Canada: Parliament Prorogued - Liberal-NDP "coalition" saves Harper

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just shut down Parliament until the end of January. However, it appears that this blatantly undemocratic act is popular across the country. Why? Because the maneuvers of all the parties have completely disgusted Canadians. The sell-out deal between Liberal leader Dion and NDP leader Layton was completely incapable of raising any enthusiasm amongst the working class.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just shut down Parliament until the end of January. However, it appears that this blatantly undemocratic act is popular across the country. Why? Because the maneuvers of all the parties have completely disgusted Canadians. The sell-out deal between Liberal leader Dion and NDP leader Layton was completely incapable of raising any enthusiasm amongst the working class. As soon as the “Coalition” was formed, it entered into crisis. Now, Harper has bought himself seven weeks to save his reactionary anti-worker regime and the blame lies with the class-collaborationist coalition. It could have been so different.

Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper
Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper

The feeling of the Canadian population is abject disgust: from the Conservatives, who attack workers and women while playing political games, to the Liberals under the pathetic leadership of Dion, to the NDP leadership who are willing to jettison all of their principles in order to gain a few cabinet seats. The events of the last week have opened up serious cracks in Canada’s bourgeois “democracy”.

In no rational democratic system would Harper be allowed to shut down the so-called house of the people in order to avoid a no-confidence vote. Capitalist democracy is neither rational nor democratic. The unelected representative of the Queen, a feudalist monarch, ends up being more powerful than the majority of the elected representatives. These events have shown that no-matter who you vote for, the rich and powerful always win. No wonder 41% of Canadians do not vote.

The coalition plotters thought they had it all sewn up. However, in a repetition of the Liberal leadership contest of 2006, they couldn’t decide who would lead and so the hapless Stéphane Dion stepped forward by default. Combined with the sell-out by the NDP on Afghanistan and corporate tax cuts, workers were left asking themselves, “Why on earth should I support this strange hybrid creature of a coalition?”

Polls revealed that approximately 1/3 of the population supports the Conservatives, 1/3 supports the Coalition, and 1/3 is sick of both sides. This is far too weak a base to form a new government. In many ways, the blame lies with the Layton leadership of the NDP that was the prime motivator of the maneuver. If they had stuck to principle and opposed the Conservatives’ attacks on workers and women, without entering into any deals with the capitalist parties, there would have been huge optimism in the country. The majority is indeed opposed to Harper, but the coalition has no redeeming features. The NDP could then have worked to impose conditions on a minority Liberal government to benefit the working class. If the Liberals were not willing to meet these demands then they would have worn the responsibility and the NDP would be in a prime place to replace them. Now the disaster of the coalition is firmly in the lap of Jack Layton who is left looking like a complete schmuck. This coalition, that was supposed to save Canada from the evil clutches of Stephen Harper, is preparing the way for a majority win of the Conservatives in the coming months. (Note: Just as this article is being published, CBC News has published a new poll that in the wake of this fiasco, the Tories are strongly in majority territory with 44% support. Both the Liberals and the NDP are down 4% since the election, with the NDP only polling 14%.)

After his pitiable response to Harper, the knives are again out for Dion. It is a surprise that the guy has any space left on his back. After the prorogation was announced, both Layton and Duceppe took a hard-line stance while Dion opened the door to letting the Conservatives stay in power if they made changes to their budget. Therein lies the death of the Coalition and the humiliation of all the parties. Over the next seven weeks, the Conservatives will use their financial advantage to win the media war and whip up more anti-Quebecois racism in the west. It is almost a foregone conclusion that some of the right-wing of the Liberal party will break ranks over this period.

The only force mobilizing for the coalition appears to the Canadian labour bureaucracy and a series of petty-bourgeois “lefts” who have given up all hope of actually achieving even the mild reforms contained in the NDP election platform. However, their attempt to save the coalition is hampered by the lack of anything to enthuse the workers. All they can say is that it is “not Harper”, but this completely counteracts everything they said during the last election about the difference between the NDP and Liberals. Millions do not vote because they feel that “all the politicians are the same”, and now they have been proved right. One can just imagine the next federal election campaign – Jack Layton (if he survives as leader) gets up to propose a reform. The media responds, “Will you dump this policy in a coalition? Why should anybody believe that you won’t dump this policy? Which specific policy will you not dump in a coalition? Why are you running candidates against the Liberals when you agreed to their policy in the coalition? Why not just fuse yourself into the Liberals? Etc., etc., etc…” At the next campaign stop, the circus will be repeated; nobody will ever believe anything Layton has to say from this point on.

The coalition is dead and it saved Harper. The careerism of the NDP parliamentary caucus has dealt a decisive blow to the NDP, just as the NDP was positioned to overtake the Liberals. It has also set back the cause of the fight against the war in Afghanistan and for redistribution of wealth from the bosses to the workers. We hope that every labour activist learns the lessons of this debacle and puts the responsibility precisely where it belongs. The only way to mobilize millions, to provide an alternative for the 41% of non voters, is to offer something different to the corrupt capitalist system. The NDP and the labour movement need to adopt socialist ideas if they are going to put this sorry episode behind them and defeat both the Conservatives and the Liberals.

4 December 2008

NDP-Liberal Coalition: A Complete Sell-Out

On Monday 1st December, just before 5pm, Dion, Layton and Duceppe presented their agreement for a Liberal-NDP coalition government backed by the Bloc Quebecois.

1) Troops remain in Afghanistan.
2) The $50-billion corporate tax cuts stand.
3) No NDP member to have any influence over Finance.
4) Prime Minister Dion selects which 6 NDP MPs will enter cabinet.

It is hard to imagine a more craven sell-out.

The leaders of the three parties walked awkwardly into the room, signed the agreement and uncomfortably shook hands. Only Duceppe smiled, maybe because he doesn’t have to worry about being in a cabinet with the other two.

The NDP and the Liberals signed an accord that commits the parties to a coalition for 30 months. Reading the accord is like reading the Liberal campaign platform minus Dion’s carbon tax. There was not a single substantive concession on behalf of the Liberals to adopt any of the NDP’s campaign measures. All the NDP leadership got was the honour of six of their number being chosen to enjoy the perks of ministerial life – the limo, the $30,000+ pay hike and expense account, the title of “right-honourable…” etc. The NDP does not even get to choose which of its members will be in cabinet!

Throughout the election campaign Jack Layton assured workers and youth that there was a fundamental dividing line between the Liberals and the NDP. Layton attacked the Liberals for sending troops to Afghanistan and for supporting $50-billion in corporate tax cuts. These are the same Liberals who cut social services by a greater amount than any Conservative government. These are the same Liberals who voted down anti-scab legislation. And now Jack Layton is putting these people back into power.

One of the main reasons for low NDP support is the tactic of vote-splitting. Many people who would support NDP policies vote Liberal to keep the Conservatives out and because the NDP and Liberals “are pretty much the same anyway.” In the last election, to its credit, the NDP was able to partially lessen this tendency. However, with the coalition, all this is ripped up. A vote for the NDP now gets you a Liberal government. A vote for the NDP is a vote for people comfortable implementing Liberal policies. If this coalition goes through, why should anybody bother voting NDP ever again?

The fact is that it was Liberal and Conservative policies of support for the capitalist free market that caused the economic crisis. The only way capitalist governments have ever dealt with crises is to put the burden on the backs of the working class. The coalition is supposedly planning $30-billion of “stimulus” to kick start the economy. But is any of this going to the workers themselves? If we look at the record of the Liberals, and the George Bush/New Labour model of other bailouts, the money is likely to be just big handouts to the auto and forestry corporations without any job guarantees. More likely the opposite, as there is a clause that corporations receiving subsidies must submit a restructuring plan – read, “Massive layoffs.” At current share prices, $30-billion is enough to completely buy out Ford, Chrysler and GM (the entire companies, not just the Canadian arm!) However, it looks like the bosses will receive corporate welfare from the public purse for their mismanagement of the economy, while the rest of us face unemployment. It appears that this will be a socialist coalition after all – but that socialism will be reserved for the millionaire bankers and corporatists.

The tragedy is that, instead of allowing the Liberals and Conservatives to rightly take the blame for the crisis of their system, the NDP leadership is throwing them a life-line in their hour of need. Class-collaboration is a dead-end. Never has there been a better time to propose a socialist alternative. To those who say that will never happen we would ask, “one week ago, did you ever even think for a minute that the Conservatives would be fighting for survival against a Liberal-NDP coalition?” If the events of the last 6 days prove anything, it is that, in the present epoch of capitalist crisis, things can change both massively and with astonishing quickness.

Now every move by the Liberals will be blamed on the NDP. Under cabinet solidarity the NDP MPs will be forced to defend every counter-reform. The opposition to every attack will be demobilized by a labour bureaucracy shouting, “don’t rock the boat – you’ll bring down the coalition!” If people think the NDP became unpopular after the Rae Days in Ontario, they ain’t seen nothing yet. But all is not lost.

Already there appears to be little enthusiasm for this coalition. Somehow, workers seem to know they are being sold something fishy. Imagine how this opposition will magnify under the impact of the financial crisis and coalition government attacks. Class struggle is on the agenda, not because of the desires of this or that politician but because of the logic of the capitalist system. Those who are not prepared to break with the system and fight for socialism can end up supporting the most reactionary policy. This class struggle must inevitably have its reflection in the unions and in the NDP. The pressure to break the coalition will grow. It is quite likely that some of the present NDP “leaders” will follow the logic of their actions and join the Liberals, just as Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh before them. On the other side will be left millions of workers and youth, who are sick of the status quo.

We ask everybody who opposes both the Conservatives and the Liberals to join with us in mobilizing against this coalition.

 2 December 2008 

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