Liberal, NDP insiders weigh in on the battle to win the progressive vote

As the Liberals and New Democrats staged duelling party policy conventions today, party insiders said they also signalled they're going to be battling each other over many of the same ideas — and voters.

Parties' policies overlap on universal basic income, wealth tax, national pharmacare

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in 2019. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

As the Liberals and New Democrats staged duelling party policy conventions today, party insiders said they also signalled they're going to be battling each other over many of the same ideas — and voters.

Proposals to implement a universal basic income (UBI), to make the wealthy pay more in taxes and to create a national pharmacare program were just some of the overlapping progressive policy pitches both parties advanced this week as they looked ahead to their election platforms.

"I think it tells you that most of the country, and most of the thinking that's going on around the economy, is focusing on activist government solutions," David Herle, a longtime Liberal strategist and partner at The Gandalf Group, told CBC Radio's The House.

"That's where people's heads are and that's where the experts are in terms of looking at what kind of role government needs to play, whether it's in the provision of child care or greater income security for gig workers. This is post-pandemic."

NDP national director Anne McGrath told The House this isn't the first time Liberals have absorbed some of her party's ideas.

"There has been a history of the Liberals adopting and promoting some fairly progressive proposals, but then not necessarily delivering. And I think that that's really the job for Jagmeet Singh and the NDP in the next election campaign," McGrath said.

"The question, I think, for a lot of voters is going to be, 'Who is actually likely to do anything on these things?'"

Liberal insider David Herle and NDP National Director Anne McGrath discuss the strategies and tactics of their respective parties, as both look to woo progressive voters following duelling conventions this weekend.

Resolutions don't always dictate platforms

On Saturday, delegates at the Liberal convention endorsed resolutions on establishing UBI in Canada and creating a national pharmacare program, but rejected proposals to hike the capital gains tax and place an "inheritance tax" on assets over $2 million.

NDP delegates have yet to vote on UBI or pharmacare, but voted overwhelmingly Friday in favour of a resolution to implement a one per cent tax on fortunes over $20 million.

Passing a resolution does not necessarily mean that policy becomes part of a party's election platform.

"Some [issues] may make it into a platform for an election, whenever that election should be. If it doesn't make it into something in the immediate term, it doesn't get lost. It moves forward," Liberal Party president Suzanne Cowan told The House host Chris Hall in a separate interview.

"This is an ongoing discussion that takes place between conventions." 

Liberal Party President Suzanne Cowan sits down to talk about the progressive resolutions dominating her party’s convention, and whether those policies will make it into a possible election platform.

'The real competition is on the left'

Cowan also rejected the suggestion that progressive proposals wouldn't typically fall under her party's umbrella.

"I am not at all surprised that it is a progressive agenda because we are a progressive party," she said.

"So I think that ... these are Canadians priorities. I would not say that these are NDP issues that we are talking about now. These are our issues."

According to the CBC's Canada Poll Tracker, an aggregation of all publicly available polling data, the Liberals are leading with 35.8 per cent support nationwide. The Conservatives are in second with 29.8 per cent and the NDP is in third with 18.1 per cent.

Overlapping policies won't help either party, said Herle, who predicted the Conservatives will bump up their support and narrow the Liberals' lead.

"If the Conservatives are at a more normal number, then the NDP number ... becomes very damaging to Liberal chances of victory," he said. "So I actually do think that the real competition is on the left."

Herle and McGrath both said that while some party priorities dovetail, it's equally important to put forward distinct identities.

"It's important to point out the contrast with the Liberal government," McGrath said. "And so we have been working hard on making sure that that context is there."

With files from Éric Grenier

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