I wonder what people will make of the G&M's David Parkinson's article on Justin Trudeau this morning. Is this a sign of things to come? The thrust of the article is that Trudeau is the only of the three main leaders who is offering something new, something that challenges some of the economic assumptions that have constituted the mainstream for the past decade. (Of course, Parkinson's failure to mention Elizabeth May and the clearly new challenge that the Green Party represents is both predictable and unfortunate.) However, if we stick to the established parties, there is certainly something in what Parkinson has to say.
Parkinson's best insight, though very limited in scope, is when he challenges the real meaning behind Harper's economic efforts. When thinking about Harper's effort to lower taxes and balance the budget, Parkinson asks "So what was the point?" Good question I'd say. "If we imagined that these were means to an end, that once achieved there would be a grand plan cashing in the dividend from all that hard work, we were wrong." Wrong indeed! This is because the simple fact is that the ends to which Harper's Neo-Liberal policies are directed are not a better and more prosperous society, but rather, greater wealth for the rich and corporations, deeper economic inequality, and a more precarious workforce with less leverage to make demands. If Parkinson understood this, he would never expected any pot of gold at the end of Harper's supposed economic rainbow. So, ten out of ten to Mr. Parkinson for seeing the dearth of reward from Harper's effort, but minus a few million for failing to understand the real economic goal here.
Parkinson is right in part when he concludes his article with the observation that among the big three, "only Mr. Trudeau offered a vision of something new." Now, before people go crazy telling me that Trudeau represents the same old Neo-Liberal agenda that was begun my the Chretien/Martin Liberals, let me clarify this. One of the primary thrusts of new economic ideas (publicly spear-headed in part by writers like Thomas Pikkety) is the need for huge infrastructure investments in order to ensure the future of Western nations whose primary post-war investments in this area have now broken down. Part of this argument is that the huge infrastructure investments of the post-war period were one of the primary factors in the long-boom that ended in the 1970s. Since then the Neo-Liberal agenda has allowed this infrastructure to slowly wither and die, keeping it alive only by a patchwork of bandaid solutions. In this sense there is something very important in what Trudeau is saying. And the Liberals are in part also right when they say that you can't have a Tommy Douglas expansion on a Stephen Harper budget. The great infrastructure investments were made at a time of much higher taxation and much higher government revenue vis-a-vis GNP.
Thus, I would say that there are two important ways that the NDP has ceded progressive ground to the Liberals. One is that they have talked even less than the Liberals about the environment in an election where the environment has been conspicuously absent. And two, they have failed to take on board even the mainstream economic thinking which is making infrastructure investments central. New clean-energy technologies, a revitalization of our education system, huge reinvestments in our healthcare, any visionary politician must make these the absolute core of the way forward. If Thomas Mulcair believes in any of these things he certainly hasn't articulated them adequately. Meanwhile, by not getting bogged down in anti-deficit fetishism, Trudeau is scoring real points in the 'vision' department.
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