issues cannot be explained.)
Now, of course, it is easy to see that many leftwing governments have balanced budgets and many rightwing governments have failed to balance budgets. It is not rightwing or leftwing to balance a budget. But what I believe is rightwing is to buy the Neo-Liberal discourse on "fiscal responsibility" or "balanced budgets." For years, regardless of their poor performance on the issue, the corporatists and Neo-Liberals have attempted to generate the false notion that balancing budgets is an objectively good thing. But, of course, it isn't. The desirability or undesirability of a balanced budget depends entirely on the circumstances. It would be great, I suppose, if we were always awash with lots of cash and could always balance budgets while making the investments necessary for a better future. But those circumstances don't obtain and sometimes it is necessary to fall into deficit. The rightwing, (again, despite their poor performance on the matter) have attempted to generate a pubic discourse that always condemns deficits. And my claim is simple - it is rightwing to buy into this discourse.
Now, again to be fair, the original twitter post was one among many that is attempting to counter the rightwing claim that left of centre governments are 'fiscally irresponsible' and always fall into structural deficits. But there is something else at stake here. I think that many NDPers have pushed that envelope so far that they are failing to see that Mulcair has tipped the party into the realm of rightwing discourse. If you don't believe me watch the exchanges this week on CBC's Power and Politics between Andrew Thomson (the NDP candidate for Eglington-Lawrence) and the Liberal spokeswomen. (I am sorry, I can't remember her name offhand.) Thomson, a former NDP Minister from Saskatchewan, went after the Liberals like a good-old fashioned Tory for suggesting that they might run a temporary deficit in the cause of infrastructure spending. Instead of accepting the real nature of the Liberal claim (that they would earmark particular deficit spending for specific and temporary infrastructure programs) he went on like a Tory about how this was an open faucet of planned structural deficit spending. These attacks (and they went on for several days) from a high-profile NDP candidate, is a fairly basic demonstration of the way in which the NDP has adopted the rightwing discourse of balanced-budget madness.
Of course it is not rightwing to balance a budget or leftwing to run a deficit. But what my blogging colleague either didn't understand or intentionally misconstrued was my claim that it IS rightwing to fall into the discourse that budgets have to be balanced. Now, granted, I have never heard Mulcair specifically say that (though I have heard other NDP supporters make just such a claim). But what I was pointing out was that the NDP leadership has fallen into a rightwing discourse of balancing budgets as an objectively good thing. (The professed confusion on the part of my Twitter opponent was the claim that because I said that it is rightwing to INSIST that budgets have to be balanced, that I had therefore implied that it is not leftwing to balance a budget - unfortunately, it was a confusion hardly worthy of his intelligence) And this discourse has been nowhere more in evidence than in the NDP attacks on the Liberals for outlining a fairly modest (and actually very rational) plan for running a few small targeted deficits.
We cannot presently know how an NDP government would act once in power. Neither can we really know if Trudeau would, like past Liberals Governments, shift decidedly right once in power. What we do know (if we are paying attention) is that the NDP has shifted significantly in its discourse and accepted the corporatist discourse that eschews deficits as a terrible thing and lauds balanced budgets as though they will save the world.