Coalition gives Harper new life

We now know that there was nothing spontaneous about the coalition gambit initiated by Jack Layton and the NDP in the dying weeks of 2008. Far from the “grass-roots” affair as it was painted by the NDP press room, the coalition idea was nurtured “on secret NDP ‘scenario committees’ during the past three federal campaigns.”[1] The fact that it was a backroom deal has now exploded in Layton’s face.

Had it been driven from the grass-roots, the NDP would have been looking down, responding to its base. But the NDP was doing the opposite. Layton was looking up, to a deal with the Liberals – indistinguishable from the Tories as a corporate-backed party. Part of the deal he had to strike was to put on the shelf both the war on Afghanistan and increasing corporate taxes. This made it impossible for the NDP to appeal to its base – because the base of the party is anti-war and anti-corporate.

But while Layton was looking up and disorganizing his base, Harper was doing the opposite. He knows his base precisely, and in unleashing a vicious Quebec-bashing campaign, he suddenly had an army of reactionaries ready to do battle.

And then Harper found out he didn’t need these bigots. A much bigger wave was coming his way, a wave of revulsion. Ordinary people instinctively dislike secretive backroom deals. The smell of opportunism was all over the coalition, and suddenly, this translated into an evaporation of support for the NDP and the Liberals in English Canada, and a sudden surge in support for the Tories.

Three polls done in the immediate aftermath of the coalition announcement had Harper sitting in majority territory. The Strategic Counsel had the Tories at 45 percent nationally, Ipsos Reid had them at 46 percent, and an Ekos poll gave the Tories a crushing 20 point lead over the Liberals. Just weeks before the Tories had managed to win only 37.6 percent of the vote.[2]

The scary thing is – this surge in the polls was in spite of a collapse for Tory support in Quebec. The Quebec bashing in the first Tory counter-attack had the effect of destroying the Quebec base Harper had been trying to build. According to the Strategic Counsel, while Tory support was down to 18 percent in Quebec, it had soared to 53 percent in the rest of Canada, including 61 percent support in the West, and 50 percent support in the previously Liberal stronghold of Ontario.[3]

These numbers won’t last. Stephen Harper is unlikely to stay at these levels of support for very long. But what this Tory surge exposes very clearly is the folly of the Coalition strategy. A backroom deal with one of Canada’s corporate parties did not build the NDP – it built support for Harper and his Tories.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “Inside a crisis that shook the nation,” Macleans.ca, December 12, 2008
[2] “Canada’s Harper has crushing poll lead on crisis,” December 5, 2008
[3] Strategic Counsel, “Harper’s Conservatives versus Liberal-NDP Coalition: What is the State of Canadian Public Opinion?”, December 4, 2008

Gaza: Occupation is still the issue

The war in Gaza is a completely unequal contest. Israel – receiving billions of dollars in military aid every year from the United States – has one of the most sophisticated killing machines in the world. Gaza is an open-air prison, whose only outlet to the outside world for months has been through tunnels dug deep beneath the border with Egypt. Rockets fired from Gaza have killed a handful of Israelis. Israel’s offensive has killed more than 600 – including the slaughter of 40 at a U.N. school.[1] Yet in spite of these facts, the NDP official statement on the war acts as if both sides are equally to blame.

Canada’s New Democrats “condemn the unacceptable escalation of violence in the Middle East,” the statement begins. This escalation is about “airstrikes by Israel” and the “ongoing rocket attacks”.[2] Not a word about occupation. Not a word about Israel’s strangulation of Gaza. Not a word about Hamas being democratically elected. Not a word about Harper being the first to jump on a boycott of Hamas, giving a green light to Israel.

Israel, Stephen Harper, the United States, F16 fighter planes, tanks, artillery, pilotless drones – against a few hundred Hamas fighters with some rockets. In what way are these two equal sides? Israel has stolen the homes of the Palestinians, forced them into a strip of land by the sea, is now mercilessly pounding them, but “New Democrats believe that Canada must pursue a balanced approach to the Middle East crisis.”

So let’s have a balanced approach. Let’s always tell the truth when we talk about the war in Palestine – the balanced, careful truth. That truth is that Israel is occupying Palestinian land, is expanding its settlements illegally, is carving up what remains of Palestinian land in a way little different from the way South Africa carved up the Bantustans under apartheid, and that until this illegal occupation ends, there will be no peace.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] For facts on the war, see Electronic Intifada
[2] “New Democrat statement on the situation in the Middle East,” December 29, 2008

Dear Jack: Do you really want this war?

Open Letter to Jack Layton, federal leader of the NDP • Everywhere I go they are burying Canadian soldiers. Walking down Donlands Avenue December 12, there were the cameras and the men in uniform – waiting outside the Metamorphosis Greek Orthodox Church for the funeral of Private Demetrios Diplaros, killed in Afghanistan the week before.[1] Back at work in Peterborough, preparations were underway at Calvary Church for the funeral of Private Michael Freeman, killed in Afghanistan.[2] But this is the war that you say you want to inherit.

Your only Quebec MP, Thomas Mulcair has told the press, “the NDP is putting aside its differences that have existed historically with the Liberals on such issues as Afghanistan.”[3] And Jack, your coalition government – if it gets its way – will stay in office till 2011. Will there be another 100 Canadians killed on its watch? Another 200? And how many thousands of Afghanis?

Knowing that the NDP was calling for an immediate troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, was an enormous boost of confidence for thousands. Your actions have completely betrayed those thousands.

Last election, young people – the young people I see every day as a teacher, the young people that you and I both saw when we were both teachers at Ryerson University – just didn’t care about a choice between Harper, Dion or yourself. They didn’t see themselves in any of the parties. But I was able to tell them – in good conscience – that there was a big difference between your party and the others. Your party was committed to bringing the troops home – the troops sent to war by the Liberals, and dying in increasing numbers under the Conservatives. That argument worked. Young people hate this war. So when they were told that there was one party calling for an end to the war, they voted for you.

You have now lost their vote. You have sent them the message that principles like stopping a murderous, barbaric war are not as important – as what? What exactly did you get from your deal with the Liberals? Afghanistan is on the shelf. Taxing the corporations is on the shelf. The only thing you seem to have “won” is the promise of six cabinet seats. A religious man who greatly influenced me – an anti-war minister of the United Church – would have known what to call this – a mess of pottage. Look it up.

The coalition gambit was a top-down bureaucratic, back-room deal – and has been perceived as such by millions of ordinary Canadians who are recoiling in horror. The terrible effect of this backroom coalition adventure has been to bring Stephen Harper back from the dead – he’s soaring in the polls – and to accelerate the arrival of Michael Ignatieff as head of the Liberals – the same Michael Ignatieff who supported George W. Bush’s war on Iraq. Do you really want to sit at the cabinet table with Michael Ignatieff in the chair?

The war has come home, Jack. That funeral on Donlands was in your riding in Toronto, the riding that has time and again come out to the polls and sent you to Ottawa. If you say “troops out now” you have something to say to those folks. If you say “we’ll talk about it in 2011,” you have nothing to say that is any different from the Harper Tories.

Whatever. The movement goes on without you. We’ll be demonstrating April 4 in Toronto and in dozens of other cities chanting “troops out now!” You’re welcome to join us. There will be thousands of other NDP members there with us. But don’t expect a very warm welcome. On those marches, being against the war is a principle, not a bargaining chip.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] “A hero’s farewell,” Toronto Sun, December 12, 2008
[2] “Holidays delay Peterborough soldier’s funeral,” thestar.com, January 2, 2009
[3] Murray Brewster, “NDP will not oppose Afghan war while in coalition,” Canadian Press, December 3, 2008