MONTREAL — Had this week marked the 100th day in office of an NDP government, Prime Minister Thomas Mulcair would have had to pay a visit to the graveyard of campaign good intentions.
Three months in a majority mandate, a New Democrat federal cabinet would either be contemplating a major round of spending cuts or, more likely, would already have buried deep the signature promise of a budget surplus in each and every year of a four-year mandate.
It is already a given that next month’s first Liberal budget will feature a deficit significantly higher than the $10 billion Justin Trudeau talked about on the campaign trail. The prime minister is no longer guaranteeing that the budget won’t still be in the red by the time he campaigns for re-election in 2019.
In contrast with the Liberals, the NDP spent the campaign arguing that it could both balance the books and execute a platform replete with big-ticket items.
Here is a sample of what Mulcair’s party was committed to delivering within 100 days of taking office.
• Restoring the rate of increase in the federal transfers to the provinces for health care to a level well above that of the growth of the GDP.
• A one-point reduction in the small business tax rate effective Jan. 1.
• An immediate down payment on Mulcair’s promise to create one million affordable ($15 a day) child-care places in the shape of funding for 60,000 of those spots as well as funding for an unspecified number of shovel-ready infrastructure projects.
The NDP had also pledged — among other things — to raise the minimum wage for employees working for federally regulated businesses to $15 an hour and to leave in place the Conservative universal child-care supplement. Like the Liberals, the New Democrats planned to substantially increase spending on the aboriginal front.
On the campaign trail, Mulcair said he would finance his promises by raising corporate taxes.
But here again, the first 100 days of an NDP government would have involved a reckoning with the reality of a deteriorating global economy.
One needs only to look at Alberta and its rookie NDP government to know that.
Before being elected, Rachel Notley had vowed to raise the royalties the province collects from the energy industry. The notion that Albertans were not getting their fair share of the natural resources revenues was a New Democrat mantra. But last month her government put that plan on ice.
“It is not the time to reach out and make a big money grab. That just is not going to help Albertans over all right now . . . ,” Notley explained.
Over its first 100 days, a federal NDP government would have been hard-pressed to come to a different conclusion. It would already have been dealing with an up-in-arms corporate Canada over its decision to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership — the free-trade deal negotiated among Pacific Rim nations in the dying days of the previous government.
Mulcair had also promised not just to end Canada’s participation in the airstrikes against Islamic State extremists in the Middle East, but also to withdraw from the U.S.-led international military mission in the region.
President Barack Obama has cast the TPP as a legacy project of his administration. A decision by Canada to not ratify it, combined with the rapid transition to a strictly humanitarian role on the anti-ISIS front, would have made for a challenging start to the Canada-U.S. relationship under an NDP government.
Three months after its defeat, the NDP leadership — including Mulcair himself — has determined that the party let its best-ever shot at federal power slip through its fingers because it played it safe last fall.
In a public memo summing up the interim findings of an internal campaign review earlier this week, party president Rebecca Blaikie concluded that a critical mass of non-Conservative voters wanted a more decisive break from the Conservative past than the “cautious change” the party was putting on offer.
But looking at how the NDP’s plans — as laid out over the campaign — would have fared if it had been in office for the past 100 days, Mulcair’s platform was neither all that cautious nor particularly credible.