As the longest federal election campaign in memory lurches toward an end, the pickings are slim indeed for a libertarian. The major parties are racing to prove who can spend the most tax dollars, enact the most laws and insert the government most deeply into our lives. Frankly, the main challenge in writing a critique of their platforms would be staying within a reasonable word limit. But in the spirit of accentuating the positive, let’s try and showcase the best that we’ve seen from the three main parties during this campaign.
Most obvious is the Conservatives’ championing of the recently-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership, an enormous new free-trade zone that will cover 12 countries spanning four continents and make up 40% of the global economy. Setting aside his infuriating defense of Canada’s indefensible supply management system, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made freer trade a cornerstone of his economic platform. And while the TPP has serious shortcomings, such as broadening intellectual property laws, new opportunities to exchange goods and services with our fellow human beings will generally reduce prices, help the poor, and foster innovation.
Still on the economic front, Harper would maintain the increase in the annual contribution room for tax-free savings accounts to $10,000. If capital gains taxes cannot be abolished altogether, expanding the TFSA scheme is a passable second best option. The Conservatives have also floated the idea of introducing the concept of voluntary contributions to the Canada Pension Plan, a welcome (if incremental) move toward recognizing our right to spend or save our own money as we see fit.
The Liberal platform promises to overhaul the Access to Information Act to make government materials publicly available by default, expand the law’s scope, and curb fees to obtain documents. It also pledges to create a no-charge website to grant Canadians access to their personal information that is held by the government, introduce Parliamentary oversight of Canada’s national security apparatus, and increase the independence of the Parliamentary Budget Officer and other watchdogs. Since government secrecy allows the state to act without public scrutiny, each of these proposals would be welcome changes.
Other positives include the Liberals’ pledge to double the limit on the number of applications for parents and grandparents of immigrants that it will accept, make it easier for international students to study and remain in Canada, reduce fees for hiring foreign caregivers, and welcome more Syrian refugees. There is perhaps no restriction on human freedom more offensive than border controls, and any move to loosen them would be excellent news.
Finally, and most importantly, the Liberals promise to legalize marijuana. Canada’s War on Drugs has been milder than the American version, but is no less futile and immoral. By joining Colorado, Washington, and Alaska in making marijuana legal for personal consumption, the Liberals would adopt a long-overdue measure and make Canada a significantly freer and more just country.
New Democratic Party
It may surprise some, but the NDP has given libertarians as many reasons to smile as have the other parties. In response to the Conservatives’ cynical obsession with banning the niqab at citizenship ceremonies, leader Thomas Mulcair has offered a full-throated defence of a woman’s right to wear what she likes. This advocacy continued during the French-language debate, where Quebecers’ widespread support for the Conservatives’ stance meant that Mulcair’s safe political choice was to change—or at least fudge—his position. He has been an equally vocal critic of the government’s appalling efforts to strip Canadians convicted of terrorism (including a native-born citizen) of their citizenship. Given that anyone who receives this treatment will be immediately sent into exile-for-life, Ottawa’s actions in this regard are liberticidal in the extreme, and Mulcair’s principled opposition to them is both welcome and necessary. Finally, the NDP has taken a strong, consistent stand against Bill C-51, the Conservatives’ draconian security legislation.
While economics has never been the NDP’s strong point, Mulcair has also managed to inject some sanity into their platform by promising balanced budgets and no increases in personal income taxes. That may seem like thin gruel, but this is a party that until 2013 explicitly celebrated its socialist roots. Its rejection of deficit spending and higher income taxes is a massive step in the right direction and means one less voice advocating destructive, economically illiterate policies.
Do We Have a Winner?
Seeking to accentuate the positive in an election campaign does have a way of giving one a certain sympathy for pigs rooting for truffles in the mud. With the partial—and profoundly disingenuous—exception of the Conservatives, none of the parties are talking up liberty in theory, and certainly none of them are embracing it in practice. Over the past decade, Harper’s government has restricted civil liberties, piled on $150 billion of new debt, blocked foreign investment, and floated a surreal proposal to regulate prices into line with those in the US, just to name a few among countless bad policies. The Liberal platform is crammed from cover-to-cover with promises to create new programs, spend more borrowed money, and impose new rules on us. And the NDP’s proposals vary between marginally better and significantly worse.
The outcome of this election will determine not whether our liberties are in danger, but rather which among them is most at risk. Will our government compel us to hand over even more of our money to the state? Will it crowd out private services like daycare by imposing new programs funded with our own money? Will it threaten to make us foreigners in our own country and banish us overseas? In truth, the real ballot box question is, “Which of your freedoms do you value least?”
While the overall menu is unappetizing, there are at least a few palatable tidbits here and there. Whatever rights matter most to you, as long as you are willing to hold your nose and compromise the rest of your beliefs, you might be able to find an option that you can live with. And for those of you who can’t stomach any of the available choices, you can always join me on October 19 by spoiling your ballot.
* Adam Allouba is a business lawyer based in Montreal and a graduate of the McGill University Faculty of Law. He also holds a B.A. and an M.A. in political science from McGill.