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NDP Leader Jack Layton addresses supporters during a campaign stop at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)
NDP Leader Jack Layton addresses supporters during a campaign stop at the Indian and Metis Friendship Centre in Winnipeg on Wednesday, April 27, 2011. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

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NDP platform not far from competitors' Add to ...

On Bay Street, in academia, in newsrooms and living rooms, many are taking a closer look at just what, exactly, the surging party stands for.

This is leading to panicked warnings of lost jobs and nervous markets in some conservative corners. But a key point in the commentary is the fact that the NDP's platform is far more mainstream than it used to be. In fact, in some key areas like eliminating the deficit and boosting health transfers, the planks of the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals are identical.

As University of Western Ontario economist Mike Moffatt put it Wednesday, this is "not your father's NDP."

The NDP would keep personal and sales tax rates where they are. The corporate tax rate, however, would climb from 16.5 to 19.5 per cent. The big unknown is the NDP's plan to raise up to $7.4-billion a year through a yet-to-be-created cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse emissions. Mr. Layton doesn't call it a carbon tax, but companies that emit carbon (which is pretty much all of them) will pay it.

The first sign that Bay Street was taking note of all this came Tuesday, when BMO deputy chief economist Doug Porter's morning newsletter highlighted an EKOS survey showing the NDP could potentially win 100 seats.

"While that's certainly an 'interesting' result, it's not exactly market-friendly. In other words, hang onto your hats!" he wrote.

For those who share such sentiment, they can take some comfort in the fact that there's a fair bit of wiggle room in the NDP numbers. There are 16 spending items in the platform on environmental issues that are entirely based on new revenue from the proposed cap-and-trade system.

Mr. Layton has said that if the system takes longer to set up than planned, he will simply delay the related spending items. The NDP's pledges to boost Employment Insurance benefits also come with the caveat of "as finances permit."

Other pledges are more firm. The party says it would "lift every senior in Canada out of poverty immediately" in its first budget. In practice, that means increasing the Guaranteed Income Supplement by $700-million a year, rather than the $300-million hike in the Conservatives' dead-on-arrival 2011 budget.

The NDP insists it is willing to work with other parties in parliament - and in places its platform does overlap with others. For instance, all three parties say they will balance the budget within five years. All three also support expanded broadband Internet for rural Canadians, increasing health-care transfers to the provinces by 6 per cent a year and striking a harmonized sales tax deal with Quebec.

The Conservative and NDP platforms overlap in areas such as tax breaks for volunteer firefighters, tradespeople and the construction of more northern highways, whereas both the Liberals and the NDP pledge more funding for postsecondary education.

When it comes to how to pay for all this, the NDP runs into the same problem as the Liberals. Most of its new revenue will come from higher corporate taxes, but it is very unclear whether the $6-billion to $10-billion the NDP is counting on will materialize. Experts say some corporations can be expected to file taxes in countries with lower tax rates, reducing the tax base.

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