“Well, this is it. Stephen Harper has just quit his job as Prime Minister. Today, I’m applying for that job.” announces Jack Layton, leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada in an email to supporters. October 14th will be Canada’s 3rd election in just four years. After an entire year of speculation that the government could fall at any minute, it was Stephen Harper who broke his own fixed election date promise and pulled the plug in the end. We are facing harder and harder times but do any of the parties have a solution to the problems workers face?
Despite all of the editorials that look at the economy through rose tinted lenses, it is becoming hard to deny that the Canadian economy is being hit by the slowdown in the United States. How could it be otherwise? America is Canada’s largest trading partner and for all intents and purposes the two economies act as one. In the East, the manufacturing industry has been decimated. Hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs. In the West the forestry industry has all but ceased production. British Columbia’s largest (legal) industry has fallen apart as demand for lumber has plummeted due to the housing crisis in the United States. And the housing markets, which have been booming in recent years, now appear to be declining across the country. The Canadian economy has shed 40,000 full time jobs in the last two months and this is just the beginning.
Canadian workers are facing troubled times and neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have a single thing to offer them. They both supported the war in Afghanistan, first launched under a Liberal Government, then continued by the Conservatives. The war rages on as nearly 100 Canadian soldiers have been killed and scores more have been seriously wounded. The government has spent over seven billion dollars on the war in Afghanistan – money that could be used for free education, universal childcare or public transport. All of this despite the fact that poll after poll after poll shows that the majority of Canadians opposed this war from the start and continue to oppose it to this day. So much for the talk of building democracy in Afghanistan, perhaps they could start by listening to the people at home.
The Conservative and Liberal Agendas
The last two-and-a-half years of Conservative rule have seen a series of small-scale attacks on the working class. They cut corporate taxes while increasing military spending by a staggering $15-billion They teamed up with the Liberals to kill the anti-scab legislation, refused to bring in a national minimum wage of 10 dollars an hour, they scuppered the national childcare program and programs in support of aboriginal people. Under Harper’s watch, university tuition sky-rocketed along with student debt, and Alberta has been ravaged by an unplanned frenzy to develop the oil sands.
The other big business party in Canada has come up with a new plan to address climate change, or so we are told. Stephane Dion’s “green-shift” is supposedly designed to tax carbon emissions. They say that these new taxes will be offset by cuts to income tax. This usually means tax cuts for the rich. Under Dion’s plan a worker earning $45,000 a year with one child will receive a tax cut of about $43 a month. This is supposed to make up for higher gas prices, higher heating bills, higher electricity bills and of course increased prices on anything that has to be transported, which of course is everything.
The Liberal Party’s website says “To attract investment and create jobs, our plan will also see corporations having their tax rates cut so they can invest more money in reducing their own pollution and increasing their energy efficiency.” This sentence is so riddled with falsehoods it is difficult to know where to begin. Big oil companies and big polluters have been making record profits for years. Are we to believe that the reason they aren’t reducing their own pollution is that they don’t have enough money? That they need a hand-out from government so they can increase their energy efficiency? This is absurd. The reason corporations don’t clean up their act is simple; they consider it a waste of money. Every dollar that is put into anything other than making more money is a dollar wasted in the eyes of the capitalists. And if environmental regulations cost them extra money, they will simply pick up and move production elsewhere. This is why any plan to stop climate change is doomed to fail under the capitalist system. Without a nationalized planned economy, there can be no environmental planning. Dion’s “green-shift” is merely a way of shifting money towards the rich and away from workers, who have no choice but to drive to work and heat their home.
But the Liberal’s green scam isn’t the only reason not to vote for them. When it comes to slashing social programs and attacking workers, the Liberals have a record that is second to none. Under the Liberal government in the 1990’s we saw the largest cuts to healthcare spending in Canadian history. The Liberals had over a decade to prove themselves in power and they left government mired in scandal.
However, as they say, “you ‘aint seen nothing yet!” With the coming downturn the Conservatives are looking to follow the dictates of their corporate masters and institute whole scale attacks on the social wage. The Liberals work for the same people and they would be no different. The bosses will demand that the economic crisis be put squarely on the backs of the working class. There will be cuts in every social program, every small reform that workers wrenched away from the system. Privatization will come to the top of the agenda, probably starting with Canada Post. The last few years of long hours, few rights and poverty wages will seem like a holiday when they are replaced with government and corporate attacks, unemployment and privatization. The only thing that can stop this is the workers’ ability to organize and fight back through their organizations and parties.
Socialist Policies Needed for the NDP
Jack Layton kicked off the NDP election campaign with the main theme of “change” and with a populist anti-corporate message. "I'll act on the priorities of your kitchen table not just the boardroom table," he said. “I will stop tax-cuts for companies who don’t need them or who ship our jobs overseas… Instead of a place where growing corporate wealth benefits only the few, we can build a Canada that looks after one another.” This is a good start, but it needs to be backed up with concrete policies.
Jack Layton has been trying to paint the NDP as the real opposition. The Liberals after all voted with the government on every confidence motion put before parliament in the last two and a half years. Layton’s approach seem to be cribbed from Barack Obama, he used the word “change” almost a dozen times in an 8-minute speech. This is all well and good, but if the NDP copies Obama, whose call for change has zero content, people will start to see through the rhetoric.
We are yet to see what the NDP election platform is. There will be a massive disconnect between words and deeds if Layton’s “anti-corporate” measures are just restricted to stopping some bank and text messaging fees. This tinkering at the edges changes nothing fundamental about the system and will not save a single worker from unemployment and poverty. The Liberal Party and the Conservative Party (in one form or another) have traded power back and forth since this country was founded. If the NDP wants to break this pattern they need strong socialist policies that will meet the needs of the population. The Canadian working class is facing many serious problems, but no one is putting forward any answers.
We need a government that is prepared to immediately withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. We need to nationalize the oil and gas industry to allow a more sustainable development of the oil sands and to put the profits in the hands of the people instead of the big corporations. We need to immediately forgive all student loan debt that is holding down a generation and institute free tuition at all levels. We need to nationalize our auto industry to stop the massive layoffs and begin a public program to plan vehicle production and public transport. We need to take over the big banks to stop residential mortgage holders from being squeezed into default. We need a logging industry that is democratically planned by the people who run it, so that raw logs are processed in the communities they are grown instead of being sent to the third world to be milled in sweat shops. And most importantly we need an NDP leadership that is prepared to mobilize the population to implement this program.
If the NDP were to adopt the above points and mobilize a mass movement around them, this election could be won both on the streets and at the ballot box. Armed with a plan to truly meet the needs of the population, the NDP could soar to victory. They would be able to mobilize the millions of people that normally do not vote to come out and vote NDP. The crisis of the Liberal Party, reflected by the pathetic leadership of Stephane Dion, is a symptom of the crisis of the so-called “middle ground” in Canada. There is increasing class polarization and people are beginning to look for radical solutions. Just look at the recent riots in Montreal that were the result of decades of pent up anger and frustration against the system. Were these people looking for the status quo and more of the same? But without a socialist program the likely outcome is that millions of Canadian workers, youth, women and immigrants will stay home on election day. This election will see the highest rate of abstention in modern history, less than 60% turnout, unless workers are given a real alternative. If the NDP adopts a socialist program of action, October 15 will be a very different day in Canada. If the NDP presents more of the same, we can look forward to a period of hardship and intensified class struggle.
- Canada: Riots and instability in Montreal by Lorenzo Fiorito (September 5, 2008)
- Canada: Police Murder Provokes Riots in Montréal-Nord by Lorenzo Fiorito (August 20, 2008)
- Canada: Crisis in the Forest Industry by Fairfax Culpepper (July 17, 2008)
- Canada: GM’s betrayal of Oshawa workers - The law means nothing when profit is at stake by Camilo Cahis (June 26, 2008)
- Canada: 5000 Rally at Oshawa GM Truck Plant to save jobs - Blockade in its 10th day by Alex Grant in Toronto (June 13, 2008)
- Canada: 'Fightback' Visit to GM Blockade, June 4th 2008 by Julian Benson (June 13, 2008)
- Canada: Save the Oshawa Plant - Nationalize the Auto Industry! by Mike Palecek (June 5, 2008)