Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Should Mulcair channel Hillary Clinton on the Ballot Box Question?

The 2015 election is already on, with Stephen Harper trying to choose the ballot question as anything but the poor Conservative performance in so many areas, the party’s blunders and scandals, and the fact that deep down so many Canadians still do not really trust his party and particularly him.

What is the Ballot Box Question?

Harper’s choice for the ballot box question is therefore this: Which party is the best to manage Canada’s economy? And which party leader is the best man to do so
Mulcair knows this, and he is trying to come to grips with it.

The economy has not traditionally been a strong suit of the socialist party, because the NDP has treated the economy as one of those things that just happens. It’s there, a given; the fun part is fiddling with the redistribution of the wealth created by the economy by taking it away from the rich and parcelling it out to the more deserving.

Where Beats the NDP Heart?

Some commentators are convinced that Mulcair will not be able to shift the socialist party from its historic redistribution slot on the political spectrum, to another slot where it can compete with – and beat – Harper’s new Tories. John Ivison of the 

National Post is one of them:

Mr. Mulcair clearly understands the economy is the forum where the next election will be won or lost. He has to show Canadians he can be trusted with the tiller. But in doing so, he may inadvertently show that the leaders of the two tribes are more alike than they would ever care to admit.

Ivison may he right with his assessment that in many ways Harper and Mulcair are cut from the same self-appointed-father-knows-best cloth, but he is dead wrong if he believes the economic hearts of the Mulcair NDP and Harper Conservatives beat to the same rhythm.

NDP Framing of the Ballot Box Question:

Mulcair has to move the perception of his party as being part of an international collection of anti-capitalist, touchy-feely, pro-internationalist collectivists, with an anti-nationalist bent, to that of a party whose critical mass is clearly in Canada, and prepared to put Canada first.

So far, Mulcair has tried this framing: Harper’s Tories are the party of privilege, of the rich corporations and rich Canadians. The Tories are redistributing tax funds to large corporations, including polluters. The NDP is the party fighting for the middle class (working families) and the unemployed. The NDP wants to create good jobs for ordinary Canadians.

Mulcair is challenging Harper’s boast about his economic record:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been boasting about his party's achievements since taking office in 2006, including the creation of roughly three quarters of a million jobs.
But Mulcair told the first NDP caucus meeting of the fall session of Parliament that Harper's economic record is shoddy, pointing to Canada's record trade deficit in July and massive household debt levels.

And Mulcair is playing the class card in his attack on the Tories:

“In Mr. Harper’s Canada, if you’re not a well-connected insider, you’re simply not on the radar,” Mulcair said.

“Despite 50 years of economic growth, Canadians are falling behind yet for the friends of this government, the tap is flowing as freely as ever.”

The Overlapping Issues facing Mulcair:

The Tory attack on the NDP is multi-pronged: The NDP is a tax-and-spend party. It is a socialist party, opposed to the making of profit and aimed at redistributing the taxes paid by hardworking, tax-paying Canadians to others. It will increase taxes through its carbon tax environmental cap and trade policy. It is against economic growth because it is opposed to free trade (even though Quebecers favour free trade), and is on record as not supporting any past free trade agreement.

Mulcair has to weave the various threads of his party’s policy into a coherent story, which will appeal to the hardworking burgers of heartland Ontario (not given in the past to radical socialist departures from the Puritan ethic of capitalism and hard work), on both a deep emotional as well as rational level.

While spinning the story, Mulcair has to reconcile at least the following policy positions:
Ø  The NDP’s opposition to free trade.
Ø  The anti-profit preamble of the NDP constitution, which still talks of nationalizing major privately owned assets, while opposing capitalism.
Ø  Exactly how the NDP will overcome the outsourcing, job-destroying impact on Canada of globalization, and create jobs in a way which differentiates the NDP from Harper’s Tories.

So far Mulcair has not been able to spell out a credible woven story that successfully bundles these factors into an overall story of NDP competence and programs. The response has been to itemize things, checking them off one by one (the LaundryList Trap and PolicySpeak Trap George Lakoff warns about)  without creating a frame that clearly contrasts the Tory beliefs and behaviour with that of the Dippers.

Calling Hillary Clinton:

Take free trade, for example. 
Hillary Clinton and Smart Trade

Mulcair could learn something from Hillary Clinton’s framing of the free / fair trade issue during her fight to be the Democratic candidate in 2008. 

Although she previously supported her husband’s NAFTA creation, and after her loss to Obama, supported his free trade treaties, during the Democratic primaries she came close to defining a position which is much, much stronger than any espoused by any Dipper to date (including the respectable defences of the party’s anti-free trade stance in Parliament by some of its MPs).

The issue facing America, the European Union and Canada is a simple one.

Globalization, with free trade riding shotgun, is the accepted wisdom of politicians and business people in these countries, for several decades now.

And yet the impact of globalization and free trade on Americans, Europeans and Canadians has in many respects been disastrous. It is clear for a long time that the policies adopted by the governing elites in those countries have succeeded in moving good manufacturing jobs out of those countries to other countries, where workers are paid substantially less.

This hollowing out of the manufacturing base has meant wages generally have been flat to declining for more than 20 years; skilled jobs have disappeared and been replaced by part time, unskilled McJobs; investment in new factories in those countries has plummeted; unemployment and under employment has risen substantially; energy has gone into fashioning financial instruments and loading risks onto banks and others, rather than into creating alternative employment opportunities to replace the auto, machinery etc. jobs that have been outsourced; and the alternative manufacturing opportunities (green jobs, computer jobs) have been a bust to date.

How to link support for globalization through free trade with support for new, high paying, good, fulltime jobs for Americans and Canadians?
Thomas 'The Framer' Mulcair

And how to do so in a way that ordinary voters will find the framing emotionally resonating, and understandable?

Here’s Hillary Clinton’s attempts to do so in the 2008 campaign – notice how she fleshes out fair trade (something the Mulcair NDP has not yet managed to do), links the concepts to outsourcing, includes the use of taxation as a shaper of the new policies, supports globalization, and finally squares the circle by supporting Buy-America policies:

We’re going to stop giving a penny of your money to anybody who ships a job out to another country. We’re going to begin to get the tax code to reflect what the needs of middle class families are so we can rebuild a strong & prosperous middle class. The wealthy & the well-connected have had a president the last 7 years, and it’s time that the rest of the US had a president to work for you every single day. We will have a different approach toward trade. We’re going to start having trade agreements that not only have strong environmental and labor standards, but also a trade time-out.

The nub of the problem:

And it’s important that we have an idea of how to maximize the benefits from the global economy while minimizing the impact on American workers.

Free trade, Fair trade or Smart Trade?

And here’s some Clinton framing that Mulcair could adopt – not free trade, nor fair trade (a nebulous concept at best and tough to define in a sentence or two), but smart trade.

And trade needs to become a win-win. People ask me, am I a free trader or a fair trader? I want to be a smart, pro-American trader. And that means we look for ways to maximize the impact of what we’re trying to export and quit being taken advantage of by other countries.

I believe in smart trade. Pro-American trade. Trade that has labor and environmental standards, that’s not a race to the bottom but tries to lift up not only American workers but also workers around the world. It’s important that we enforce the agreements we have. That’s why I’ve called for a trade prosecutor, to make sure that we do enforce them.

What about outsourcing?

We have to do several things: end the tax breaks that still exist in the tax code for outsourcing jobs, have trade agreements with enforceable labor and environmental standards, help Americans compete, which is something we haven’t taken seriously. 65% of kids do not go on to college. What are we doing to help them get prepared for the jobs that we could keep here that wouldn’t be outsourced--and find a new source of jobs, clean energy, global warming, would create millions of new jobs for Americans.

Clinton adopted the manifesto, "A New Agenda for the New Decade", calling for the writing  of new rules for the global economy:

The rise of global markets has undermined the ability of national governments to control their own economies. The answer is neither global laissez faire nor protectionism but a Third Way: New international rules and institutions to ensure that globalization goes hand in hand with higher living standards, basic worker rights, and environmental protection. U.S. leadership is crucial in building a rules-based global trading system as well as international structures that enhance worker rights and the environment without killing trade. For example, instead of restricting trade, we should negotiate specific multilateral accords to deal with specific environmental threats.

Hmmmm …. Compare Clinton's Third Way (rules-based global trading system) with George Lakoff's brilliant reframing of 'fair trade'.

Building blocks for the Mulcair NDP:

Here’s some straw and a few dollops of good clay for Mulcair to use in weaving that important, connected story.

He should consider these things:
      Hammering the hollowing out of Canada, with emphasis on the NDP plan to replace those now-lost fulltime, well paying manufacturing jobs that the other parties were complicit in allowing to be lost here (but the NDP opposed those free trade agreements). We’re innocent; the blood is on the hands of those others …
·       Defining fair trade or smart trade in understandable terms, with primary emphasis on how Canada benefits (and not just the workers in the less developed countries who will work for less). The key linkage here is to explain that such smart trade agreements are designed to raise living standards in the outsourced countries at a fast clip, until they approximate wages in America, Canada and Europe, thus narrowing the gap. 
·       Paint Harper and his new Tories as encouraging the race to the bottom.
·       And then explain how the NDP policies would raise wages and living standards elsewhere and thus rapidly encourage convergence with the have countries. This is the only effective answer to the limp TINA (There Is No Alternative) argument (so beloved by Maggie Thatcher and other free trade proponents).

To become the government, with a majority of seats in the new 338 seat House, Mulcair’s NDP will need to present to Canadians a compelling narrative that there is indeed an alternative to globalization and free trade as practised by Harper’s Tories – the NDP’s HIMA (Here Is My Alternative) to trump the governing TINA argument).

And the NDP will have to explain their HIMA in ways that voters react to emotionally.


  1. The Keystone GarterSeptember 19, 2012 4:13 pm

    I like the Garneau over Trudeau because Chretein got good (raising quality of living is my definition) by earning so many files previously. And we have very low R+D, a lack of present engineering and scientific aptitude in gov....
    The lifecycle gains of turning ethylene to fluidized bed CVD CNTs, and then battery cathodes is probably very high. Instead of gasoline and diesel, turning petro to plastics works if you pick the right products. For wind turbines the carbon cost is infinitesimal to the electricity you get.
    Right now 50% of Air Buses are made with plastics. Very little of Boeing planes are. So there is enormous market growth for turning oil sands + natural gas (need a hydrogen source or just go with the oil and ng or just ng) into plane parts for our trade partner.
    It is a little tricky but utility-scale batteries look like an ongoing process (in nations with a higher than 1.9% R+D rate)...
    for example, a barrier forms on anodes of one type of battery. Adding CNTs to the cathode might help remove it or might not....need the research. The nanomedicine alzheimers and parkinson's paper I just read came from a university in Turkey. This type of research should be of particular concern to Albertans who elected an insane alcoholic.

  2. The Keystone GarterSeptember 19, 2012 4:16 pm

    3 different scenarios: turning tar into thermoplastics (recyclable), turning petro into thermoplastics, and turning natural gas into thermoplastics....where is the best location for the refineries?
    and no, burning all the tar and causing Revelations isn't an option, silly AB.

  3. The Keystone GarterSeptember 19, 2012 4:52 pm

    ...sry for rant. My purpose was to mention the paper says aircraft engineers are retrained to make thermoplastic parts. I assume they used new engineers. This retraining would cost money and take time. Think about it: turning oil into recyclable thermoplastics.

  4. Thanks, Keystone Garter. Drop in any time. Like your comments. Have you started a blog about how to go green, or fight global warming, or something like that? You should think about it.

    If you do, let me know so that I can drop by every now and then.


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