Straight Talk
DAVID AKIN - Beating back the socialist hordes

A group photo of with Federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair during a NDP Leaders Summit at Parliament Hill in Ottawa ON, January 15, 2013.

Credits: Andre Forget/QMI Agency

DAVID AKIN | PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU CHIEF

OTTAWA - There they stood, grinning for the cameras on Parliament Hill Tuesday - the leaders of the country's socialist hordes, carbon-taxers all, economy-destroyers and energy industry-haters.

Or at least that's what the NDP's political opponents would have you believe as federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair gathered nine provincial leaders - including two sitting premiers - for an afternoon meeting about the economy, resource development and federal-provincial relations.

Fred Delorey, chief spokesman for the Conservative Party of Canada, called the summit "a brainstorming session on how to get Canadians to accept higher taxes and a higher cost of living."

Delorey, relying on the 2011 federal NDP platform as his source, accused the NDP of favouring a "job-killing carbon tax" and noted they "would like to add an additional new sales tax and impose higher taxes on job creators."

There's no mention in Delorey's release, of course, that all Canadians got smaller paycheques as of Jan. 1 thanks to the Conservatives' own increase to the job-killing payroll tax known as EI premiums. (And there'll be another increase next Jan. 1.)

No mention, either, of how all sorts of federal fees and surcharges have gone up under Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories, such as the extra $1.5 billion going into the federal treasury from hikes on airport security charges.

No matter. This is politics and the partisan back and forth is all part of the game.

But the NDP leaders' summit is part of a calculated effort to neutralize the scare-mongering of its opponents, to prove itself to the 50% or so of Canadian voters who disapprove of Harper's performance.

The NDP holds power in Manitoba and Nova Scotia and are poised to seize power in B.C. Going back to founder Tommy Douglas' long tenure as Saskatchewan's premier, the NDP believes it can point to a long history of sound public administration.

As part of its claim to be among the most fiscally prudent of parties, the NDP took a look at all federal and provincial budgets across the country going back to 1980 and claims that nearly 50% of all budgets tabled by any NDP government anywhere were balanced. By comparison, about 40% of budgets tabled by Conservative, Progressive Conservative or Saskatchewan Party governments did not contain a deficit. Only a quarter of budgets tabled by Liberal governments were balanced, according to the NDP analysis.

The NDP also hopes the picture of their leader at a summit of provincial leaders draws attention to the fact that Harper has not met with all provincial premiers since 2009.

Harper's supporters will, with many good reasons, excuse his absence at premiers' meetings by saying they are little more than talking shops whose aim is to beat up the federal government.
Still, there are many Canadians who like the idea of prime ministers and premiers getting together once a year.

This summit also comes on the heels of a week when Mulcair wisely held his fire on the state of the federal government's relationship with First Nations. In fact, the entire NDP caucus was noticeably absent from the Idle No More protests and blockades last week.

On Tuesday, Mulcair observed that he was pleased about Friday's meeting between Harper and First Nations leaders, offered some mild criticism that more had not been accomplished on that file, but refrained from casting his lot with the more radical elements of the Idle No More crowed. He has even called on Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence to end her protest of eating no solid food.

The federal NDP, it should now be clear to their Conservative and Liberal opponents, are playing for keeps and they're playing smartly. Conservatives and Liberals will need to be as smart if they wish to beat back "the socialist hordes."

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