By JEFF SALLOT
Globe and Mail Update
Toronto The NDP wants higher taxes for the rich, tax breaks for the poor and new federal spending on health care and other social programs that would total more than $30.3-billion a year.
New Democrats say the federal government can do all of this, in addition to balancing budgets and paying down the national debt, because the Liberals are "wildly" understating the size of the budget surplus.
"The fact is, they are hiding money left, right and centre," NDP Leader Alexa McDonough said Monday as she rolled out a party platform that calls for new spending to help the elderly, students, the poor, farmers and aboriginal people.
She said Liberal Leader Jean Chrιtien and Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day are ignoring real issues and instead are trying to make the campaign into a contest to see which of them is in better physical shape.
"It's like a competition of who can run up and down stairs faster or who can get on a raft without falling into the rapids. What the hell has that got to do with the issues Canadians are struggling with in their daily lives?" she said.
Undeterred by low poll numbers, Ms. McDonough said things can move around during a a campaign. The NDP will fight for its platform in the next Parliament even if it is not in a position to implement policy, she said.
The NDP platform would increase annual federal spending by $18.8-billion next year. New spending would increase further, going to an annual level of $30.3-billion if all the NDP proposals were fully implemented by 2004.
The centrepiece of the platform is health care. The NDP would introduce a limited prescription drug plan that would cost $2.3-billion a year.
This so-called pharmacare plan would pay for drugs for patients recovering at home after a hospital stay or with chronic diseases or facing catastrophic drug costs not covered by the patient's own drug insurance plan.
This is just an initial step, Ms. McDonough said, and eventually the NDP wants a national pharmacare program that is part of medicare.
With an eye on opinion polls showing Canadians' greatest concern is health care, the NDP calls for an additional $3.9-billion a year to be added to federal base funding. This would be in addition to the restoration of $4.9-billion in federal health transfers promised by the Liberals to the provinces in September.
The NDP health-care package would include $1.2-billion a year for a home-care plan to assist people caring for sick relatives who do not need hospital treatment.
Here are some of the other NDP proposals for new federal spending on existing or new programs, with the party's estimated annual costs by 2004 in brackets:
Postsecondary student programs including grants, interest-free loans, debt relief tuition-fee rollbacks to 1995 levels ($2.6-billion)
Job-training fund ($1-billion)
Child-care plan ($3.5-billion)
Housing strategy to build affordable non-profit units ($1.6-billion)
Environmental programs, including waste management and promotion of mass transit ($4-billion)
Farm-income stabilization ($1.2-billion)
Aboriginal health care ($750-million)
Foreign aid ($900-million)
The NDP would also increase annual spending on the CBC and the Canadian Forces by $300-million each.
The NDP would cancel the tax cuts announced in Finance Minister Paul Martin's pre-election mini-budget, cuts that Ms. McDonough says mostly benefit the rich and corporations. Instead, the NDP would bring in its own cuts, including a full federal tax rebate for all those earning less than $15,000 a year.
The NDP claims Mr. Martin's mini-budget would have put only $70 a year back into the pockets of those making $15,000, while its plan would be worth $886 to that same low-wage earner.
The NDP also calls for increasing the child tax benefit to help families with combined incomes of $60,000 a year or less. Families with incomes below $20,000 and with two children would receive a $8,200 benefit. The same family earning $60,000 would get only $4,200.
The NDP promises other tax breaks for low-income families generally those families bringing in less than $30,000 a year. These include increasing the GST tax credit to $200 a year. Disability and medical-expense tax credits would be fully refundable.
The NDP would impose an excess-profits tax on banks, charging a 20-per-cent tax on profits that exceed a rate of return of 10 per cent.
Ms. McDonough said she wants to plug tax loopholes, eliminating the GST exemption for brokerage fees, eliminating tax deductions for political lobbying costs, meals and entertainment expenses. She would increase tobacco taxes to 1994 levels.
The NDP also wants a new "millionaire's tax" on inherited fortunes of more than $1-million. Farms and small businesses would be exempted. Party officials say such a tax could bring in $3.7-billion in revenue if the rate is about 30 per cent, which is in line with a similar tax in the United States.
The NDP says it would also pay down the national debt by $4.6-billion during the next four years.