Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has just declared his intention to support the Conservative budget. In response, an angry NDP leader Jack Layton said that the NDP-Liberal coalition has been replaced by a Liberal-Conservative coalition. Jack is correct; however, we don't know why he is so angry. This line of development was entirely predictable. When the NDP leadership bailed out the Liberals through the unprincipled coalition they gave the Liberals the opportunity to save the Conservatives. The actions of the Jack Layton leadership of the NDP are directly responsible for saving Harper and his reactionary clique in Parliament. Layton should go.
Canada has been through two months of intense political turmoil and it is important to take a balance sheet of events. The Conservatives tabled a financial statement back in November that attacked workers, women and the right to strike, and now they are presenting a budget that still attacks pay equity while not allowing a single extra worker to claim Employment Insurance or get a childcare space. In addition, they undemocratically appealed to the representative of the Queen to shut down Parliament and help them save their necks. Despite all of this, the Conservatives have been able to survive. How could this have been allowed to happen?
New Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff went through the pretense of contemplating the budget before laying out his almost non-existent "condition" of a quarterly review vote. This is to be expected. In difficult times all of the capitalist parties band together to save their system.
The budget contains $85-billion of deficits over the next 5-years. However, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives this amounts to only about 1.3% of GDP. Compare this with the budget deficit of over 8% of GDP proposed by the Obama administration and you'll see how it is just a drop in the bucket compared to what is set to come in the future. In November of last year, EI claims rose an astonishing 12.3%, representing 48,700 laid off workers, and this is just the start of the recession. The devastation was the worst in the auto-industry town of Oshawa Ontario which suffered a 99.1% increase in claimants. Other towns with high levels of manufacturing were similarly afflicted.
We've said it before, but it could have been so different. The NDP leadership should have just voted down the Conservative financial statement back in December, while maintaining their opposition to corporate tax cuts and the war in Afghanistan. This would have led to the weakened Liberals either bringing down the Conservatives, or humiliating themselves as they propped them up. Either option would have placed the NDP in an ideal position to overtake the Liberals and offer a genuine alternative to the financial crash, unemployment and war proposed by the two parties of corporate Canada. Instead, they opted for a class-collaborationist coalition which saved the Conservatives.
There were a variety of responses to Fightback's call to defeat the Conservatives and oppose the coalition. Some said that you can't oppose the coalition as that would lead the Liberals to prop up the Conservatives. Well, that happened anyway, except that instead of the Liberals humiliating themselves by this action it is the NDP that has been used and discarded. Others said that opposing the Afghanistan war and corporate tax cuts were unrealistic "socialistic" demands if the NDP is ever to gain power. Leaving aside the issue of what is the point of taking power, or even having a separate party, if you are just going to adopt Liberal policy when in power, the NDP, by supporting the coalition, is further away from power than it has ever been. There were also a chorus of voices saying, "you can't oppose the coalition, that will lead to an election!" An election wasn't guaranteed, there could have been a minority Liberal government dependent on passing NDP policies for its survival. But even if an election were guaranteed, is this situation any better? Now we have a Conservative-Liberal coalition during the worst financial crisis since the 1930's and the prospect of a dreaded election striking at any moment! See where shortcuts and the supposedly "realistic" option of abandoning your principles get you.
The most disgusting spectacle was that, after the coalition started to fall apart and opinion polls revealed massive opposition amongst working class Canadians, the union bureaucrats and academic lefties who were the main promoters of the coalition refused to take any responsibility. Instead they blamed the ignorance the masses had in the Canadian constitution and bemoaned the poor state of political education. If nationalism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, blaming the workers is always the last refuge of a bureaucrat. In contradiction to their so-called "ignorance," the working class showed profound insight and quickly came to the conclusion that the coalition offered them nothing. They did not care whether it was legal or "constitutional," all they cared about is that it wasn't want they wanted. That led to a spontaneous mass rejection that proves the excellent class instincts of the workers against their bureaucratic, academic or middle-class leaders.
Even some so-called Marxists supported the coalition. We don't usually critique the left groups as most workers do not care for squabbling on the left, but in this one instance we thought it was important to go on the record. The Communist Party of Canada said the coalition was necessary to remove Harper (it saved him) and the International Socialists didn't have the guts to openly support or oppose the coalition, but gave tacit support while saying we should "make demands" on them. Those who think it is possible for a capitalist party to adopt positions that go fundamentally against the interests of Canadian capitalism have not just abandoned Marxism, but have abandoned any connection with reality. Opposing the Afghan war means opposing a coalition government pursuing that war. Supporting the coalition government means supporting the war. There is no way they could have squared that circle and there is no way to get away from the conclusion that the coalition saved the Conservatives, the war and the corporate tax cuts.
Over the last two months Layton has been quite busy building up his corporate bona-fides in preparation for sitting next to the Liberals around the cabinet table. Giving a speech to the businessmen of the Toronto Board of Trade on Jan 23rd, Layton said that workers will need "to take a pay cut so your friends at the plant can keep their job," (Toronto Star, Jan 23rd 2009). This is a disgusting attack on workers and combined with the coalition debacle it leads us to the conclusion that Layton has to go. It is already having negative consequences. Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton, who to his credit is opposing the back-to-work legislation against York University workers, was asked why he would take such a stance when the Federal NDP leader is calling for workers to take wage cuts. An embarrassed Hampton was forced to dodge the question.
The only upside to this sorry story is it appears that the idea of a Liberal-NDP coalition has been decisively discredited. Even Layton is now saying that the Liberals cannot be trusted to oppose the Conservatives. Ignatieff is just continuing on from where Dion left off, the Liberals have now propped up the Conservatives 45 times. But we knew this all along! None of this is new. What is new is that while the Liberals cannot be trusted to oppose the Conservatives, the Layton leadership of the NDP cannot be trusted to oppose the Liberals. He should resign so the party can redirect its policy to decisively defending workers against the global capitalist crisis. In the face of industry shut-downs we don't need wage cuts; we need to save these productive plants by nationalizing them. Even Newfoundland premier Danny Williams, despite being a reactionary nationalist demagogue, has shown that expropriating the corporations can be very popular. Workers cannot afford to live under this Conservative-Liberal government any longer, there are no short cuts, only socialist policies provide the answer to defeating the corporate parties.
- Canada: Parliament Prorogued - Liberal-NDP "coalition" saves Harper by Alex Grant (December 5, 2008)
- Canada: Defeat the Conservatives, no Liberal-NDP Coalition! by Alex Grant (December 1, 2008)
- 2008 Canadian Elections: Class Polarization and Missed Opportunities by Alex Grant (October 16, 2008)
- Canada: This Election, Break with the Bosses, be they French or English by IMT Quebec (October 13, 2008)
- Canada Goes to the Polls: Socialist Policies Needed by Fightback Editorial Board (September 9, 2008)