"The NDP platform seldom gets a costed look. It's a pastiche of guesses and conjectures," national affairs columnist Jeffrey Simpson warns in Wednesday's column. "As for the party's Quebec policy, it's always been tortured. With Mr. Layton's latest promise, it just became irresponsible and reckless."
Mr. Simpson took reader questions Wednesday about the New Democrats' policies and about wider issues surrounding the federal election. An edited partial transcript follows; click below to read the full discussion. [Reading this on a mobile device? Click here for a mobile friendly version of the live chat.]
Moderator: If you were advising the New Democrats, what would you tell them to do differently to offer less of what you've called "slipperiness" and "conjecture"?
Jeffrey Simpson: I would stay away from the constitution, for starters, which is a loaded, treacherous and emotion-laden file. And I would take some time to think through properly their promises, a few of which I listed in my column that were poorly costed and thought through. I suspect that because the NDP has never been in government, and is not taken seriously as a contender for power, the party thinks it can throw promises against the wall the hope that they stick.
Elizabeth D: While a coalition, or accord, or whatever the opposition is calling it these days, is obviously constitutional, it hasn't been used in some time as Canadians prefer first-past-the-post parties to form a government. The opposition parties now suggest - up front and without any current information on what the Conservatives might table as a budget - that they would still be open to re-forming the government themselves if the Conservatives win with only a minority.(with the help of the Bloc who would obviously expect substantial favours in return). Do you honestly think this is the democratic will and intent of the people when they mark their ballots? In my eyes, it ultimately proves the point that many are making: that if the Liberals win, they win. If the liberals lose, they still win.
Jeffrey Simpson: The essence of parliamentary democracy, going back to the mists of time, is who can do the monarch's business. That is tested in the Commons by votes of confidence: Does the House have confidence that Group A can do the monarch's business? The monarch stays out of which group constitutes A; that's the electorate's business. But if Group A can't command confidence, then in the aftermath of an election the monarch's representative looks to see if another group can command confidence. I encourage you to read a short report on these matters just published by the Public Policy Forum that explains procedures and the options for the Governor-General. There is no doubt that the party with the largest number of seats gets first crack at determining confidence. If it succeeds, fine; if it fails, and the G-G wishes to avoid another election so soon after the last one, the G-G might ask the leader of the opposition to try to form a government.
Peter Sidorkiewicz: You say that the NDP is making a lot of promises they can't keep but does that matter? Isn't the election the game and winning that game the most important thing? Chretien didn't get rid of the GST as he said he would and Harper hasn't touched Senate reform like he said he would. We don't hold leaders accountable for making promises they don't keep as government so isn't this all fair game?
Jeffrey Simpson: Actually, sometimes we do remember broken promises and punish those who break them. In the NDP's case, their promises will not be part of them in power, so we cannot judge the party on that basis.
Mark: In fairness to the NDP, isn't each of their platforms a "pastiche of guesses and conjectures"? The Liberals have the same shaky math on corporate tax revenues to justify spending, and borrow from funding for students to give funding for students. The Tories invented $12-billion so they could say health at 6 percent was part of their plan, and refuse to provide any specifics. I'm not saying the NDP platform is good (it isn't). But how about the same critical eye on their fellow liars?
Jeffrey Simpson: This is frustrating. I have written about the health-care on-the-fly policy-making, the obvious holes in the other parties' platforms, and I shall have more to say about the Liberal platform's weaknesses on Friday. As I said earlier, readers obviously don't remember what was written before. I understand that, having been in this game for rather a long time.
Moderator: Readers, if you're interested in reading more of Jeffrey's columns -- many of which are critical of other parties' platforms and promises, as he notes -- they're available at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/jeffrey-simpson.
Curious: As Jack Layton's poll numbers rise, the other parties will pile on. Do you think he'll be able to sustain his momentum?
Jeffrey Simpson: Quite likely. If the voters haven't warmed to Ignatieff and the Liberals by now, they are unlikely to start in the final ten days. Mind you, the NDP is almost never attacked or scrutinized in a campaign, and in that sense they get an almost complete free pass from the other parties and the media whose eyes glaze over at most platforms, especially that of the NDP.