On Campus

Jack Layton and retail politics

The NDP platform released yesterday further illustrates the change in tone of NDP electoral strategy, where the focus is away from ideology and towards retail politics. As it reads on page 12, the NDP would:

Reduce overcharging and hidden fees, and ban ATM fees for institutions regulated under the Bank Act, byrequiring more accountability and transparency from the cell phone companies, the banks, airlines and othercompanies. This will include ending unfair charges on incoming text messages.

Limit outrageous interest rates and fees charged by “fringe banks”. We will enforce existing regulations to limit the interest rates and fees that can be charged for services like “payday” loans, tax refund advances and cheque-cashing.

Cap the interest rates on credit cards to a maximum of 5 percentage points over prime by amending theBank Act.

Help alleviate gouging at the gas pumps through monitoring and regulating fuel prices at the pumps.

Regardless of whether such policies are good ideas, the question is whether they make for good marketing. I wrote a column about this question about a year-and-a-half ago, when Layton first introduced his plan to ban ATM fees:

“the announcement is a clear attempt to tweak Canadians’ ears by addressing an issue that they can easily understand. Who doesn’t despise paying $1.50 to withdraw money? Your own money, no less. The proposal has similar retail value as the Conservative decision to cut the GST. “

While much of my article was about how banning ATM fees makes little sense, particularly since white label machines are not covered under the Bank Act, my underlying argument was what has become one of the main themes of this election, captured nicely by Aaron Wherry: The NDP is no longer interested in being Canada’s conscience, they want your vote.

As has been argued ad nauseum, the Tory cut to the GST was awful policy, but it was great marketing. To what extent the NDP can capitalize on this reality of electoral politics, with its own version of policy marketing remains to be seen, but it just might work.

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