Tom Mulcair's New Democrats have unveiled their full campaign platform, promising to reform the democratic system in Canada, cut banking and credit costs, and make it more affordable to get a college or university degree.
Most of the plan outlined by party officials on Friday had been announced by the NDP Leader during the long election campaign that began early in August. The top priorities of the New Democrats remain the provision of affordable child care, strengthening the health-care system, protecting the environment and creating jobs.
But there were a few items contained in the glossy 72-page campaign document that had not been expressly spelled out previously by Mr. Mulcair.
The New Democrats would respond to the Conservative tactic of burying multiple legislative changes inside mammoth omnibus budget bills by giving the Speaker of the House the power to break those large bills apart if they are too unwieldy to permit adequate analysis by MPs.
And they would change the law to allow Canadians living abroad to vote in federal elections – a right that was lost to all of those who have spent more than five years in a different country after the Conservative government persuaded a court last July that the five-year rule was reasonable.
The NDP hopes its policies will bring voters on the centre and left of the political spectrum – those who are keen to eject Conservatives – back into its fold. Although the steep decline in support for Mr. Mulcair and his party that began two weeks ago seems to have levelled off, and polls suggest there may have already been a bit of a rebound, the New Democrats still lag behind the Liberals and Tories as voting day draws near.
With the strong possibility of a minority Parliament resulting from the Oct. 19 vote, the NDP says in its platform document that it would work with other federalist parties through informal or appropriate stable arrangements to end Stephen Harper's "lost decade."
But Mr. Mulcair reminded reporters that the Liberals backed out of a coalition deal they signed with New Democrats in 2008, paving the way for seven more years of a Conservative government.
"Every time I've opened up to the possibility of collaborating more with Liberals," said Mr. Mulcair, "Justin Trudeau has taken it upon himself to slam the door personally."
The NDP Leader spent the past week blasting the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that was signed last weekend by the Conservatives and not explicitly panned by the Liberals, saying it would kill jobs in the auto sector, make prescription drugs more expensive and hurt dairy farmers.
Mr. Mulcair said Friday in Montreal that Mr. Harper was "played for a chump" by the other parties to the agreement.
"This trade agreement, negotiated at the last minute by someone who was in his last days of his mandate is a lousy deal for Canada and Canadian families and we would never present Stephen Harper's deal to Parliament," said the NDP Leader.
Mr. Mulcair also accused the Conservative Leader of "playing the race card" throughout the campaign and exploiting the divisions among Canadians. He again took the Prime Minister's Office to task for stopping the flow of Syrian refugees to Canada last spring, as first reported by The Globe and Mail.
Included in their platform, called "Building the Canada of our Dreams," is a plan to reform the political system and "make every vote count." The NDP is promising that, if elected, it will introduce a system of voting based on mixed-member proportional representation. That would create a Parliament composed of MPs elected in larger ridings than currently exist, plus those nominated by parties based on the proportion of the vote they received during an election.
Although proportional representation has long been NDP policy, this is the first time the party has said it would create a task force made up of members of all parties that would decide the best model for this type of democracy – and that it would be done within the first mandate.
The New Democrats are also trying to tap into anger about the money charged by banks and other financial institutions.
Former NDP leader Jack Layton campaigned against the high cost of ATM fees – and Mr. Mulcair says he would also limit the amount the banks may charge for dispensing money to 50 cents per transaction. But Mr. Mulcair would go further, ensuring that all Canadians have "reasonable access" to a no-frills credit card with an interest rate set at no more than 5 per cent over prime.
The New Democrats would also lower fees that workers in Canada must spend when sending money to their families abroad, crack down on excessive cellphone roaming charges, and create a gasoline ombudsman to investigate complaints about anti-competitive practices.
On higher education, they would phase out interest on all federal student loans and boost the funding for the Canada Student Grants program by $250-million.
NDP officials say their plan, which has been costed within the constraints of a balanced budget, is bold, ambitious and fiscally responsible. It relies on increasing the corporate tax rate from 15 per cent to 17 per cent, and closing tax loopholes for CEOs to provide money to the poor.
It also is heavily weighted toward environmental protection with a suite of large promises, including the introduction of a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gases, and small promises like the rollout of electric-car charging stations – a promise they say will cost $12-million in the first year of their mandate.
The NDP says it would bring in a pan-Canadian cap-and-trade plan that recognizes the efforts already under way in British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, allowing jurisdictions to opt out if their own carbon pricing meets or exceeds national standards.
The NDP is promising a more open and transparent government with fiscal policy statements that accompany every budget that would lay out fiscal goals, including debt-to-GDP ratios, plus spending and growth targets. They say they would also provide quarterly financial updates and departmental spending would be fully reported online.