Recent polls are pushing a surprising question to the forefront: "What would be the economic consequences of a federal NDP victory?" The equally surprising answer is: "Not much."
There once was a time -- and this time may exist only in nostalgia -- when political parties' platforms were based on the answers to the following questions:
1) What are the problems we want to solve?
2) How can we solve them?
When the NDP was addressing very different questions, it came up with very different answers. But these days, the three major parties build their platforms on the following questions:
1) What are the socio-economic groups that can be persuaded to vote for us?
2) How can we get their attention?
This trend has had a homogenizing effect on the platforms. Since there are only so many categories that are in play, the parties end up chasing the same markets with similar boutique measures. Gone are the old NDP issues of nationalisation and "industrial policy". Even concerns with growing income inequality have been given short shrift in the 2011 platform: it doesn't include increased taxes for high earners or even an inheritance tax. Indeed, high earners will be the biggest winners from the cut to the small business tax rate.
The NDP platform can be summarised as being the same as those of the Conservatives and Liberals, only more so: more boutique measures aimed at specific client groups, more dubious claims about their costs, and more opaque explanations for how they will be financed. And all three have environmental platforms that Andrew Leach can't make head nor tail of.
Where there are differences -- on such files as the corporate income tax or Employment Insurance, for example -- the NDP's position is the least sensible. But it would be a stretch to say that these are transformational differences of the kind promised by the NDP under, say, Ed Broadbent's leadership. The transition from producing platforms that are crazy to ones that are just dumb may not seem like much progress, but it's enough to put the NDP within hailing distance of the Liberals and the Conservatives.
The party that wins the election will be forced to face that fact that the federal deficit is not going to go away on its own, and that the measures in its platform would make it worse. This election is the first in which the prospect that this government might be formed by the NDP would change comparatively little.
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