For Canadian elections, left parties urge green economy, social spending

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The country’s political parties are on the campaign trail in the wake of Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s recent surprise call for an election to be held Oct. 14.

Harper, who has led a minority government for the last two years, called the election because he said Parliament was dysfunctional.

The front-runners are the Conservative and Liberal Parties. The Conservatives are running on a platform emphasizing law and order. Taking advantage of widespread fear that crime is out of control, they promise a clampdown on crime and tougher penalties for offenders even though criminologists contend crime rates have been dropping since the 1970s.

The Conservatives also promise strong, stable leadership to help guide the country through a worsening economic environment. Mirroring the world economy, the Canadian economy is barely growing and unemployment is rising. They advocate more corporate tax cuts, incentives to promote innovation and the elimination of red tape. Harper also promises to cut fuel taxes.

The Liberal Party, which usually rules from the right when in power, is campaigning from the left, promising a carbon tax on all fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse gases as a centerpiece of its platform. Party leader Stephane Dion says revenue collected through the tax will be redistributed in the form of tax cuts for individuals and corporations. He also promises reductions in corporate and personal income taxes, investment in infrastructure and subsidies to manufacturers.

Dion also pledges to expand social benefits for low-income people and seniors, and accuses Harper of wanting to impose “a neo-conservative agenda” on the country.

On the left, the social democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) is promising to renew Canadian manufacturing, with a focus on creating a green energy sector. The NDP would halt corporate tax cuts and create a $2 billion fund to support manufacturing, especially of low-emission cars and trains. The party wants trade policies to protect the country’s withering manufacturing sector. It also proposes more social spending to combat poverty. Recent polls state that NDP leader Jack Layton is the second most popular choice, after Stephen Harper, for prime minister.

Running 25 candidates, the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) is making its “People’s Energy Plan for Canada” a centerpiece of its campaign. It calls for nationalization of the oil industry and massive investment in research and expansion of solar, wind and other forms of renewable clean energy, along with expansion of public transit, to combat global warming. It wants record oil profits to be used to fund the green retrofit of all buildings and homes.

The party is also campaigning to reduce the workweek to 32 hours and stop the privatization of Medicare, pensions, education and social services. “The CPC and its candidates will be campaigning for fundamental change that will place people’s needs first, not the profit interests of the corporate elite,” said party leader Miguel Figueroa.

The Green Party is campaigning for a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhoue gas emissions in industry and support for renewable energy, state support for the development of clean technology and a massive investment in public transit and rail service, higher taxes on the rich and big corporations, a 35-hour workweek, three-week paid vacations for all workers and more social spending to combat poverty and homelessness. The Greens are now at 10 percent in the polls — up from 4.5 percent in the 2006 elections.

The three left parties are taking aim at Harper’s policies. Over the last two years, the Conservative government has continued to erode healthcare and social services. It has cut taxes for large corporations while failing to implement measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The left parties are also campaigning for electoral reform that includes some measure of proportional representation. NDP leader Jack Layton said the country’s first-past-the-post system “leaves countless Canadians underrepresented in Parliament.”

In Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois is promising to defend provincial interests in Ottawa.

tpelzer @shaw.ca