Proposals to Reinvigorate the NDP Platform
Photo by BC NDP
During the Tommy Douglas era the CCF and NDP had platforms that caught the imagination of a wide range of people.
The CCF and the NDP, in their early years, functioned as both a social movement and a political party. Policies and principles were of paramount importance; they were never sacrificed in the short-term interests of election strategy. It was more important to maintain the party’s fundamental principles than to sacrifice these in hopes of winning at the ballot box. By maintaining its principles the party hoped to influence and sway society at large to move in the direction of these principles. This was always recognized as a long-term goal and it was considered worthwhile. It’s largely because of this policy that Canadian people got enlightened about the benefits of a national medicare program. Such a program became a reality and because of this, in 2004 Tommy Douglas was named “The Greatest Canadian”, based on a CBC Canada-wide, viewer-supported survey.
For decades, while acting as both a social movement and a political party, the CCF/NDP promoted a range of social policies that eventually forced Canada’s government to enact them. This included old age pensions, unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, children’s allowances, medicare, and in some provinces public auto insurance and other measures.
However, in recent years the NDP hasn’t presented the equivalent of any of these policies. Why is this? Surely it’s because the party has abandoned its original raison d’être and has deliberately distanced itself from most of its founding principles, including the deletion of the word socialism from its constitution and most aspects of even being a social democratic party. In effect, in its new attire it has tried to present itself as another bona fide capitalist political party. In its efforts to replace the Liberals as one of the country’s two major parties, the NDP has watered down its socialism almost to the vanishing point.
After its disastrous electoral performance in the 2015 election, columnist Thomas Walkom commented: “What is the point of a social democratic party that is afraid of democratic socialism? What is the point of running as faux Liberals when the real Liberals are already there? … . If a left-wing party’s only chance at power is to move rightward, why bother?”
To make it even worse, not only were the NDP running as faux Liberals, in fiscal matters they were trying to outperform the ideology of Harper Conservatives by proclaiming that they would never increase taxes, on corporations or anyone, no matter how wealthy they might be, and that they would always balance their budgets, “come hell or high water.”
One wonders what Tommy Douglas would think of the abject degeneration of the socialist party that he had created.
But there’s a slight ray of hope. At the NDP’s recent national convention in Ottawa, their new leader Jameet Singh began his address by proclaiming that “The time for timid is over!” He then issued a call-to-arms against growing income inequality and offered a full-fledged defence of taxes and public services. He criticized the current political orthodoxy and politicians who argue “taxes just take something away from you, rather than give something back to us all.” What he should have added was the statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” Strangely, he had little to say about climate change, an energy policy for Canada, or a view on NAFTA. Nevertheless, Tommy Douglas may be a bit relieved at the possible revival of his party.
Considering the Bernie Sanders phenomenon in the USA where he openly declared himself to be a “socialist” and may have actually won the Democratic nomination if his campaign hadn’t been sabotaged by the party’s elite leadership, why is the NDP so desperately afraid of its original socialist beginnings? And then there is the British Labour Party with Jeremy Corbyn’s basically socialist platform that may very likely win the next election. What more will it take for the NDP to “smarten up” and become at least a genuine social democratic party? Actually, many in the party would like to see it become a real socialist party, but they still remain in a minority.
For the NDP to once again capture the public’s attention it has to present imaginative proposals in its platform – proposals that would improve both Canada’s economy and the quality of life for Canadians. Some of the ideas that I will put forth are already part of the NDP’s objectives, especially those presented by the NDP Socialist Caucus. However, in my presentation I will add some additional perspectives on these issues.
Expanded Comprehensive Medicare
Thanks to the early policies of the CCF and later the NDP, Canada has reasonably good public health care. However, major improvements are required. When our Medicare program started in 1966 it was based on 50/50 cost sharing by the provinces and the federal government. In time the federal government began to reduce its share and now the provinces pay more than 75 percent of healthcare costs. This has resulted in various cutbacks, increased wait times, and reduced its overall coverage. Instead of restoring its original sound financial basis, there have been attempts to bring in some private medical clinics to create “competition.” The NDP must do everything possible to force the federal government to eventually go back to 50/50 cost sharing.
Our current Medicare system covers hospital and physician services but not dental, optometry, and pharmaceutical costs. This partial coverage is a major drawback in our system. This should get top billing in a NDP platform. If the NDP campaigned to have all these services covered by Medicare it would get massive public support, so this should be a top priority for the party.
At present, it’s the pharmaceutical industry that is most damaging to our health care system. It is scandalous that some drug companies can charge up to $1,000 per pill. Big Pharma, to eliminate competition, has set out to systematically demolish homeopathic medicine.
To resolve the pharmaceutical problem the Socialist Caucus prepared a resolution for the 2018 NDP convention stating that “the NDP actively campaign for a national drug plan that would be an integral part of public medicare for all residents of Canada – not just making the federal government a central bulk purchaser of pharmaceuticals, but also a producer of generic drugs through a publicly-owned corporation, and making free provision of medication a feature of public health care and a matter of right for all patients.”
However, once formed, a publicly-owned pharmaceutical corporation should not be simply a producer of generic drugs – it should have the authority and capacity to do innovative pharmaceutical research and then provide its medicinal products to hospitals and the public at cost of production. As an example for Canada, Cuba nationalized its pharmaceutical companies and then developed a sophisticated publicly-owned biotechnology and pharmaceutical sector that has provided a wide range of medicinal products not only for its own population but for export as well, despite the USA’s embargo. In 2014 the World Health Organization recommended Cuba’s health care system to be a model for the world. Cuba has made some major medical and pharmaceutical discoveries. For example, now widely used in many countries is Cuba’s medication to treat diabetic foot ulcers and thereby avoid a large percentage of amputations. Also they have discovered medications to treat meningitis, advanced lung cancer, some skin cancers, and malignant tumours. All these medications are provided at no charge to Cuban hospitals and the population, although in some cases the charge to the public is at cost of production. If this can be done in Cuba, why not in Canada? Why is Canada so totally dependent on USA’s Big Pharma with its exorbitant prices?
Further with respect to Cuba, although the country has a far lower per capita GNP than Canada, its all inclusive medicare system provides hospital, physician, dental, and optometry services at no cost to the public, and pharmaceutical medication either free or at cost of production. Again, if they can do this in Cuba, why not in Canada? The expansion of Medicare to include not only hospital and physician costs, but also dentistry, optometry and pharmaceutical costs should be the lead item in the NDP platform.
The Bank of Canada should be reinstated to its original mandated purposes
I have presented a detailed rationale for this proposal in a recent separate article, with the same title as above, on the Canadian Dimension website.
From the time of its formation as a Crown corporation in 1938 until 1974 the Bank of Canada provided loans at no interest to federal, provincial and municipal governments. In 1974 the federal government dramatically reduced borrowing from its own bank and proceeded to borrow predominantly from private banks at the going interest rates. The ensuing interest rates ballooned our debt from 18 billion in 1974 to 1.4 trillion in 2017.
In 2011 a lawsuit was filed in the Federal Court to reinstate the Bank of Canada to its original mandated purposes. After nearly five and a half years of contentious litigation, after five court hearings resulting in contrary decisions, on May 4, 2017 the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the appeal case, in “deference” to the political process, i.e., their decision was that the matter appeared to be more of a political issue than a judicial one.
Before the case is pursued further in the courts, the NDP should pursue this in Parliament. If properly and fully presented, this could be of great help in getting support from the electorate. As in the case of getting Medicare enacted in Canada, it may be up to a social democratic party to eventually get the Bank of Canada reinstated as the country’s bank.
To reinstate the Bank of Canada to its original mandated purposes is a critically important issue and this should be a major plank in the NDP platform.
Canada should establish banking services at post offices
Many countries in the world provide banking services at post offices and this in turn provides a great service to the population. Such a feature has proven to be a major success in a wide range of countries, including France, Italy, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Brazil, New Zealand, India, Japan, and China. Forbes magazine recently commented on the importance of postal banking in China, pointing out that more than 500 million people use the service.
This feature is not entirely new to either Canada or the USA. Canada had postal banking for over a hundred years – from 1867 to 1969. The USA had it from 1911 to 1966. In both cases it was successful lobbying pressure by the chartered banks that caused the governments to cave in and shut down postal banking, despite opposition from the public at large.
Postal banking is simply the provision of services that include savings and chequing accounts, credit and debit cards, bill payments, money transfers, loans and mortgages, insurance (home, auto, travel), foreign currency, and other services.
Commercial banks through a variety of means discourage low income people from having accounts and as a result millions of Canadians need an alternative to usurious payday loans. A postal bank could be that alternative.
A study conducted for the British Bankers Association of banking fees in eleven countries showed that Canada had the third highest fees on current accounts for students, low-income families and pensioners. A postal bank could be a much-needed alternative.
Thousands of towns and villages across Canada no longer have bank branches but they do have post offices, which could provide banking services to the people in these areas. This would improve the lives of millions of people.
In short, Canadian banks have raked in enormous profits while cutting service, closing branches and charging some of the highest banking and ATM fees in the world. Because of this it is surely time we had an alternative with postal banking. The addition of postal banking would breathe new life into Canada Post to help it cope with globalization and to guarantee universal postal service, particularly in rural areas.
Under the Harper Conservative regime the Post Office started to stop home delivery of mail – this abruptly ended when they lost the election. Before the 2015 election the Liberal postal critic said that the merits of postal banking should be explored. But so far nothing has transpired on this front.
As for the USA, the idea of postal banking has been revived when in January 2014 the US Postal Service released a white paper making the case for postal banks and arguing that many financial services could be introduced without new congressional action. The cause was then taken up by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and polling showed that it had popular support.
A solid case can be made for Canada to enact postal banking as part of the regular operations of Canada Post. This should be a major issue for the NDP to put forward in Parliament and it should be a major plank within their platform.
Increase Corporate Taxes And End Tax Evasion
There is evidence that more than $260 billion of untaxed Canadian funds have been stashed offshore in tax havens in 2016 and similar amounts in previous years. This means that the federal government is losing about $10-15 billion a year because of these offshore tax havens, as well as additional billions from tax loopholes. The NDP should advocate the elimination of tax loopholes and the enactment of laws to prevent the use of offshore tax havens. Severe penalties should be enacted against all forms of tax evasion, along with jail sentences to officials responsible for such offences. Canada’s corporate tax rate is at 15%, one of the lowest in the world. As in the USA, Canada’s corporate tax code is riddled with loopholes so that some companies may pay as little as 5% or even less. To be in line with most other countries Canada could almost double its corporate tax rate.
This should be a major objective of the NDP and it should be a prominent feature in the NDP platform.
Canada should withdraw from NAFTA
Strangely, the NDP has never taken an enlightened stand on NAFTA, has never examined its negative impact on our country, and has never advocated its abolition. Lloyd Axworthy, former president of the University of Winnipeg and former Liberal minister of foreign affairs had put forward a powerful critique of NAFTA that deserves citation:
Let’s begin by seriously considering an end to NAFTA and reliance instead upon the World Trade Organization to regulate the terms and provisions of free trade. Not only would this offer us the protection of a trade body that has some teeth in its regulations ones not rooted in US domestic procedures and laws–it would also free us to engage in a much more innovative and active global strategy. The emergence of new economic powers like China, India, Brazil and South Africa provides markets hungry for the resources and know-how that Canada possesses. Our NAFTA connection impedes our ability to take advantage of this potential… . It’s time for new policies and tough action to shift our trade and security strategies away from a preoccupation with continental matters to a more global footing.
If Axworthy, a previous Liberal cabinet minister, can advocate Canada’s withdrawal from NAFTA, why can’t the NDP see the logic of this? Because of NAFTA, Canada does not have the right or the independence to determine its national energy policy. Gordon Laxer in his recent book After the Sands deals with this in detail and the book should be required reading for all NDP MPs.
Under NAFTA, the US imports 60% of Canada’s oil and has the right to continue doing this, with increasing amounts, in perpetuity. Canada can never charge the US more than it charges Canadians. The US buys our oil at the world’s lowest royalty rates, which is far less than the world price. In effect this constitutes a subsidy to the US of about $30 billion per year, while Canada pays about $10 billion a year to import foreign oil, mostly from Saudi Arabia. Does this make sense? In the meantime, Mexico refused to sign the energy section in NAFTA and exempted itself from their terms.
NAFTA’s Chapter 11 contains a dispute settlement provision that allows US and Mexican corporations to sue Canada for any law or regulation, which they think causes them “loss or damage” and which they feel breaches the spirit of NAFTA. These cases are not held in Canadian courts but in special tribunals, secretly, with no right of appeal. US corporations have sued Canada 35 times since 1994 and forced Canada to pay $200 million in NAFTA fines and reversed several of our laws – and we still face claims of $6 billion more. During this time the US has not lost a single case. Is this an example of NAFTA being helpful to Canada?
NAFTA has given US corporations sweeping rights to buy up most of the Canadian economy – this being aggravated by our low dollar and low interest rates. With the disappearance of Canadian factories and jobs, our standard of living and real wages have declined.
At the present time the provisions of NAFTA are being renegotiated, and with the erratic Trump in office, there’s a possibility that the pact may be cancelled. If this were to happen it would get Canada out of the NAFTA straitjacket and Canada could then begin to use our resources for the benefit of Canadians.
Since Canada became a NAFTA member the NDP, for some strange reason, have never had a policy on this agreement. Despite all the evidence that NAFTA is not in Canada’s best interests, the NDP have never made this an issue. Well, it’s time that they did! Canada’s withdrawal from NAFTA should be one of the major planks in the NDP platform.
Canada should get out of NATO
Canada has no business being in NATO and spending billions each year on armaments and the military. Who is going to attack Canada? Really? Since in reality we don’t need a military force for defence purposes, why are we spending huge amounts of money on the military? This is money that could be spent on improving the quality of life for Canadians. Why isn’t the NDP advocating such a sensible policy? As it is, by maintaining a military force, and belonging to NATO, Canada gets sucked into supporting the USA’s misguided wars. Just count them: Korea in the 1950s, the totally unjustified bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the equally unjustified attack on Afghanistan in 2001, the totally illegal bombing of Libya in 2011. Fortunately, Canada had the sense not to support the USA’s criminal war on Vietnam. And we refused to go into Iraq, although the Conservative’s Stephan Harper wanted us to be in there “shoulder to shoulder” with George Bush. The best way for Canada not to get involved in USA’s criminal wars is to simply disband our expensive and unnecessary military forces. We don’t need them. But then … if we really did adopt an independent policy, the USA might just decide to put us in our place within their Empire of Chaos. But if that were to happen, we couldn’t defend ourselves anyway. It’s not 1812 anymore when we were able to repulse the attacking American forces and put a spoke into their “manifest destiny” dream.
At this stage, the basic fact of the matter is that NATO is an obstacle to peace, and Canada should not be part of this war machine.
The NDP should debate the matter of leaving NATO, and hopefully reason would prevail and the NDP should then adopt leaving NATO as a matter of policy and this should become part of their platform
The need for a high-speed electrified railway in Canada
At the present time, when virtually every other industrialized country has electrified its railroads, Canada and the USA are still totally reliant on diesel locomotives. Even Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and India have already built or are in the process of building high-speed electrified railways. So what’s with Canada and the USA?
A bit of history on this might help us to understand how this came about. In the 1930s several American railway companies had begun to electrify their operations. In addition, a great many cities had electric streetcar and trolley bus systems, both in Canada and the USA. But by the mid-1950’s, in both countries, electric street transportation had been replaced with diesel buses, and by 1973, 99 percent of the electric locomotive fleet was dieselized.
A U.S. government report written in 1974 by Senator Bradford Snell provides a graphic illustration of what happened to Los Angeles:
Nowhere was the ruin from GM’s motorization program more apparent than in southern California. Thirty-five years ago [about 1940] Los Angeles was a beautiful city of lush palm trees, fragrant orange groves and ocean-clean air. It was served then by the world’s largest electric railway network. In the late 1930’s General Motors and allied highway interests acquired the local transit companies, scrapped their pollution-free electric trains, tore down their power transmission lines, ripped up their tracks, and placed GM buses on already congested Los Angeles streets. The noisy, foul-smelling buses turned earlier patrons of the high-speed rail system away from public transit and, in effect, GM then sold millions of private automobiles. Largely as a result, this city is today an ecological wasteland: the palm trees are dying of petrochemical smog; the orange groves have been paved over by 300 miles of freeways; the air is a septic tank into which 4 million cars, half of them built by General Motors, pump 13,000 tons of pollutants daily.
In addition to Los Angeles, this report discloses GM’s role in the destruction of more than 100 electric transit rail systems in 45 American cities.
How and why did this happen? The answer to this is in the above-cited Snell report. It describes in detail how General Motors, Ford and Chrysler reshaped USA’s ground transportation “to serve their corporate wants instead of America’s social needs.”
As Senator Snell explains, it is no great mystery why the trend to electrifying US railways and urban transit was systematically ended. Electrification was going to lower the profits for these corporations and that is why they launched an all-out campaign to stop this. The life of an electric locomotive was twice that of a diesel (30 years versus 15 years, respectively), and it was substantially cheaper to operate and maintain. For example, a single electric locomotive could do the work of three diesels and it uses approximately one fifth the total system energy of two diesels. A diesel costs three times more than an electric locomotive. An electric locomotive produces near zero emissions and provides better traction between rails and wheels, and generates far less noise than diesels. Despite the numerous advantages of electrified transit systems and electric locomotives as compared with diesel, these three huge corporations somehow through threats, manipulation, propaganda and other devious means became totally successful.
Because of the power and influence of these corporations, Canada and the USA, till this day, have a backward and retrograde public transportation system.
With this as background to Canada and the USA, let’s take a look at the nature of high-speed electrified railways in the world.
Six of the ten longest high-speed railway lines in the world are located in China, while the remaining four are in Japan, Russia, Spain, and the UK.
China accounts for two-thirds of the world’s high-speed railways, with more than 25,000 km (16,000 miles) in total length. This compares with 54.6 km (33.9 miles) in the USA and none at all in Canada. By 2025 China plans to expand these railways to 38,000 km (24,000 miles) and about 45,000 km (28,000 miles) in the future. This is a network of passenger-dedicated railways designed for speeds of 250–350 km/h (155–217 mph). To do this, China has invested at least $400 billion to develop its electrified rail system.
A maglev train is coming out of the Pudong International Airport. Photo by Alex Needham.
View of a Chinese-built high-speed train
China’s early high-speed trains were imported or built under technology transfer agreements with foreign train-makers including Alstom (France), Siemens (Germany), Bombardier (Canada) and Kawasaki (Japan). Within a short time, Chinese engineers re-designed the internal train components and built indigenous trains that are now manufactured by their state-owned CRRC Corporation. One of these trains, the CRH380A, is designed to operate at a cruise speed of 350 km/h (217 mph) and a maximum of 380 km/h (236 mph) in commercial service. In a trial run this train has attained a speed of 486.1 km/h (302.0 mph).
The Beijing–Shanghai high-speed railway started operating in 2011. It completes the journey in 3 hours and 58 minutes, compared to 9 hours and 49 minutes on the fastest trains running on the parallel conventional railway.
The Shanghai maglev train is a magnetic levitation train that has an operational speed of 430 km/h and can reach a top non-commercial speed of 501 km/h. It opened for operations in March 2004, and transports passengers from the Shanghai Pudong International Airport to a metro station, a distance of 30 km (18.6 miles) in 7 minutes and 20 seconds. It is the fastest commercial high-speed electric train in the world, but its function is largely as a demonstration project and at this stage it is not commercially viable. China is conducting research on the next generation of a magnetic-levitation train with a top speed of 600 km/h.
At the end of 2013 Chinese President Xi Jinping announced one of China’s most ambitious foreign policy and economic initiatives. This “Belt and Road” project would involve not only countries in Asia but a high-speed railway from Beijing to Moscow and then on to Rotterdam. The journey from Moscow to Beijing would then take only two days instead of the current six days along the Trans-Siberian railway. The proposed high-speed route is shown on the map below.
The proposed new route from Beijing to Moscow.
When it comes to Russia, it was actually Lenin who launched the electrification of its railways. With its early start, the USSR for years became the world leader in electrification. During its last 30 years the USSR hauled as much rail freight as all the other countries in the world combined, with 60% of it by electric locomotives. Electrification of the 9,258 km (6,152 mi) Trans-Siberian railway was interrupted by World War II, hence it wasn’t completed until 2002. The Moscow–Saint Petersburg Railway, in operation since 2009, is Russia’s highest speed railway with a top speed of 250 km/h (155 mph). In addition to passenger trains, Russia and China plan to launch the first high-speed freight train in 2019. A high-speed railway currently under construction between Moscow and Kazan (near the Urals) is a joint Russia-China project. The 770-km (480-mile) journey will take 3.5 hours compared to the current 14 hours. This is the first segment of an ambitious transnational high-speed railway designed to connect Moscow and Beijing.
Japan was a pioneer in high-speed train technology, beginning operations in 1964 with a train that became widely known as the “bullet train.” Their network consists of 2,764.6 km (1,717.8 miles) with maximum speeds of 240–320 km/h (150–200 mph). Test runs have set a world record of 603 km/h (375 mph) for maglev trains in April 2015, but they don’t have any in commercial operation. The world’s busiest high-speed rail line is between Tokyo and Osaka, with up to thirteen trains per hour at peak times.
In Europe, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, UK, Austria, Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway and Finland have high-speed passenger trains, some since the 1980s.
With all this as background, let’s examine the prospect of high-speed trains in Canada. Rather than stick with the USA’s backward transportation system, Canada should try to catch up with the advanced systems in many other countries. The initiative would have to come from the federal and provincial governments because CN and CP would not be prepared to make any major investments in trying to electrify their operations. As for GM, Ford and Chrysler they make far greater profits from producing diesel locomotives than they would from electric ones. Interestingly though, Canada has a major strength in this matter since Canadian-owned Bombardier, based in Montreal, builds electric locomotives. Back in 2007 Bombardier (in a joint venture with a Chinese company) supplied China with 500 electric locomotives for heavy freight service, with the order being completed in 2011. Hence if they can do this for China, surely they could do it for Canada.
In recent years, there have been signs of increasing public interest of the potentials and benefits of railway electrification and higher speed rail operations. Former Canadian Pacific executive Glen Fisher, an expert in railway capacity and electrification, at a 2008 conference stated that by electrifying 24,800 km (15,000 miles) of freight mainline track there could be a reduction in CO2 equivalent of 5.2 million tonnes. Also that electric fuel would cut air pollution from nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, sulphur oxides and particulate matter. It would eliminate the risk of spills from fuel or lubricating oil. There would also be impressive cost savings, since electricity costs about 15% of what diesel costs for a typical electrified section of railway.
A report presented to the Ontario High Speed Rail Committee dated June 2015 by Dr. Avrum Regenstreif entitled “Developing Higher Speed Electric Railways Across Canada” is probably the most comprehensive study on this subject. This report should be required reading by Canadian politicians and anyone seriously interested in this subject. The Ontario Ministry of Transportation also has a report on the electrification of railways.
The Regenstreif report focuses on strategies to develop a mixed use electrified interprovincial medium speed railway (MSR) carrying passenger and freight traffic across Canada, operating initially at a maximum passenger speed of 250 km/h (155 (mph) and a maximum freight speed of 140 km/h (87 mph). This electrified railway would begin in central Canada, and be extended into a national MSR network, linked with a proposed high speed Windsor–Quebec City railway. Perhaps in time it might be possible for these trains to achieve the speeds currently attained in China.
From the standpoint of travel time, comfort and safety, higher speed electric passenger trains (300-380 km/h or 186-236 mph) are superior to jet planes for distances of less than 1600 km (1000 miles). The report stipulates that higher speed electrified railway infrastructure should be owned and/or administered by government to ensure that energy efficiency advantages from electrified railways are fully recaptured in the public interest to ensure rapid financial payback for this significant public investment. The rolling stock running on it could be owned and operated by a range of private or public companies.
The report states that the estimated cost of an initial electrified railway system for Canada over a 15 – 30 year time period, could range from at least $100 to 130 billion, depending on the route(s) selected, design speed, staging, efficient planning and implementation strategy.
An indication of how far these ideas have progressed is that in the spring of 2017, the premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, announced that the province will fund a $15 million study for a $21 billion high-speed rail line in the Toronto-Windsor corridor that would cut travel time from four to two hours.
We need high-speed trains not only in the Toronto-Windsor corridor but in the entire stretch between Windsor and Quebec City. Not only that, we need such trains right across Canada, in the way that Chinese cities throughout the country are connected by superb service. Why is this somehow unthinkable for Canada?
The introduction of high-speed electrified trains for both passengers and freight could be a transformative factor in Canadian society. The limited passenger service that VIA rail now offers is abysmal. Some of our nation’s busiest trains are 70 years old, and this is a disgrace. And it’s no wonder that VIA’s service is so bad – it owns only three percent of the tracks that it uses. They rent track time from CN and CP and as such their trains can be delayed hours because a freight train has broken down or needs to pass. Without the reliability of on-time trains, Canadians continue to use their cars for shorter trips, which increases congestion and creates unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions.
Ideally, what we would need is separate new double tracks for both passenger and freight trains. If that were to happen, the thousands of trucks that now clog our highways would either be on these trains as cargo or freight would be hailed directly in train cars. This would speed up delivery of goods and it would make our highways dramatically safer and it would drastically cut per-capita greenhouse emissions.
Finally, in summation, with all this as background, the electrification of Canada’s railways should surely become a major issue for the NDP. They should study this proposal carefully and then press for it in Parliament and incorporate it as a major plank in their platform.
This article has gotten too long for me to deal in any detail with several other issues that should be given prominence in an NDP platform. Some of these I realize are already part of the platform, but greater emphasis should be placed on them. These matters include a national child care program (modeled on the one in Quebec), a national program for the care of senior citizens, reduced tuition for university students, significant investment in public housing, greater funding for First Nations, restoration of the Canadian Wheat Board, and the restoration of the railway to Churchill. The NDP should also adopt a foreign policy that emphasizes diplomacy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian aid instead of supporting investment in the military and offensive military action.
If Tommy Douglas is recognized as the ‘greatest Canadian,’ and he was right about so many things, why can’t the present NDP have the intelligence and courage to explore more earnestly democratic socialism? Since it can no longer pretend to be the government-in-waiting, the NDP must rethink its role in parliament and indeed in the country.
In the course of its soul-searching the NDP should acknowledge the fact that during the 2015 election it lost support from the public largely because of the failure of the party to present bold, progressive ideas.
In this paper I have advanced several ideas that should become major planks in a reinvigorated NDP platform. If NDP members should decide to support these ideas, and other such proposals, the party might once again become as relevant as it was in the days of Tommy Douglas. And in due course, with a progressive more meaningful platform and a dynamic leader who would support these causes, the NDP might be able to win the support of the Canadian public. Canada could then have a government that could change the course of history for this country.
John Ryan, Ph.D., is a retired professor of geography and a senior scholar at the University of Winnipeg.