COLUMN

The message in the NDP’s book

Diane Francis August 24 1987
COLUMN

The message in the NDP’s book

Diane Francis August 24 1987

The message in the NDP’s book

COLUMN

Diane Francis

During the darkest hours of the Watergate coverup, the running joke was that Nixon’s secretary was hired on the basis of how many words per minute she could erase from tapes. Such skills would be useful for Ed Broadbent and his popular New Democrats. The party has always been plagued with unpalatable policies because it is not a single party so much as a ragtag collection of political movements, ideologically or regionally based. Nowhere is this multiple personality more apparent than in its economic policies, at once innovative, naïve and contradictory. But those policies cannot conveniently be erased. “We say what we mean and mean what we say,” said Lome Nystrom, the NDP’s employment critic. “The public wants politicians it can trust. We wouldn’t implement the entire booklet in the first term.”

The “booklet” is the party’s 269page compendium of policy resolutions passed since 1961, which outlines ways to achieve the party’s two principal goals: full employment and control by Canadians over the economy. Although the aims are laudable, the booklet is a hodgepodge of draconian solutions, many of which would wreak havoc on our economy. Call it the Ed Menace. Take, for instance, the NDP’s commitment to halt nuclear power plant construction, phase out existing plants and ban exports of uranium and nuclear technology. Scrapping nuclear power would throw thousands out of work, cause massive writeoffs for $25-billion worth of unpaid nuclear facilities in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick and cost billions more as provinces would have to replace nuclear power.

Such an about-face, in turn, would send shock waves through currency markets. Nonresident holders of $133.5 billion in Canadian utility, corporate and government bonds would no doubt worry about our ability to manage financial affairs and to repay debts. Our dollar would fall and loans by foreigners would become more costly because it would take more Canadian dollars to pay off the same amount of debt. Restrictions might be necessary to stem the flow of dollars out.

Even worse would be the banning of raw uranium, nuclear fuel and technology exports. Canada now enjoys a hold on 27 per cent of the world’s uranium market, mining the richest, biggest de-

posits on earth. Ironically, Saskatchewan’s previous NDP government invested hundreds of millions of dollars in exploring and developing uranium resources. Approximately 7,000 Canadians work in uranium mines and refineries in such NDP strongholds as Saskatchewan and Northern Ontario. Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has spent about $3.5 billion on research and in developing and selling Candu reactor technology and other nuclear applications, including cancer treatment and detection equipment. Atomic Energy employs about 2,000 unionized high-tech workers.

In essence, the NDP antinuclear policy would eliminate an important cornerstone of our industrial strategy, triggering large-scale economic dislocation. Little wonder that NDP energy critic Ian Waddell waffles, talking about “analysing economics.” Some wrongly argue that an NDP government

A reversal of its nuclear policy would mean that the NDP had not done its homework in the first place—or was insincere

could never force provinces to scrap nuclear facilities. But Ottawa is the insurer of last resort for nuclear plants and could threaten to withdraw that coverage. Some people also argue that the NDP would not shut down plants because of the dire consequences. But such a reversal would mean that the party had not done its homework in the first place—or was insincere.

Equally sweeping is the NDP commitment to nationalization. Among the targets: one of the six major banks— they have not yet specified which one—Pacific Western Airlines (now merged with CP Air as Canadian Airlines International) and the aerospace industry. And they have promised some kind of intervention—which could mean nationalization—in Bell Canada, Canadian Pacific Railway, some major oil and mining companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers. Like its nuclear policies, that massive buy-out would send our dollar to the skids if it meant commensurate debts.

But the NDP would presumably pay for that by also nationalizing privately run pension plans. Right now, roughly

half of Canada’s workforce of 11.3 million is covered by company pensions, which have about $150 billion in assets. By seizing $150 billion in workers’ savings, the NDP could buy nearly half of the 1,113 Canadian companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, whose shares are worth a combined total of $332 billion. Nationalization is a neat way to kill two policy birds with one stone—achieving full employment and Canadian control.

It would also eliminate the “problem” of foreign investment or ownership, because most outsiders would bail out and avoid Canada. Equally damaging would be the resistance mustered by both Canadian and foreign-owne^ companies. Such a Marxist centraliz non of power would upset allies, not mention shareholders and Canadian vorkers whose pension savings— wl i must by law be 90-percent inv ted in Canada—would be used to nplement radical economic solutions it’s no surprise that NDP finance cri \c Michael Cassidy hedges. Says Cassidy: “These are objectives, not specific policies.”

Equally vague was a strategy of sorts laid out this summer by Ontario NDP Leader Bob Rae, who criticized the proposed shutdown of a Firestone tire plant in Hamilton. He said that an NDP government would not allow closures without permission, raising the question of criteria. Would a drop in demand for Firestone’s products justify a closure? Would the fact that the factory was outmoded and uncompetitive have any bearing on government approval? Of course, such legislation would certainly prevent some future plant closures—because there would not be many new plants opened to begin with under such circumstances.

Confusion also surrounds the NDP’s trade policy. The party would scrap talks with the United States, try to work out new ways to avert protectionism there—and then erect it anew here through “Buy Canadian” policies and barriers against foreign ownership and investment. But the party’s polling success may, of course, be in spite of its unspeakable economics and will only continue if policies are erased or eviscerated. The paradox is that if Broadbent is to retain his image as a trustworthy man of vision and integrity, his party has said what it meant and meant what it said. And if that is the case, Broadbent should be about as electable as Nixon after Watergate.