Millions of workers and youth are looking for a way to overthrow the Harper Conservatives. After almost 10 years in power, the Tories are being dragged down by corruption, secrecy, vindictiveness and now they are presiding over a new recession. The key question is: how can we get rid of this capitalist government?
[This article was first published on 22 August 2015 by Fightback]
It is hard to list all the reasons why the Tories must be defeated. Currently they are embroiled in the Senate expenses scandal, which is daily draining away support for the party. However, there are so many other reasons to oppose this government. Under the Conservatives, the right to strike for employees in the federal sector has effectively been eradicated. Rail workers, dock workers, air travel and postal workers have all faced back-to-work legislation or the violation of their rights – sometimes even before a strike has begun. They have victimized immigrants with two-tiered citizenship laws. They have enacted so-called “anti-terrorism” legislation that targets First Nations, environmentalists and trade unionists. They have attacked wages, benefits, and social services for the needy in order to fund tax cuts and bailouts for the rich and corporations. In turn, inequality has massively increased under their tenure. Public services have been cut for seniors, veterans, and - significantly - door-to-door mail is being eradicated. They have waged wars in the Middle East to further strengthen Canadian imperialism against workers and the poor at home and abroad. A new belligerence in foreign policy has led them to be the most fervent supporters of the crimes of the Israeli ruling class and the fascist-backed Ukrainian regime. And to top it all off, instead of easing off their voter suppression from the 2011 election (as seen during the “robocalls” scandal), they are ramping up their attempt to fix the vote with their (un)Fair Elections Act. This government must go!
Harper is trying to win this election by scaring the electorate with terrorist bogeymen and spending the money of his corporate buddies. He has manipulated the rules to prolong the election and out-spend his opponents. Ironically, such a tactic may backfire as a longer campaign gives voters the time to see through the lies and distortions of the Tory attack machine.
“Anybody But Conservative?”
What is the alternative? Some groups have detailed the (very real) crimes of the Tories and proposed an “ABC” (Anybody But Conservative) strategy. Leftish groups like Leadnow and Voteswap.ca are sadly being joined by some union leaders who say things such as “we’re not telling people how to vote, just don’t vote Conservative”. This is an essentially flawed strategy, which in effect leads to a vote for the Liberals. The Liberals are fundamentally no different from the Conservatives. They are the preferred party of corporate Canada, having ruled the country longer than any other. The largest cuts in Canadian history did not come from the Conservatives, but instead were enacted by the Liberals in the 1990s. They are the party of the Afghanistan war. They are the party who initiated the drive to cut corporate taxes, while the Conservatives merely continued the process.
Traditionally, the Liberals campaign from the left in order to dupe the population and govern from the right. Unfortunately for the Liberals, and fortunately for the rest of us, Justin Trudeau was too incompetent to remember this basic ploy. By supporting Bill C-51 - the “secret police” bill that allows CSIS provocateurs to infiltrate activist groups, violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and break the law - the Liberals let people know their true colours. Since then their support has plummeted from approximately 40 per cent to the mid-twenties. At the same time as calling for a “strategic” vote, Leadnow was waging a campaign against C-51. How they can reconcile that contradiction is anybody’s guess. Even the Liberals’ plan to implement a new tax bracket for those making over $200,000 is another con. They say they will use the revenue to cut taxes for the “middle class” when instead they plan to cut the middle tax bracket. This means that those earning less than $55,000, two thirds of workers, gain nothing while the biggest absolute benefit goes to well off individuals bringing in just under $200,000.
“Strategic” voting is not even strategic. As seen by the results of the 2011 federal and 2015 Alberta provincial elections, it is impossible to determine who strategically to vote for. With this approach the New Democratic Party would never have made these breakthroughs and the movement would be far further behind than where it is today. In fact, in addition to C-51, the Alberta NDP victory was essential in breaking through the anybody-but-Conservative fog and allowing people to support the class-based alternative to the Tories, the NDP.
For the first time in the history of Canada, there is an opportunity for a party founded by the trade union movement to win federal government. This is a significant development that already has some of the bourgeois scared. In an article titled “An NDP win would bring massive financial uncertainty”, Gordon Pape predicted an NDP government would lead to “downward pressure on the loonie” and “a sell-off on the TSX”. In Alberta, the NDP government is already coming under threats of sabotage, red-baiting and a capital strike. This, if nothing else, tells us that the bosses understand their class interest and the class base of the New Democratic Party. On this basis, the most basic way to defeat Harper, and corporate Canada, in this election is to vote NDP.
However, we should understand that corporate Canada has no problem with Tom Mulcair and the leadership of the NDP. We shouldn’t forget that Mulcair said Margaret Thatcher was a “wind of liberty and freedom”, when he was a Quebec Liberal. What they fear is the rank-and-file, the organic link to the unions and the wider link to the working class. The NDP is far more amenable to pressure from the workers and therefore is not a reliable government for the capitalists. The historic defeat of the corporate parties will be seen as a victory for workers and will raise their confidence to struggle.
It is instructive to note that after Mulcair won the leadership and moved rightwards there was a rapid erosion of support for the party. After removing commitments to social ownership and socialism from the NDP’s federal constitution, and declaring that the NDP would cut “with a scalpel” and not a machete, the party went down to its traditional 20% support and lost a series of by-elections and provincial votes. Only when the party began proposing a series of modest reforms - a $15 federal minimum wage, $15-a-day childcare, increased corporate taxes, abolition of the Senate, opposition to Harper’s wars and terror legislation - did the NDP move up to first place with its current standing in the mid-thirty per cent range.
It is impossible to predict the final result of the election, but it is clear that the key to victory is by promoting policies seen as “left” in order to mobilize and enthuse the broader working class. On this front there have been mixed results, with Mulcair also supporting small-business tax cuts (which ends up being a huge give-away to rich individuals who incorporate themselves as small businesses), spending $250-million for an extra 2500 cops, and the anti-democratic blocking of those making pro-Palestinian comments from being NDP candidates. These moves just serve to weaken the possibility of victory and demoralize the base. Clear left policies are essential if the anti-Conservative vote is to coalesce around the NDP and push the Liberals down as merely Tory-lite.
If present levels of support remain stable, which seems highly unlikely given the back-and-forth of the campaign, the NDP would win a narrow minority victory. On this basis it is vital that the party does not jettison the reforms in its platform and form a coalition with the Liberals. This would be a finished recipe to discredit the party and save the Liberals by showing there is no fundamental difference in practice. In fact, to consolidate power and win the next election, the party would have to go further than its already modest policies and reverse the cuts and inequality of the Harper years.
Crisis and Austerity
If the Tories or the Liberals win the election, a new and more extreme form of austerity will be on the agenda. Canada is in recession and the capitalist parties will enforce the will of their masters: that the workers must pay for the bosses’ crisis. Canada has entered a downturn before the majority of advanced economies, and yet there are serious dangers to the world economy from Greece and the European debt crisis, in addition to China. If the world economy takes a plunge it is likely to turn Canada’s currently mild oil-sector led recession into a deep slump.
If the NDP wins they will come to power at the worst time imaginable. There will likely be a honeymoon period of jubilation at the historic victory, but the slump will erode government finances. In January, the oil price crash alone was set to take $4.3-billion out of the federal government’s coffers, and that was on the basis of the price rebounding to $60 in the second half of the year. Now oil is projected to remain under $50 for 3 years or more. Add to that a generalized recession and it puts the entire NDP platform in question, no matter how modest it is.
An NDP government would also face the opposition and sabotage from the capitalists. The aforementioned article by Gordon Pape in The Globe and Mail already highlighted the consternation in Washington over what they would see as “a socialist take-over” of their northern neighbour. The hysteria from the Alberta oil barons shows us how we should expect Capital to react. This is exactly the response elicited by the Bob Rae Ontario NDP government of the 1990s, where there was a coordinated investment strike to bring down the provincial New Democratic government.
The $15 federal minimum wage would come under fire as “unaffordable” in a recession, even though it affects relatively few workers. Similar attacks are occurring in Alberta, and already the provincial NDP government has given unacceptable concessions by instituting a long phase-in. The right-wing fear that a federal minimum wage would be an example to workers generally. We believe that this good example should be promoted with every provincial NDP wing adopting $15 or more.
The $15-a-day childcare plan must be negotiated with the provinces and therefore there is significant room for delay and sabotage. Just like Rae’s Ontario NDP abandoned its marquee reform of public auto insurance, in conditions of capitalist slump this plan may never be realized. On the democratic front, abolishing the undemocratic Senate is a vital measure, but it is practically impossible while remaining within the confines of Canadian capitalism.
Fight For Socialism!
The spectre of the betrayal of the Bob Rae government hangs over the federal NDP. This has nothing to do with the so-called good or bad qualities of this or that leading figure, but instead comes from the logic of capitalism in crisis. An NDP victory would mark a defeat for the corporate parties, and therefore we advise against abstensionism – no matter how well intentioned. But neither do we recommend a passive NDP vote.
Faced with an economic downturn and possible capital strike, all of the reforms in the NDP platform become untenable. Alternatively, in order to afford the stated reforms, even bigger cuts will need to be made elsewhere. Bob Rae massively attacked the public service and instituted unpaid “Rae Days”. The reality is that as long as the party remains on the basis of capitalism, such austerity is inevitable. The Alberta NDP is already projecting a $5.4-billion budget deficit and a wave of departmental belt-tightening. This was the choice faced by the French Socialist government and President Francois Hollande, who came to power promising reforms and taxing the rich, but was forced to betray the workers and Hollande is now the most unpopular president in French history. The Nova Scotia NDP failed to deliver improvements for the working class and was unceremoniously dumped by the electorate. Even reformism of a left variety, like Alexis Tsipras in Greece, was forced to betray their program due to the logic of capitalism. Before SYRIZA in Greece there was the social-democratic PASOK. They won 44% of the vote in the 2009 election. On the basis of instituting austerity, PASOK is barely surviving with 4 per cent of the vote. This is a possible future for the NDP if it does not reject capitalism.
Therefore, those who look to defeat the hated Harper Conservatives need to start organizing now for the next stage of the struggle. The first task is to defeat the Tories, the next task is to defeat austerity. Only a mass movement of workers and youth can counteract the opposition of the bosses and ensure that the positive reforms in the NDP platform are implemented. This movement must necessarily reach both inside and outside the NDP, with the unions playing an important role. Only a mass movement can stop the (potential) NDP government from capitulating to corporate interests and attacking the public sector and the wider working class like Bob Rae’s Ontario NDP government.
In the final analysis, if such a mass movement is to defeat austerity it is necessary to promote an alternative society that does not base itself on private profit for the few. On the basis of capitalism, austerity is inevitable. Only a socialist society, with production for need, can ensure an end to austerity. Such a mass movement would shake the workers’ organizations to the core, including the NDP. Those not willing to break with capitalism will likely split away to unite with the Liberals. Those willing to stand up for the working class can provide the basis for a revolutionary overturn of society on a mass basis.
Canada stands on the threshold of a historic overturn – an overturn that opens up a new and turbulent period for the class struggle in North America.