This past week may come to be seen as a watershed moment in the NDP's capitulation to neoliberal capitalism. The nominally social democratic party effectively supported a major corporate trade accord all the while opposing an International Monetary Fund call for a more progressive tax code.
Last week the NDP basically endorsed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) the Harper Conservatives have negotiated with the European Union. The accord will greatly expand the power of multinational corporations.
By extending Canada's patent protections, CETA will drive up already high pharmaceutical drug costs. It also weakens provincial and municipal agencies' ability to "buy local" by giving multinational corporations greater rights to bid on public contracts.
Maybe most egregious, the accord gives corporations based in Canada and the EU the power to sue governments in special investor-friendly tribunals if they feel public policy impedes their profit-making.
Despite these corporate giveaways, NDP Trade Critic Don Davies released a statement saying, "New Democrats welcome progress towards a comprehensive new trade agreement with the European Union." To justify this position Davies pointed to the social democratic credentials of Western Europe. "The NDP has long maintained that Canada should have deeper economic relations with the European Union, democratic countries with some of the highest environmental and labour standards in the world."
Interestingly, the NDP was less fixated on democratic standards when they voted for the Canada Jordan "free" trade agreement at the end of last year. In that case they were desperate to point to a "free" trade agreement they had supported so the party happily turned a blind eye to the lack of independent labour unions and elections in the country as well as the Jordanian monarchy's prosecution of individuals for "extending one's tongue" (having a big mouth) against the King.
In another sign of the NDP's capitulation to rule by the rich, the International Monetary Fund is proposing a more progressive tax policy than Canada's "Left" party. Last week the usually neoliberal-minded IMF released a paper that noted, "tax systems around the world have become steadily less progressive since the early 1980s." To rectify this the Fund's Fiscal Monitor presented an argument to increase income taxes on high earners to 60 to 70 per cent and even suggested a capital levy on wealthy households.
Long a proponent of socially devastating austerity policies, the IMF basically proposes a return to the income tax levels that were common three decades ago. At the start of the 1980s Canada's top tax bracket was over 60 per cent, which is some 15 percentage points higher than today's rates. (In 1948 incomes over $2.4 million in 2013 money were taxed at 80 per cent).
A social democratic party motivated by bettering society — rather than simply taking power — would have jumped on the IMF proposal. Instead, the NDP leader was busy repudiating the party's Toronto Centre by-election candidate, Linda McQuaig, who previously argued that tax rates should be 70 per cent on the rich.
"Be careful, she has never said anything different from party policy [since becoming a candidate]," Thomas Mulcair told the National Post. "She is a public intellectual who has written all kinds of things. But we're the ones who have to put an offer before the Canadian public … Personal income tax increases are not on the table."
At some point progressive minded party members will have to ask themselves how far down the neoliberal path they are willing to travel. In the meantime they should tell the NDP leadership they oppose CETA and want substantially increased taxes on the wealthy.