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The Progressive Economics Forum

“Junkyard Jack”

An open letter to Susan Riley (Ottawa Citizen)

Dear Susan

I always enjoy your columns, but feel compelled to modestly take issue with yesterday’s highly critical piece on Layton and the NDP.


Yes, Layton is sometimes unduly macho combative and, yes, the frequent attacks on the Liberals do sometimes grate, especially if they allow Harper to get off the hook more easily. I’ll readily concede that Dion and most of his party tilt to the left of Harper (not a hard task), and that we need to achieve some common purpose among progressives to defeat Harper.

And yet, it  is hardly as if the Liberals are not fishing in the NDP voter pond by putting on their usual progressive pre election/opposition party face. More importantly, is Dion really as progressive as he wants progressives to think he is?

Leaving aside the not inconsiderable fact that the Liberals indeed did next to nothing about climate change in their full decade of power when this was supposedly top of the agenda, I am disturbed by the fact that Dion/McCallum have embraced virtually the entire Conservative tax cut agenda – notably the further deep cuts to corporate taxes, and the two point $12 Billion per year cut to the GST. When I went to the Finance Committee two weeks ago, McCallum was describing the Liberals as the “real tax cut party.”  In the absence of any proposals for progressive tax reform, where will they find the fiscal resources to fund the anti poverty agenda they talk so much about, especially in a slowing economy?

Also, I note that they have embraced much of the costly Conservative family benefit agenda, directed to middle and higher income families, rather than calling for a re-direction of resources to child care/early learning, and targeted benefits to low income children. Caledon, the architects of some progressive social policy under Chretien, have been quite critical, while a lot of anti poverty groups have failed to notice just how thin is the Liberal anti poverty plan is.


Enjoy and share:


Comment from Erin Weir
Time: December 20, 2007, 3:11 pm

I agree that Riley’s attack on Layton does not make sense.

Both of her examples of “junkyard-dog tactics” – accusations by Mathyssen and by unnamed NDP officials – have almost nothing to do with him.

Both of her supposed parallels between the NDP and Conservative Party – rejecting candidates and studying Australian campaign tactics – relate to internal party administration as opposed to policy.

In fact, all political parties have always tried to emulate foreign election victories and removed candidates who stray too far from the party line. New Democrats criticize Harper not for “importing neoconservative strategies from abroad” but for importing neoconservative policies from abroad.

Riley’s claim that “policy seems secondary to strategy” in the NDP is slightly odd coming from someone who mainly writes about the political horse-race as opposed to policy. Her example is one in which the NDP put forward the correct policy, but was allegedly “slow to condemn the hysteria over veiled voters.” Of course, the Liberals, who Riley defends, contributed to this hysteria.

Regarding the notion of “a gang-up on the Liberals,” Layton’s main criticism of them has been for allowing the Conservatives to govern like a majority. It’s pretty hard to argue that whipped abstentions in Parliament are the way for progressives to pull together against Harper. If anything, the Liberals have ganged-up with the Conservatives, particularly on issues like corporate tax cuts.

It seems to me that the leader of the smallest party in Parliament needs to be fairly “muscular” and “combative” to get noticed. We would certainly not accept a pundit going after a female politician for being a woman in the same way that Riley goes after Layton for being male.

Comment from Erin Weir
Time: December 21, 2007, 3:21 pm

Although I thought that Riley’s December 19 column was off-base, I note that today’s column positively identifies Layton as one of the “articulate worriers” on climate change “outnumbered by the silent and the indifferent.” Clearly, her assessment of him is not totally one-sided.

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