McQuaig nomination challenges Mulcair’s policy

by Barry Weisleder
    When close to 400 New Democrats crowded a YMCA auditorium on September 14 to choose Linda McQuaig to be their candidate in the Toronto Centre federal by-election, they bucked a trend. The trend is exemplified by federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair’s embrace of the status quo: pipelines to the east, pro-Israeli apartheid foreign policy, reliance on the private sector to generate jobs, and no new taxes on big corporations and the super-rich.
    Particularly on the latter point, Mulcair now has a vocal challenger – one with a good chance of joining his parliamentary caucus. The labour-based NDP placed a close second to the Liberal Party in the riding in the May 2011 general election.
    Linda McQuaig, former Toronto Star columnist and author of many books on economic inequality, proclaimed after her nomination victory in Toronto’s downtown core that she has no intention of backing down.
    “They should pay more,” she told the Huffington Post on September 16. Over the past 20 to 30 years the very rich have got richer, but the proportion of taxes they pay has dropped.
“We definitely need higher taxes on the rich,” she said. “First of all, we need the revenue to do what we want to do and, second of all, we need a better distribution of income in the country. We’ve developed too big a gap between the rich and the poor.”
McQuaig co-authored a book with Neil Brooks, “The Trouble with Billionaires,” calling for steep marginal tax rate increases of 60 per cent for the rich — those earning above $500,000 a year — and 70 per cent for the super-rich — those earning $2.5 million a year — in order to address income inequality in Canada. The problem right now, McQuaig said, is that the top marginal rate kicks in at about $135,000 at the federal level but stays flat after that.
“So, whether you are earning $135,000 or $1.5 million or $3 million, you pay the same top marginal tax rate,” she said.
McQuaig rejects the claim that advocating higher taxes on the rich is political suicide for a party. She says right-wing arguments against tax increases — that the rich will flee and the use of tax havens would increase — have not proved true, and have only limited the capacity of the state to provide public services.
But Mulcair has categorically ruled out taxing the very rich.
“If you look at the combined federal and provincial rate in several provinces, it’s over 50 per cent,” Mulcair said. “With regards to personal income taxes, it’s not on the table to increase them. That is a consistently held position.”
    While McQuaig is no anti-capitalist, her articulate, well-documented and dogged insistence on a more progressive tax system marks her as a radical on the political landscape. Her policies on equality, housing and the environment may rally grassroots NDP members and voters against Justin Trudeau’s Liberals and Stephen Harper’s Tories, and also against an increasingly conservative NDP establishment.
    That’s why a bevy of party bureaucrats pushed and plumped for her opponent, former network TV journalist Jennifer Hollett.
    That made McQuaig’s win all the sweeter. And it opens up space for the party left, including the Socialist Caucus which actively backed her candidacy, to fight for socialist policies. The biggest winners in this episode are working class people who want more democracy in the party and in the unions, and who are looking for leadership in the fight against rising inequality and deadly austerity measures.
    The date for the Toronto Centre by-election is not yet set. But when it is, those who want the NDP to turn left should pull out all the stops to get Linda McQuaig elected MP.