Is Chrystia Freeland Progressive?

Chrystia Freeland, The Globe and Mail’s candidate in Toronto Centre, recently wrote a book about inequality (which I have not yet read) and is supposed to “bring fresh thinking to the Liberal Party’s economic team.”

She has already attracted a few jabs from right-wingers Terence Corcoran and William Watson. But is she progressive?

The Globe gave Freeland more than 900 words on Monday’s opinion page to articulate her political vision. It featured only one paragraph of policy proposals:

We know some of things we need to do. As University of Ottawa economist Miles Corak has shown, social mobility is one of the casualties of rising income inequality and the hollowing out of the middle class. We must do everything we can to lean against that trend, particularly investing in public education, starting in preschool. Second, we need to become the world’s most attractive destination for entrepreneurship. As traditional middle class jobs vanish, we need to build a platform that makes it easy for driven, inventive Canadians to take risks and create new ones. Third, we need to find ways to realign business incentives with public ones. Toronto is leading the way here, with initiatives like the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, but there is a lot more to be done.

Freeland’s op-ed does not state that she actually wants to reduce income inequality. Instead, her focus seems to be on maintaining social mobility given greater income inequality. In other words, she appears to be more concerned about equality of opportunity than equality of condition.

She supports investing in public education, especially early childhood development, which is good as far as it goes. But does any politician oppose “investing in public education”?

Freeland’s next idea is “to become the world’s most attractive destination for entrepreneurship.” She does not indicate what that means, but such rhetoric is usually code for tax cuts, deregulation, etc.

Her final proposal is to “realign business incentives with public ones,” which sounds like another platitude except she provides a clue as to its meaning by citing “social impact investing” as an example. The CCPA’s David Macdonald correctly criticizes this model as a means of siphoning public social expenditures into corporate coffers.

Freeland puts forward remarkably little specific policy. What she does suggest is not particularly progressive.

Of course, there is not much point in comparing Freeland to a theoretical standard. Elections and by-elections are about political choices.

Toronto Centre needs a candidate with a track record of advancing more substantive and more progressive positions on economic issues. Specifically, the NDP should nominate someone who can take on Freeland regarding inequality and what to do about it.

7 comments

  • John W. Warnock

    She sounds a lot like Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert.

  • Keep up this kind of watch Erin. Thanks.

  • Hi Erin, I have read Plutocrats and it does outline the rise of inequality and the rise of the super rich in an interesting way. But she doesn’t prescribe solutions like rolling back neo-liberal and so-called economic liberalization policies. I guess as a journalist she saw her book as illustrating a problem, not going the next step of policy formulation. The book doesn’t say much about Canada beyond praising Mark Carney and Canadian policy towards bank regulation.

  • Michael Shapcott, the former Toronto-Centre NDP has a much more more nuanced view of social impact investing:
    http://www.wellesleyinstitute.com/news/social-finance-generating-excitement-as-a-supplement-not-a-substitute-for-government-social-investments/

    Would he fail this definition of progressive because he supports social impact investing under certain conditions?

  • Oops missed a word above… “candidate” after Toronto Centre NDP.

  • It’s one thing for a non-profit director to welcome social impact investing as a supplement to inadequate public funding, while recognizing its limits and pitfalls.

    It’s quite another thing for a political candidate to highlight social impact investing as one of her top (or only) three policy priorities, without even calling for increased public funding of needed public services (except maybe education).

  • In order to answer the question, wouldn’t we first have to agree on what it means to be “progressive” in Canada at this particular historical moment? I would love to see your working definition. Where I live the term has been stretched to the vanishing point by being used to refer to anyone to the left of Stephen Harper.

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