Balance the Budget: Neo Liberal Frame
There is an adage coming from proponents of re-framing technology that he who names the frame controls the game. To the surprise and dismay of many of the party faithful the central plank to the NDP election platform was to balance the budget. My reading of this was, Party Central were playing out their elect-ability doctrine, trying to occupy the middle. They wanted to dismiss the claim of the right that a vote for the NDP is a vote for economic mayhem. They were going to prove they were good fiscal mangers. It is as if the Federal NDP unquestionably adopted the neo-liberal frame foisted on them by the Transnational Corporate Ideologues.
The NDP emphasis on balancing the budget was such a gift to Trudeau. By exploiting this opportunity to campaign on running a deficit he could differentiate his party from the Conservatives, the NDP, the IMF and anti-austerity campaigns. The timing of this platform was perfect for Trudeau. Greece was battling the IMF austerity program. Iceland had succeeded in defying IMF imposed austerity sanctions. After years of Harper dismantling services to shrink government, Canadians wanted these services once again. Canada was in an economic downturn and a Keynesian solution requiring increased government spending was becoming more acceptable to educated Canadians. The message being successfully communicated by progressive economists, Armine Yalnizyan of Policy Alternatives and Jim Stanford from Unifor, was that running deficits was a wise choice for government under the current circumstances.
Canadians were also becoming more aware of the deleterious impacts climate change would have on global economies. Naomi Klein's This Changes Everything had been published and was receiving favorable reviews across the North American Continent. Canadians were increasingly educated to the fact that gradual reforms to a consumption based economy were inadequate. Gradual change would not maintain civilization in the wake of the climatic consequences of an economy bent on burning up the world’s supply of carbon. To many, the NDP policy to balance the budget signified an NDP government would not commit the funds needed to mitigate against climate change.
Prior to the election I published on YouTube an extraction of a speech Tommy Douglas made at a Federal NDP convention in 1971. Douglas gave a passionate speech encouraging Canadians to repeat what they did in responding to WWII and borrow from the Bank of Canada to build a caring society that provided for the weak and eliminated poverty. How ironic it was to hear Mulcair invoke Tommy Douglas in defense of his promise to balance the books, making the claim that when Douglas was premier of Saskatchewan, he successively ran balanced budgets.
Upon hearing the balanced budget platform I communicated my dismay with my MP and candidate, Craig Scott. Craig assured me balancing the budget would not lead to austerity measures and he had guarantees from Party Central. If austerity measures were needed to balance the budget, the budget balancing would cease to be a priority. He convinced me that by instating tax fairness policies we could invest in Canada's future and still balance the books. The NDP had a very realistic fiscal platform while Liberal policies were flaky and not thought through. However when I tried to convey this message to my circles the tide was against me. The narrative did not travel.
Trudeau was able to spend advertising dollars on World Series ads vilifying Mulcair as another Harper delivering austerity to the Canadian people. His positive message and associated halo effect were being competently delivered as CBC programming at no expense to the Liberal Party. My hopes that Mulcair would find a way of distancing himself from his balanced budget platform were not realized.
The elect-ability doctrine played right into the framework of neo liberal discourse of the past half century. Socialism was evil and capitalism was ordained by God. Team Mulcair assumed the cold war frame of left vs. right was the best explanation of reality available to them. They did not explore alternative understandings or seriously test the actuality of their assumptions. They had a certainty the winning strategy used by Obama in 2008 would work here in Canada in 2015. This certainty blinded them to the pulse of a rapidly changing Canada.
Team Mulcair’s focus on a strategy derived from a rational slow thinking understanding of ideas provided to them by the neo- liberal frame of reference, limited the options that were available to them. Preparations and cultivating tools for influencing the fast thinking of Canadians were not considered or given enough importance to provide the flexibility to change course when expected results didn't materialize. The doctrine of elect-ability as conceived by Team Mulcair created boundaries to thinking up solutions and imposed a distorted view of reality that was only tested in the heat of the election. The hard work of a principled opposition was set aside for the instrumental reasoning of elect-ability within the static universe provided neo-liberal ideologues.