Marc Garneau wants to know where Justin Trudeau stands.
Well, I hope to answer his question.
For a race that delves into so much self-analysis over its supposed lack of policy, the Liberal leadership race is simultaneously flush with it, and completely reluctant to talk about it.
So fear not, dear Canadian politics junkies, I’m going to hold your hands as we wander through the thick forest of rotting 20-year-old ideas, the desolate tundras of the idea vacuums, the thorny underbrush of meaningless platitudes and the strange, bewildering fringe policies that disorient and scare us.
FIRST, A WORD
The cheat sheet above is not meant to be an exhaustive guide to every candidate’s policy. It is supposed to be as comprehensive as possible, but I am but a lone mortal.
There is a certain level of editorial control on what goes into it — I, for example, excluded much of Martin Cauchon’s so-called policy because it was little more than meaningless catchphrases.
The speadsheet above is also a composite of only the candidate’s websites, and their AMAs. So those whose who have yet to do an AMA (Trudeau, especially) look a bit lighter.
I will hopefully, in the near future, be going back through the debates and pulling out specific policy ideas. Likewise for various op-eds and interviews the candidates have done.
If I’ve missed a significant policy, or if you represent a campaign and want to give me your secret hidden agenda, feel free.
The wisdom prevails: Trudeau is light, airy, breezy on policy.
That’s half true. Certainly Trudeau is no substantive juggernaut, but he’s not without his ideas. And, as you can see from above, he’s doing at least as well, if not better, than Martha Hall Findlay in taking a stand on the issues of the day.
Certainly Trudeau isn’t quite the ideas man that Garneau is, but he doesn’t want or need to be.
His current sketch of a platform is probably enough to fend off attacks from Garneau, but he’ll likely have to release more in the future if he wants to look like more than an outline of a politician.
Trudeau does highlight the need to engage in more consultations — with First Nations, for example — but because that doesn’t amount to an actual policy, it’s not included above.
Trudeau ha also been able to manage to define himself on little things. He has come out in support of foreign direct investment on the CNOOC deal, against reviving the long-gun registry and for keeping the senate as-is. Those are some very small-c conservative ideas, wrapped up in very progressive rhetoric. That’s a very old-school Liberal message that looks very good on the young Trudeau.
His emphasis on democratic reform is encouraging. His views on fixing government might not be as fleshed out or innovative as some of his colleagues, but he hits a few notes that nobody else does, and his online public forum is an interesting touch, adding credence to the idea that he wants to engage, not just lecture.
His post-secondary education plans, too, show nuance and comprehension. This, being his most recent policy statement, might be a sign of more depth to come.
For the ideas man, Garneau doesn’t have many big ideas.
Considering he’s demanding that Trudeau present a big, national plan, Garneau seems oddly contended with proposing niche policies that do little to strike to the heart of many issues. Eliminating payroll EI taxes for youth, for example, is like handing a Shamwow to a flooded town.
And some of those niche ideas aren’t even good. His aim to re-vamp the Student Loan Program, by extending the grace period to pay back the principal without interest, is awful. Student groups have been demanding for years that Ottawa stop tinkering with the loan program and move some of the attention and resources to up-front tuition reductions. Garneau also alludes that he’d like to look at the Repayment Assistance Program (RAP), a plan within the loan program to allow low-income students help and extensions for paying off their loan. Indeed, even in his backgrounder, Garneau references a plan that does not seem to be published.
I was a tad curious about Garneau’s plan, so I did some costing.
In 2010-2011 (the last year we have a report for) the loan program had about $14 billion in outstanding debt. The cost of the RAP ran about $320 million. Now, Garneau’s plan — or, what I can delineate from his plan — would expand the RAP and simply delay the repayment process for everyone else. That means that the cost of the RAP would increase by untold amounts, and the outstanding debt would increase, but the only actual cost to the government would be an opportunity cost. The government would stop collecting interest, and wait longer to get the money back.
There’s a hiccup, here; the current limit on the outstanding debt is $19 billion. Every time it’s raised, student groups get madder. The idea of ballooning that limit — probably, doubling — under Garneau’s plan probably won’t look very good.
The student loan hiccup aside, I look forward to hearing about more detailed policy from Garneau.
Martha my dear.
For a candidate so often lauded — by myself included — as a policy wonk, Hall Findlay has painfully little in the way of actual policy. Her website is mostly full of meaningless papers full of buzzwords and spelling mistakes. Trying to pull policy from her position papers is like finding a mouse in a pile of sheep.
Maybe the most worrying is that Hall Findlay has posted every policy paper and op-ed she wrote during and after he failed 2006 leadership rather, further leading me to believe that this attempt is a Kill Bill-styled revenge plot to exact vengeance on the party that wronged her. I neglected to read any of her old policy papers because I do not believe that any policy should just lay stagnant for almost a decade before being trotted out again like some timeless classic.
Perhaps the only unique policies that Hall Findlay has proposed have been around supply management (yes, we get it, Martha), senate reform and GST increases. The latter two are conditional and are unexciting, at best.
The policy wonk that nobody expected.
Joyce Murray probably has the most innovative policy of any of the candidates. From overhauling our medicare system into some hippy-dippy commune style wholistic clinic to her open government initiates, Murray probably has the most detailed and thought-out policy planks of any of the candidates.
Which is why it’s such a shame that she’s hung her hat so solidly on the controversial idea of joint nominations. As I’ve written before, the move seems like more a public relations stunt than a viable policy, and that’s rather tragic. Murray represents a broad swath of the urbanite, educated Liberal base that don’t identify with Trudeau’s cult of personality, nor with Garneau or Hall Findlay’s brand of economic liberalism. They like the party of bold ideas an innovation, and are but a light breeze away from going New Democrat. Add in some professional activists based in Toronto me Vancouver, and Murray has a base. Unfortunately, her joint nomination scheme turns off a lot of hardened politicos, and ultimately eclipses her bright ideas on fixing the country.
What is there to say about an invisible man?
Perhaps Cauchon decided to phone it all in after the massive nostalgic Chretien-loving groundswell didn’t materialize following his presumptuous late entry. Instead he was met only with bemusement and indifference.
His “policy” positions are vague allusions to Liberal values circa 2003, and his website offers only suggestive allusions to things he would actually do as prime minister.
Perhaps it’s somewhat a matter of principle, but I refuse to acknowledge any policy positions that Cauchon has taken. Because he hasn’t taken any.
From the man with no policy, to the woman with too much.
It feels like Coyne struggled so hard to establish herself as the policy wonk candidate, that she didn’t even bother vetting any of her proposed policies beyond herself, her cat, and a friend she tricked into joining her campaign.
While I applaud Coyne for bringing forward ideas, it all feels a bit academic. Having read through all 23 policy papers that Coyne released, I can brag that I am probably one of a dozen in the world to do so.
And, given this place of questionable privilege, I can say that Coyne’s policy book feels like it was written by an Austrian economist who has never heard of Canada.
Take, for example, her proposal to simply overhaul our equalization formula, with the implicit objective of ensuring that Quebec no longer hoards federal money to use on its harebrained schemes. Coyne suggests that the best model may be to give out equalization on a per-capita, instead of per need, basis.
Quebec currently gets half ($8 billion) the equalization pot. It has less than a quarter of the population. While Alberta might stomp its feet and howl at the current reality, cutting Quebec’s equalization payments by half is a sure-fire way to double the support for sovereignty overnight.
I didn’t see that mentioned in Coyne’s fluffy staunch federalism position paper.
And, as if pissing off the entire province of Quebec wasn’t bad enough, Coyne also suggests doing away with EI zones — a system of eligibility and regulations crafted with an understanding of the economic situation in the region. In other words: eligibility and benefits in Cape Breton are different than in Calgary. Such a move would piss on the entire East Coast, again, making their 1997 drubbing in the Atlantic look like a light slap.
But Coyne’s ideas are, let’s face it, lacking substantive review. Her campaign is understaffed and underfunded. Some of her ideas are remarkably bright — she shows a broader depth of understanding of First Nations issues than any other candidate — and should use her considerable knowledge to push the other candidates into talking more about their own policy, instead of actually trying to, you know, win.
Bertschi, like Hall Findlay, seems to fancy himself a smart guy with a policy book voters can get behind. Except he doesn’t have one.
Bertschi’s “platform” is like a parody of itself. It is a series of meaningless phrases like “Canada at home” under which are a series of even more nebulous phrases like “health care,” all under the guise of “restoring the Canadian advantage.”
It seems confounding to me that you would enter a race that you have no chance of winning, only to bring absolutely nothing to the table.
David Bertschi is a poor man’s George Takach.
Takach is a perfect niche candidate.
Basically running to lock up the Reddit vote, Takach is running on the ideas of open internet, a digital economy and free trade. On all of those things he has detailed, nuanced policy that makes a tremendous amount of sense. He is a value to any national discussion.
Some of those positions, however, tend to look a little myopic. His belief that our foreign takeover regime should be unfettered and entirely unregulated — baring instances where the RCMP and CSIS believe that the deal risks national security — is slightly terrifying. Takach flatly rejects that a net benefit test should exist — he languidly tosses aside that there should be a cost-benefit analysis for massive financial transactions that could have untold impacts on the broader economy. That’s not good.
Being pro-enterprise is great. Yet being blindly so is worrying.
Just the same, Takach is a smart candidate who offers something to the debate, if he’d ever stop his arrogant self-promotion and constant jabs at Marc Garneau. He went to space. We get it.
Oh Karen McCrimmon.
A fascinating person with an inspiring story, McCrimmon feels like a candidate that showed up two decades too late.
With seemingly no resources and little understanding of a new-age leadership campaign, McCrimmon has taken only vague approaches to important national policy questions. Rather than create a page for her beliefs, she posted excepts from her announcement speech and attached some slides from her PowerPoint.
There’s not much else to say other than: PowerPoint.
FINALLY, A WORD.
The candidates need work. There are several — Cauchon, Hall Findlay, Bertschi, McCrimmon — who have, thus far, failed to explain to us why they’re in the race. They have neither proven that their leadership experience is adequate, nor that they have the ideas needed to bring the country onto the right path.
Not to say that the others are off the hook. All the candidates have grabbed the low-hanging fruit — preferential ballot, clarify foreign takeover deals — while only offering platitudes and vagueness on other major concerns, like foreign affairs and immigration (“family reunification” is not an actual policy unless you detail HOW.)
Joyce Murray is perhaps the only candidate proposing interesting an innovative policy. Justin Trudeau is probably the only one living up to his own hype on the plan he is proposing — insofar is that he really isn’t professing any plan, other than the, I suppose, altruistic goal of listening to Canadians.
It’s unclear exactly what the solution is. It’s nice to see that the candidates are taking to forums like Reddit to answer direct questions, but there hardly seems like an avenue less accessible than Reddit to find out the candidates positions. There was some hope that the debates would allow for a robust discussion of ideas. That didn’t happen. In any way. At all.
So it’s come to the point where the hoard of Garneau, Hall Findlay, and the nobodies are demanding a real race based on open discussion, but have failed to actually explain why. A race between Trudeau, Murray and Takach would probably prove more fruitful to the future of the Liberal Party than the clown car of wannabees that are currently tripping over themselves.
Maybe the candidates will turn themselves around. Maybe Garneau and Hall Findlay will come out with more policies. Maybe some of the also-rans will drop out. Both seem like good remedies to revive this flat-lining discussion and revive the moribund party that had a new idea once, like, four years ago.
And what the hell is with fawning over the stoner vote, guys? Do you think it makes you look cool?