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Canada federal election 2021: NDP’s promises on lowering prices, forgiving debt are ‘grand’, but will be hard to pull off, expert says

·6-min read

The New Democratic Party (NDP) has a sweeping set of campaign promises, highlighting priorities that have been hot topics during the COVID-19 pandemic. Key aspects of Jagmeet Singh’s campaign include shoring up precarious conditions for workers that were highlighted by the pandemic, including paid sick leave, improving childcare, and expanding Employment Insurance (EI) availability.

Pauline Beange, a lecturer at the University of Toronto who holds a PhD in Political Science, told Yahoo News Canada that promises relating to the post-pandemic economic recovery must be top of mind for voters going into the election. “We still don’t know what the actual recovery after COVID-19 will be, or how much all of the government measures are going to cost voters in the future,” she said.

The NDP’s platform promises to focus on economic fairness, with plans for a wealth tax and a generous student debt forgiveness program that could erase up to $20,000 per student. Read on for a breakdown of some of the party’s core election promises.

Supporting Workers and the Economy

The NDP’s campaign cites the pandemic as highlighting the “low-paid, insecure” work conditions of many Canadians.

“The pandemic changed the way many of us work. Overnight, millions of jobs disappeared,” the campaign website states. “People who could work from home scrambled to juggle work and family responsibilities. Parents – mostly women - without childcare were forced to leave their jobs.”

The party’s plan for an “economy that works for everyone” involves expanding employment insurance, childcare, and paid sick leave. The party’s “build back for better” plan promises to invest in clean energy, climate resilience, and social infrastructure while creating one million new jobs. Besides creating new jobs, the party has a set of promises that if elected, they say will create a “new, fairer deal for workers.”

The promises include:

  • Creating a low income supplement for Employment Insurance (EI) so no one relying on EI benefits receives less than $2000 per month.

  • Expanding EI availability to those who leave their jobs to provide childcare, to protect the health of themselves or family members, or to go back to school

  • Extend sickness benefits from 15 to 50 weeks, and develop a pilot project that allows workers with episodic conditions to access sickness benefits a day at a time so they can continue to work.

  • Taking immediate action to save nonprofit child care centres to reopen spaces that were closed during COVID-19.

  • Working with provinces to build a universal, $10 a day childcare system.

  • Supporting small businesses by capping credit card merchant fees at a maximum of 1 per cent

  • Modernizing the Investment Canada Act to protect Canadian jobs

A question Beange says voters should keep in mind when examining the party’s campaign promises is how the party plans to approach rising prices, including rent costs. “Their website says that they’re going to stop rising prices,” she said. “In the past, Canada has experimented with price control and they generally failed to achieve their targets.”

“How the NDP is going to ‘stop rising prices’ is a question that people should be asking,” said Beange. “Clearly all the parties are concerned about people’s housing expectations.”

Post-Secondary Education

The NDP’s platform highlights inequalities faced by students who cannot pay out of pocket for their university tuition. The party says that on average, a student who has to borrow will end up paying $10,000 more on top of their tuition than a student who did not have to accrue debt.

If elected, the party promises to remove debt from federal student loans. More strikingly, they also plan to introduce a debt forgiveness program for graduates that will forgive up to $20,000 in student debt.

If implemented, the debt forgiveness plan aims to erase 20% of total student debt in its first year.

Universal Pharmacare

A critical talking point for Singh’s campaign is the promise of expanding the country’s Medicare to include prescription drug coverage. The party also promises to develop a strategy to cover prescriptions for rare diseases. The NDP is aiming for a start date in 2022, planning an annual investment of $10 billion.

Beange noted that healthcare is “the fastest rising component of any province’s budget.” According to the NDP, their pharmacare plan will save the provinces over 4 billion in drug spending.

The party says that if elected, they will negotiate prices with pharmaceutical companies. An additional positive aspect they mention is that employers currently paying for employee drug benefit packages will get a chance to cut costs.

Beange asks if providing pharmacare may be “benefiting people who don’t need that kind of pricing,” mentioning that a large proportion of Canadians may be covered already by some form of private healthcare.

The NDP’s campaign package says that their proposed pharmacare plan will save “even families that currently have private drug coverage an average of $550 per year.”

Climate & Environment

The NDP’s platform likens the climate emergency to the recent public health emergency, stating that if elected, their government will approach the climate emergency with “the same sense of urgency.”

The party’s promises regarding climate action include:

  • Setting a goal for 2030 of reducing emissions from 2005 levels by 50 per cent.

  • Aiming to create one million new jobs with investments in green infrastructure.

  • Making improvements to buildings in Canada to help reduce carbon pollution, with a goal of retrofitting all buildings in Canada by 2050.

  • Creating a National Crisis Strategy to help communities reduce and respond to climate risks.

  • Reducing the transportation sector’s impact on the carbon footprint by doubling the Canada Community-Building Fund and developing a public inter-city bus program.

  • Setting a target of net carbon-free electricity by 2030, with a further goal of 100 per cent non-emitting electricity by 2040.

  • Enshrining an Environmental Bill of Rights into law, aiming to protect 30 per cent of Canadian land, freshwater, and oceans by 2030.

Beange said that when assessing the NDP’s promises regarding national programs, voters should keep provincial goals in mind as well. “A national plan for A, B, or C, is very grand sounding, but do the voters in Prince Edward Island actually want what voters in B.C., or Ontario, or Quebec want?”

Tax Fairness

The NDP’s plans regarding taxes emphasize “protecting family budgets” and forcing “big corporations and big polluters to start paying what they owe.”

“We believe that those who have profited off the pandemic should be the ones to pay for the recovery – not families who are struggling to make ends meet,” the party’s platform website states.

The party plans to introduce a temporary tax on COVID-19 excess profit, placing an additional 15 per cent tax on large corporate “windfall profits” during the pandemic.

If elected, the NDP also promises to boost the top marginal tax rate by two points and place a luxury goods tax on expenditures like yachts and private jets.

Regarding taxes on households, Beange inquired as to how the NDP will be valuing the assets of a household, remarking that a household may be “cash poor.”

The party says it plans on introducing a one per cent tax on households with health of over $10 million.

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