“A Question Of Priorities”

That was NDP Leader Jack Layton’s response when asked how he would pay for his proposed national home care program. In this election, as is the case often, the NDP promises the largest amount of program spending of the major political parties. The media picks up on these promises, with headlines saying things like ”Layton pledges $8B for retraining, ‘green-collar’ workforce,” and thus it fits the commonly-held frame that the NDP make expensive promises the country cannot afford.

But is this actually the case? This frame only addresses one side of the affordability question, the spending side. The other side, the revenue side, is neglected. As Greg Morrow of Democraticspace points out, tax reductions must be factored in as well. This simple step can dramatically change cost projections of party platforms.

Yet in comparison to program spending, the media isn’t nearly as concerned about tax reductions. Why? Because political discourse has been deliberately tilted away from program spending. This serves the right-wing interests well, as they have successfully convinced Canadians that the programs they value are simply not feasible. Yet Canadians still value their social programs to the point where no politician can be elected without paying lip service towards them.

Getting back to the NDP platform, the question remains, what are the priorities? Where is this money going to come from? Throughout the campaign, Layton said he will pay for his program by canceling $50 billion in Harper’s corporate tax cuts. These measures will produce more noticeable benefits than tax cuts, in the form of direct employment from new programs like childcare, and overall improvements in quality of life. Layton is correct to frame this as a question of priorities, and what better time for a country to decide its collective priorities than an election?