by Barry Weisleder
The defeat in the House of Commons of the most hated federal government in a long time triggered the fourth election campaign in seven years. Voters across the Canadian state go to the polls on May 2 to choose their pill for the continuing economic maladies. With unemployment at nearly 8 per cent officially (double that figure if one includes discouraged workers and the chronically underemployed), with each person on average $100,000 in debt, with homeless shelters and food banks strained to the breaking point, voters have much to ponder.
The Stephen Harper-led minority government Conservatives, mired in election financing and deceit scandals, booted from office for being found in contempt of Parliament for refusing to disclose the cost of their corporate tax cuts, and their plans for new prisons and stealth combat jets, are asking for a majority. Harper began his campaign in full attack mode, hyping the threat of “a coalition of free-spending opposition parties". He portrayed his agenda of social cutbacks, war spending, and gifts to the rich and powerful as “staying the course” -- this in the midst of a dismal economic 'recovery'.
The Liberals under Michael Ignatieff donned populist vestments. While skewering Harper's (twice) undemocratic suspension of Parliament, Ignatieff championed support for more child care spaces, and for more aid to students burdened with rising tuitions. He claims to be for stronger public pensions and health care. His hope is that the electorate will forget, or at least forgive the Liberal sponsorship scandal, the severe social cuts of Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin in the 1990s, and Liberal decisions to send the Canadian military and police to Afghanistan and Haiti.
Gilles Duceppe's Bloc Quebecois advanced its demands for more federal transfer payments to Quebec, downplayed the Bloc's commitment to bourgeois sovereignty, and put a 'progressive' veneer on its pro-system perspective.
The Green Party's Elizabeth May concentrated on trying to win a first seat for the party. Her policies would force working people pay for the mess created by capitalism, with a regressive carbon tax, and measures that favour 'greening' of the private sector. Notwithstanding her platform, exclusion of May from the TV leaders' debate, which is posed again, would be outrageous.
Jack Layton and the labour-based New Democratic Party thus had a golden opportunity to offer a refreshing and radical alternative. But Layton started off with the totally uninspiring slogan “take the strain off your family budget, make everyday essentials less expensive”.
It is commendable that Layton wants to help seniors, extend the ecoEnergy Retrofit programme for homeowners, remove the federal sales tax on home heating bills, and put an 8 per cent cap on the interest that can be charged by credit card firms. But this is comparatively light work. The timidity of these proposals reveals something else -- that the labour party brass is unwilling to reverse the huge tax concessions to big business of the past twenty years; that it lacks the courage to challenge the agenda of capitalist austerity. The NDP campaign shies away even from proposing to dismantle the country's war budget and end Ottawa's participation in US/NATO aggression. Sadly, this is reflected in Layton's decision to back the western intervention into Libya (see article below).
Given the failed state of globalized capitalism, the need for an alternative is evident. Instead of 'strained family budgets', the NDP should decry the one-sided class war being waged from the top down. It should stress the need to fight back with bold socialist measures, instead of paltry reforms. Workers who vote NDP in their millions have the power to shake up their party, toss away its Liberal-look-alike policies, and make the NDP fight for society's vast majority, the working class and the poor. Direct involvement in the NDP campaign now is critically important to that end.
Participation in a coalition government would be a dead end for labour and the left. Nonetheless, coalition is perfectly legal in Canada and common around the world. Harper's attempt to demonize the notion of coalition government is a crude attempt at self-preservation by exploiting political ignorance and anti-Quebec chauvinism (although the BQ has never actually been proposed as a coalition partner by any party). The fuss he's made over a possible Liberal-NDP coalition is doubly hypocritical because Harper proposed an alliance of Conservatives, New Democrats and the Bloc as an alternative to the faltering Paul Martin Liberal minority government in 2004.
Socialists oppose coalition for a radically different reason. Coalition with the Liberals, or with any capitalist party, would seriously undermine the tenuous organizational independence of the NDP as a party of the labour movement and working people. As a partner in a Liberal government, the NDP would have to carry the can for austerity and corporate bail-outs at home, and for imperial wars of occupation abroad.
The central issue today is neither the morality nor the behaviour of the Tories (repugnant as they are). It is the continuing capitalist crisis and the assault on working people. The answer is to make Capital pay for the crisis it created. If the goal is a just and sustainable society, it only makes sense to institute a steep tax on wealth, to reverse the corporate bail-outs, and to democratize the economy.
Instead of trying in vain to tame an irrational system, it is time to break the logic of the capitalist business cycle, to get off the tread mill of endemic waste and oppression. It is time to put an end to profit from war and environmental destruction. It is time to dump the whole G20 agenda overboard.
To that end, Socialist Action advocates a number of concrete measures, policies in the interest of working people and the vast majority of NDP voters, which the NDP should be pushed to advance:
Put people, and the preservation of nature, before profits. Nationalize the banks, mining companies, Big Oil and Big Auto. Create jobs through public investment, public ownership, democratic planning and workers' control. Convert industry, transportation, and homes to green energy efficiency. Rapidly phase-out nuclear power and tar sands development. Repair our disintegrating roads, bridges, railways and port facilities. Make Employment Insurance more generous and accessible. Raise the minimum wage to $17/hour. Shorten the work week to 30 hours without loss of pay or benefits. Double the benefits in the Canada Pension Plan and Guaranteed Income Supplement. Abolish student debt. Make all education free. Fund health care and the arts. No corporate bail-out. Open the company books. Steeply tax corporations, speculators, and the rich. Abolish the HST. Uphold aboriginal land claims and local self-governance. Abolish the Senate and institute direct Proportional Representation in Parliament. Stop the deportations, full rights for migrant workers. Impose boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israeli apartheid. End the occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti. Hands off Libya. Reduce the Canadian military to a disaster-relief and rescue force. Get Canada out of NATO now!
Capitalists complain about low productivity. It's a lie, and a diversion. It is also a delusion to think that economic expansion will fix everything, that there is a market solution to the recurring crises of capitalism. There is no market solution. The capitalist market created the problem. Only a social revolution can solve it. Only by taking control of the major means of production, only by instituting broadly participatory, democratic planning, only by effecting a rapid green conversion to meet human needs, fully in tune with nature, does humanity have a hope of survival.
That means challenging the pro-capitalist direction of the labour and NDP leadership. It means fighting for an NDP government committed to socialist policies. It means opposing an NDP coalition with the Liberal Party or with any capitalist party. It means fighting for a Workers' Agenda and a Workers' Government, and organizing to win that programme inside the unions and the NDP. It means fighting for freedom for oppressed nations, for eco-socialism, feminism and LGBT liberation.
None of that is possible without a leadership committed to doing it. Indispensable is the building of a revolutionary party to campaign for fundamental change, everywhere and everyday. Central to that is the forging of a new leadership of the working class and oppressed nations that can win. It cannot be done without you.
So, please don't wait for the next economic crash, or for the next environmental catastrophe. Isn't the situation dire enough? Rebellion is in the air, from Egypt to Wisconsin, from Venezuela to Palestine. Join Socialist Action. Together we can make the world a place fit for humanity.