While it’s been clear for a while now that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party have been itching for a pandemic election, the official call will be coming in a matter of days. According to Reuters and other sources, Trudeau will announce on Sunday an election taking place on September 20, 2021. While the polling averages look very good for Trudeau—with all observers putting him on the precipice of a majority or better—there also exists major opportunities for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP to grow their caucus, stop a majority, and perhaps aim even higher than that.
Going into this election, Trudeau has much to be optimistic about. Many polls put him nearing the 40 percent mark, and his lead over Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives is massive across more recent surveys. Even if Trudeau was to fall short of a majority, his caucus may end up being 60 seats larger than the second-place alternative. But this also presents a challenge for Trudeau and an opening for Singh. While the Liberals will go back to their stagnant well of telling progressive Canadians they need to vote Liberal to stop the Conservatives, such a directive may fall flat in an election where Trudeau has a gargantuan lead over O’Toole. Even if one adheres to an Anything But Conservative (ABC) voting plan, this opens as an election where one can vote their actual preference without fear of Conservative rule. In this context, Trudeau may well win, but progressive voters could vote NDP in red-orange parts of the country, and this could stunt majority chances.
But this scenario is not a guarantee for the NDP. Canadians may be fooled by Liberal lies about our first-past-the-post system, or they may simply want to put elections out of mind for a few years by granting a majority. To seize a great opportunity—which includes the fact that Canadians by and large like Singh more than any other leader—the party needs a bold and focused program, with building a just post-COVID Canada as the lynchpin of its strategy.
From the top, it must be said that while Trudeau’s election call is a cynical one that will put Canadian lives in danger, making the election about the election is a sure-fire way to lose the vote. Recent polling from Abacus indicates that while the vast majority of Canadians are unhappy about this election, most say Trudeau’s early call won’t actually change how they choose at the polls. And as we’ve seen in recent provincial and territorial elections, shaming the incumbent party for an election call has totally failed to mobilize voters against them. In British Columbia for example, the BC Greens endlessly harangued John Horgan and the BC NDP for the election call, and the result was a robust NDP majority.
Rather, Singh must play to his personal and party strengths. He can point out how this election isn’t ideal—briefly during the pre-campaign—but must quickly shift. He can also bridge divides by pointing to the party’s record of healthy cooperation during the 2019-2021 minority session, both as an advertisement of NDP policy, but also a call to ensure Trudeau not be given an unaccountable majority mandate which will allow him to ignore the NDP. This also offers him an opportunity to showcase the times Trudeau united with the Conservatives to oppose progressive NDP policies—many of which will be part of the party platform.
But Singh must look forward. And in my view it begins with taxing the rich. This is both because the question of who will pay for the COVID recovery is of critical importance, but also because taxing extreme wealth is universally popular across Canada’s parties. I’ve explored this at length for Canadian Dimension and Jacobin, but polling consistently shows supermajority support for a wealth tax in Canada. In fact, the wealth tax has only grown more popular since the start of the pandemic, with 89 percent of Canadians supporting it. In addition, the NDP is proposing a two percent increase on taxes for incomes above $210,000, along with closing loopholes and the imposition of a 15 percent excess profits tax on those corporations who enriched themselves while working Canadians suffered and died.
89% of Canadians support a wealth tax - including a majority of LPC, NDP, BQ, CPC and GPC supporters.— David Coletto (@DavidColetto) August 4, 2021
A new poll for @broadbent and @PIPSC_IPFPC looks at public opinion and the political implications of tax fairness.
Details: https://t.co/6DaJM6N4Tq pic.twitter.com/cKpqfE09c3
All of this is vital, because it does double duty. Taxing the rich has value in and of itself as policy, but it also helps to answer a question only the NDP ever seems to get: “How are you going to pay for it?” This tripped up the party in 2015, who backed off taxing rich people while also promising no deficit increases. Now, Singh is correctly leaning into the common sense approach: “We’re going to ask the ultra-rich to finally start paying their fair share and invest that into people.” Singh said much the same on the CBC this week, saying that Canada cannot choose austerity at a time when we need to build from the ashes of an unjust COVID crisis.
Taxing the rich to build a better Canada out of the pandemic also connects the broader portions of the NDP platform, from housing to healthcare to childcare to climate change and everything else. If we want to do these things in a way that helps working people and their families, we must do it in a spirit of justice. And while the NDP’s platform could be bolder in so many ways, there is the potential here for a winning narrative.
This is a golden opportunity for Singh and the NDP, and they cannot blow it. The party can’t get bogged down in complaining about the election, and shouldn’t shy away from the fact that it can help build a great country if it ensures that those who benefitted from the broken status quo pay for the emerging alternative.
Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.