Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A New Vision for the NDP

A couple of weeks ago the federal NDP met in Edmonton and voted that all the riding associations should debate the merits of the Leap Manifesto. As I have written on this blog I am not particularly impressed with the manifesto and think elements of it are wildly unrealistic. However, I do not like the notion of rejecting something without offering some alternative. For more than two weeks now I have been rolling ideas in my head where I think a new New Democratic Party could direct its attention and energies. It is not completely polished, and is hardly a manifesto, but I like to think it is a kernel of an alternative. While Leap is built upon a foundation of climate action I propose a vision rooted in justice and sustainability.

The NDP purports to be the party of social justice, but do we reflect it in our candidates? Do we reflect it in our membership? Who are we advocating for? Are we magnifying their voices or speaking on their behalf? Anti-racism and empowering minority communities both in Canadian society and our party should be a top priority. Canadians have a false sense of superiority on racial issues, one which is underserved. The issues of carding and excessive policing disproportionately impact black and aboriginal communities. The NDP should lead the way in reforming justice. Black Lives Matter and the issues that organization represents have been too casually dismissed. We should lend our support to these grassroots movements that are fighting for the social justice we claim to be advocating for and fight the media and socially constructed narrative against these kinds of groups.

The NDP needs a response to the "tough on crime" agenda which has only further marginalized vulnerable groups and created lasting harm. Justice policy, the courts and policing must be meaningfully reformed in order to end the imbalance between different groups within society. We need to embrace and passionately fight for things that actually make us safer rather than what makes us feel safer. The NDP should advocate for Crown prosecutors and judges to better reflect the population, and in particular those groups most impacted in the current criminal justice system, such as First Nations and Métis Canadians. The privileges of the majority must be extended to all Canadians, especially when their freedom is at stake.

After addressing immediate issues we should explore root causes including poverty, education, and housing. I am proud of the NDP's focus on root causes, but long-term solutions take years to make a shift. We cannot settle for a generational solution and offer little to the present. One reason the rival parties are able to circumvent the NDP is by offering immediate trinkets, purporting them to be solutions to social ills. Sadly this is more appealing over our more abstract promises. Poverty reduction would lower crime, but no one expects it to go away in four years, so what are we really promising to those impacted and broader society?

A growing concern for Canada needs to be our housing costs, sprawl, and growing social problems in the suburbs. Suburban development is environmentally, financially and socially unsustainable. Obviously the federal party can do little to shape land use planning, but there are levers that can be pulled. The government can provide support (resources, samples, shared best practices) for intensification and form-based code for cities. The government should support public transit initiatives that curb sprawl, investing money where it does the most good. Invest in rail over highways and develop more roots. Explore models in other jurisdictions and see if high-speed rail would work in certain Canadian contexts.

Canada is fortunate to have a strong healthcare system, but there is a fatal flaw and that is the centuries' old stigma against mental illness. All Canadians will be touched by mental illness at some point, either themselves or a loved one. First is the work to change attitudes, but that does little good if care and resources are not available. Treatment options need to be made widely available at affordable costs. We must end the criminalization of non-violent mental illness, and violent offenders are in institutions when possible. This equally applies to addictions. Substance abuse needs a comprehensive strategy that treats it as a disease and not a crime.

Parties of all stripes like to address youth unemployment with niche, short-term programs. This is folly. Canada, compared to many peers, lacks the employment market data other countries easily have at their finger tips. We need to reconsider our education and employment system, perhaps moving towards a model like the Swiss where high school-aged students are out in the workforce, learning valuable skills and seeing if it is the right fit. Right now figuring out the demand for certain professions is a matter of independent research and gambling.

Finally, Canada needs to confront its demographic crisis. The graying of the nation posses a major risk to our economy and social safety net. This is a threat that Canadians have not been adequately prepared for. As the boomers are and retire we face a crunch. Canada has been using immigration to bridge the gap , but we are still falling short. As a country we have not really considered growth in a strategic way. In 2011 a report was released posing the question of what a Canada with 100 million people would look like. The federal government should develop a long-term plan to address how we want to grow and where and the NDP needs to develop a set of policies to address the aging of the population.

The above is not a perfect vision for the NDP, but I believe it does more to redefine the party in a way consistent with its values and yet offering tangible reforms that would set Canada to be a more sustainable and fairer country. Any thoughts or feedback on these ideas would be greatly appreciated.

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