NDP icon Stephen Lewis skewers Justin Trudeau and the Liberals for six policy shortcomings

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      NDP delegates at their convention in Edmonton have been fired up by one of the party's elders.

      Former Ontario provincial NDP leader Stephen Lewis outlined six reasons why he's feeling "ebullient" about his party's prospects against Justin Trudeau.

      That's because in Lewis's opinion, the governing party has "begun to fray".

      "That doesn’t mean the bloom is off the Justin rose," Lewis said in his speech. "It will last for a while longer. He’s a prime minister of amiable disposition and appearance. Sure, he’s riding high in the polls today, but that’s the most ephemeral thing in the world. The test comes on policy not aesthetics. And predictably, the Liberals are already shuffling backwards into the precincts of ignominy where they so comfortably reside."

      He cited six policy areas where the NDP differs from the Liberals. Read a transcript of this section of Lewis's speech below:

      First: Feminism

      It is a huge pleasure to have a prime minister who unselfconsciously calls himself a feminist. And the clever use of the phrase “It’s 2015” has now entered the lexicon of political memorabilia. But we have a message for the prime minister: feminism is a vacant construct without a childcare program across Canada.

      You don’t provide child care with a limited financial transfer to individual families. You provide child care as a matter of well-funded public policy, with spaces for all who need them and trained early childhood educators to staff them. In terms of social policy, there’s arguably nothing more important for this country at this moment. Someone has to tell the prime minister of Canada that the use of feminism has a hypocritical ring when the women of Canada, who play the central role in the raising of children, are denied the child care to which they are entitled as of right.

      Second: Electoral reform

      The prime minister has said, ad nauseam, that we will never again fight a Canadian election based on the system of ‘first past the post’. Bravo. Canadians, in various opinion surveys, have indicated a significant plurality in favour of change. And the change everyone is talking about is proportional representation.

      But there’s an ominous, unprincipled cloud emerging. In the guarded, cautious language employed by the prime minister it becomes clear, ever-so-clear, that there will be a variation on the present electoral process, but the variation will protect and benefit the government.

      You don’t need prophetic vision to know that we’re about to experience one of those brazenly cynical political moments: the sonorous sounds of desirable change will mask the self-serving manipulation of desirable change. It would appear that something called ranked ballots now has the inner track in the mind of the government, and to use Ed Broadbent’s evocative phrase, it would be like the ‘first past the post’ system on steroids. But it would be conveyed as qualitative change.

      I could say, “how disappointing”. Electoral reform is an issue whose time has come. Proportional representation cries out for implementation. But whom are we kidding? Do we really think that the government will relinquish the cozy asylum of political advantage? This is a fight we have to win: it should consume our collective energies.

      Third: Bill C-51

      Here’s the nemesis if ever there was one. This piece of hoked-up antiterror legislation, so excessive in tone and content, so contemptuous of civil liberties, so effectively lacerated during the course of the election campaign, is apparently sticking around, largely in its present form, to live another day.

      Our prime minister, having promised significant changes to the bill, is again subsiding into the shadows of incrementalism. You see, he didn’t mistakenly support the bill, and then scramble for redemption by suggesting there would be amendments. The prime minister truly and fundamentally agrees with the bill, and will offer only the most cosmetic shifts in wording and nuance.

      You have to smile, a grim tight-lipped smile. Liberals never disappoint.

      Fourth: Health care

      Herein lies one of the most distressing gaps in the budget. There is no provision for a redesigned funding formula for health care into the future. I remember all the way back to the Charlottetown Accord, when another survey of Canadians, attempting to identify our defining characteristic, revealed, overwhelmingly, that it was health care. That’s what Canadians most cared about. And I dare say, the same sentiments would be expressed today.

      It’s our issue. From Tommy Douglas to Roy Romanow, it’s our issue. We cannot allow it to be depreciated or trifled with. Modern, sophisticated economies, do not regard health as a soft sector. Public health lies at the very heart of the international Sustainable Development Goals; goals meant to govern public policy for the next 15 years; goals effectively ratified by every one of the 193 member states of the United Nations, Canada of course included.

      It is now finally understood, worldwide, that resources for health are the sine qua non of a civilized society, and the foundation of economic growth.

      We have so much ground yet to cover. The Liberal pledge for homecare appears to have been abandoned, and universal pharmacare is nowhere to be seen. Those are programs that we must pursue as though life depended on it because, in fact, life does depend on it.

      Fifth: International trade agreements

      The economist, Joseph Stiglitz recently said that he’d met with Chrystia Freeland, the Liberal Minister for International Trade, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in January. Now just to provide the context—and setting Stiglitz aside for a moment—the World Economic Forum is a gathering, overwhelmingly, of multinational corporate leadership with a sprinkling of politicians, and Bill Gates types, who engage in a protracted orgy of self-congratulation about how they collectively save the world.

      People who attend are not what you would call left-of-centre. Stiglitz is an anomaly. He apparently pressed on Chrystia Freeland the negative consequences of signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and according to Stiglitz she seemed to understand.

      Poor Joseph. How was he to know that he was taken down the Trans-Pacific path? Less than two weeks later, the Minister signed the TPP in New Zealand in the presence of twelve Pacific Rim partners. It was said to be ceremonial. It is said that extensive consultations will take place across Canada before there’s a House of Commons vote.

      Is there anyone in this hall who thinks the TPP won’t be formally endorsed by the government of Canada? Of course it will. The irony is that with both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders coming out against the TPP, it may not even be embraced by the United States.

      And rightly so. The TPP, as with so many other current international trade agreements, results in the loss of jobs—a possible loss of 60,000 projected for Canada—and the investor-state dispute provisions put at risk Canada’s autonomy as a democratic state. Foreign corporations, were they to claim unfair treatment, can effectively bypass Canadian laws and seek compensation from an international tribunal. And there is no appeal. These are ridiculous provisions—the ugly quintessence of corporate capitalism.

      But that’s not all. There is an even more pernicious aspect at work. As I learned, painfully, over the years involved with HIV and AIDS, one of the greatest benefits of these trade agreements is conferred on the brand-name drug companies. They negotiate and receive preferential patent privileges that undermine the manufacture of equivalent generic drugs. For the pharmaceutical industry, the trade agreements are a financial bonanza. For impoverished citizens of developing countries, fighting communicable and noncommunicable disease, they can be and often are a disaster. For countries like Canada, they will inevitably mean an increase in prescription drug prices.

      No Government of Canada should lend itself to the knee-jerk signing of the TPP. No Government of Canada, in this day and age, should embrace the discordant siren song of free trade.

      Sixth: Arms sales

      What in heaven’s name possesses the Liberal government to consummate the sale of light-armoured vehicles to Saudi Arabia? It reveals so much about this government, so much that cries out for an aggressive political response.

      The arms sale shows an astonishing contempt for human rights. Not only has the government of Saudi Arabia recently been excoriated by the United Nations for the conduct of war in Yemen—the wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter of civilian populations—but it’s also a country where beheadings of dissidents rivals the madness of ISIL. There is absolutely no guarantee that the weapons in question won’t be used, at some point, to assault the Shia minority within Saudi Arabia. We’re talking about a regime whose hands are drenched in blood.

      And of course that’s not all. The sale also directly contradicts stated Canadian policy. We’re not supposed to be sending armaments to countries that have a "persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of their citizens". Saudi Arabia is the embodiment of the meaning of the word “violations”. And the government of Canada refuses to release its so-called assessment of the human rights situation in Saudi Arabia. So much for the newly-minted policy of transparency.

      But perhaps what is most offensive and revealing in all of this is the proposition, oft-stated by the foreign minister, that the contract is sacrosanct: it can’t be broken. We know that Stephane Dion is a nice fellow. He must be privately writhing with the disingenuous guff he is forced to disgorge. We’re in the earliest stages of this sale, and the sale is overseen by the government. What do you mean you can’t break the contract? What you mean is that you won’t break the contract, and with the greatest respect, that’s just nonsensical claptrap. As is the proposition that if we pull out, others will fill the gap. Well let them. What kind of twisted logic is it that says we should cozy up to murderers because if we don’t, others will.

      And I know you will agree with me that there’s an additional matter that I wish someone would put to the prime minister one day in Question Period: what kind of feminism is it that sells weapons to a government steeped in misogyny?

      (The entire speech is available here.)

      Watch Stephen Lewis's entire speech here.

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