Singh, who worked briefly as a criminal defense lawyer before winning his first election at age 32, takes inspiration from other young progressives such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), with whom he famously played some video games himself. Theirs is a politics built upon endlessly scorning the half-a-loaf pragmatism of establishment liberals, who never quite meet their exacting standards. In Singh’s case, this involves characterizing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — leader of one of Canada’s most activist governments — as a pathetic sellout who’s “all talk, no action,” in the words of the NDP’s latest ad blitz.
Singh, seeking a do-over of his failed 2019 bid for prime minister, defended his rerun platform with a lazy shrug, saying, “sometimes you look at items on the menu and say, you know what, maybe I should have bought that thing last night.” Given that the NDP seems to have little interest in broadening its appeal, consolidating his party’s hold over the most ignorantly idealistic 20 percent of the Canadian electorate certainly appears the party’s highest aspiration.
If party survival is the only goal, then it’s a fair enough strategy. The NDP of the previous century was a decidedly more blue-collar party, with workers’ platforms forged in the context of an industrial and agricultural economy. Today’s version has adapted to a changed Canada with a small but stable successor coalition of progressive white-collar professionals, including social workers, teachers, public-sector bureaucrats (who now dominate the mostly NDP-aligned Canadian labor movement), nongovernmental organization employees and self-proclaimed “social justice” lawyers such as Singh. Outreach to left-wing TikTokers seems to be the extent of base-growing efforts.
This drift from the world of private enterprise has in turn heralded a sharp disinterest in anything resembling the “square socialism” of the party’s past, in which objectives like responsible budgeting and economic growth were considered as essential to sustaining generous government as they were to a farm or factory. An NDP that increasingly represents professions that pursue goods such as justice and compassion as abstractions detached from the material realm begets a party pushing ideas more concerned with moral purity than feasibility.
Thus, while the NDP circa 2021 salivates at the notion of raising taxes on what Singh calls the “ultra rich” and their ostentatious baubles like yachts and private jets, as the National Post’s Adam Zivo noted, the party’s un-costed platform doesn’t really seem to know or care if doing this will actually raise enough revenue to pay for such grandiose promises as “a targeted debt forgiveness program for graduates that will forgive up to $20,000 in student debt” or “a guaranteed livable income for all Canadians.” The NDP simply offers a grab bag of initiatives considered ethically unimpeachable — most of which center around punishing the wealthy and liberating everyone else from financial obligation — that may sync up in some way, or maybe not.
Such righteous dogmatism prevents much in the way of creative thinking. Since the party’s brain trust is allergic to using the vulgar free market for anything, even problems quite obviously caused by a lack of capitalist competition — such as Canada’s atrociously high cellphone data costs — are instead attributed to the apparent horror that “governments have left it to industry to set the prices.” The offered solution is to simply impose price caps and demand providers give customers … basically as much as they like of whatever they want.
The NDP is no closer to power than it has ever been, and Singh will presumably once again lose the prime ministership in a landslide. The fact that his fantasyland campaign has kept his party viable at all, however, is one more example of the depressing unseriousness at the center of so much Canadian politics these days.
For those keeping track, the country’s three-party system is presently divided between a cynical Liberal Party that appears exclusively motivated by power, a cynical Conservative Party that’s endlessly shedding principles and a New Democratic Party making promises so insultingly outrageous they’re functionally indistinguishable from lies.