Alberta election – Party of Big Oil Defeats Party of Big Oil

APRIL 30, 2012 – There was something absolutely wonderful about the failure of Wildrose to win the recent election in Alberta. The party is made up of a gaggle of mostly former conservatives – so extreme in their views that their party earned the nickname “Tea Party North”, and was touted by almost every polling agency to be headed for a convincing majority in the April 23 provincial election. But in the end, the pollsters were completely wrong, Wildrose winning only 17 seats and 34% of the vote (CBC News 2012a).

Wildrose lost in spite of getting substantial elite backing. Many of the usual suspects of Canadian conservatism broke from their traditional support for the Alberta Tories, and backed Wildrose. The editors of the National Post led the way, saying “Alberta’s government could use some fresh blood and vibrant new ideas” (National Post Editorial Board 2012). The Edmonton Sun editors said that “the Wildrose party has the vision and energy to set Alberta on a course to a bold and exciting future” (Edmonton Sun 2012).

That exciting future might have been a little pale in colour. Ron Leech, Wildrose candidate in Calgary-Greenway, said on April 16: “I think as a Caucasian I have an advantage …. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community” (Gerson 2012).

A Wildrose future might also have proven to be a little warm. Leech’s party comrade, Allan Hunsperger, running in Edmonton-South-West, wrote on his church’s blog in June 2011 that the fate of those who did not live as heterosexuals would be to “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering” (Wood 2012a).

Now the good folks on the editorial board of the National Post were aware of these backward and reactionary views when they deliberated, but they nonetheless decided that Wildrose politicians would be the best stewards of Alberta’s future. Any new party running a full slate of candidates, they argued, “will inevitably be stuck with a few loose cannons” (National Post Editorial Board 2012). Perhaps, but cannons can be fired, and party leader Danielle Smith, when confronted with these two particularly obscene cannons, chose not to pull the trigger. She said, for instance, that Hunsberger was “free to hold his personal views” (Wood 2012a).

April 23, Smith found out that if she wouldn’t deal with Leech and Hunsberger, the people of Alberta would. Both went down to defeat. Revulsion over their views, and the way in which party leader Smith was willing to tolerate open bigots in her party, led to a surge in voter participation, rising sharply to 57% from the all-time low of 2008, when only 41% of eligible voters cast a ballot (Postmedia News 2012). The unexpected trek to the polls of thousands of people, enraged at Wildrose bigotry, meant that, far from winning the majority most predicted, Wildrose will have to be content with the status of official opposition. The provincial conservatives kept a 41-year unbeaten streak going, winning 61 seats with 44% of the vote (CBC News 2012a).

Three key dynamics

To understand developments in Alberta politics, it is necessary to quite closely study this surge in voter turnout relative to the election of 2008, in context with two other key dynamics. First, there was a substantial increase in support for Wildrose, its vote going from 64,407 votes to 444,996, an increase of 381,000. Second, there was a dramatic decrease in support for the Liberals – from 251,158 in 2008 to 125,000 in this election, a decrease of almost 126,000. Third, there was the surge in turnout, rising from 950,363 to 1,290,218, an increase of almost 340,000. Charts and tables to accompany this article can be found just before the reference list. The first chart (CBC News 2012a; Postmedia News 2012; Chief Electoral Officer 2008, 142) captures these dynamics visually. (The chart also captures a fourth dynamic – the increase in support for the NDP, whose vote increased 45,000, from 80,000 to 126,000. The increase in NDP support is interesting in itself, but not the main focus of this article).

Without question, the bulk of the Wildrose vote came from disgruntled ex-Tories, who felt that Redford was abandoning core conservative policies. The flight from the Tories to the Tea Party North was in fact, massive. We of course don’t know precisely who changed votes from one party to another. But we can reasonably identify the main trends. A big part of the rise in Wildrose support came from disgruntled ex-Tories. If you peg that figure at 70%, it drops the tory vote to 235,000. There was a smaller, but important current, of Liberals shifting to the Tories, because of fear of Wildrose, and because of the new “liberalism” represented by Redford. Certainly the majority of these switched from to the newly-minted Redford Tories. Using the same approximation of 70%, raises the Tory vote to 323,000, better, but still far behind Wildrose. Focusing on just these two dynamics is what led the polling community to almost universally call for a Wildrose majority.

Enter the new voters. In 2008 just over 950,000 cast a vote. This time, turnout surged to 1,290,218. The second chart (CBC News 2012a; Postmedia News 2012; Chief Electoral Officer 2008, 142) illustrates the way in which this and the other two key dynamics have led to a recomposition of the Tory vote in Alberta. The only way for the Tories to have achieved their final total of 567,051, was for them to have received the support of 70% of these new voters. This surge of new support for the Tories was in the main a surge of revulsion against Wildrose. It kept the barbarians at the gate, and confounded the pundits. Again, these figures need to be qualified. We of course don’t know why each of the thousands of new voters headed to the polls, nor who they voted for. All of the figures above are at best, educated guesses. But – the dynamics they represent “feel” accurate, for those who were in Alberta for the election. The hatred for the newly-liberal Tories that came from the conservative media was everywhere. The even more intense visceral hatred for Wildrose bigotry was palpable in coffee shops, on campuses, and on facebook. There was real fear that the conservative push for Danielle Smith would lead to a Wildrose majority, and intense worry about what a noxious “Tea Party North” government would do to Alberta. This translated into a passionate push, particularly by young people, to get to the polls and vote against Wildrose.

Redford knew this. She knew that her only road back into office was to be a Tory who didn’t look like a Tory. In a way that would seem very confusing to those outside Alberta, the Alison Redford led Tories were at pains throughout the campaign to present themselves as a liberal alternative to Wildrose, at one point in the campaign taking out a full-colour, full-page newspaper ad, saying “this is not your father’s” conservative party (Wood 2012b).

In fact the Redford Tories do represent, at one level, a quite different set of politics from the Alberta Tories led by Ralph Klein in the 1990s. Klein was a western twin of Ontario’s Mike Harris, gleefully embracing attacks on social programs as a badge of honour. Redford, the surprise winner of the Tory leadership race in September 2011, came out on top by advancing policies far different from those of Klein or Harris. In fact in a very real sense, she won by running against the Conservative record. She “dismissed the ‘arrogance’ of her own cabinet, slammed a controversial land law and pushed for a judicial inquiry into her government’s handling of the health-care file”. In the words of one reporter, “some of Ms. Redford’s policies are indeed liberal-esque: implementing comprehensive (and expensive) ‘family care centres’ as a pillar of what is already Canada’s costliest health system, proposing higher government payments to the disabled and supporting pay hikes for employees of non-profit agencies” (Wingrove 2011). This is the political profile of her victorious leadership campaign – a political profile that is very different from a Klein or a Harris. Redford’s victory – in part based on running against the Conservative record, led many liberals and even some NDPers to look to her as a “centrist” political option.

Prior to Redford’s accession to leadership, the Alberta Tories under Ed Stelmach had become deeply unpopular. In choosing Redford, the Tories had chosen to address their electoral difficulties, by moving away from some of their more right-wing policies. The pollsters confidence in a Wildrose victory was based on the assumption that this would backfire, lead to a conservative backlash and the growth of Wildrose, because politics in Alberta always moves to the right.

There was a move right, from the Tories to Wildrose. However, there was also a bigger and more important backlash against Wildrose.  The key factor in this election was not the conservative backlash against Redford’s “liberalism”, but an anti-Wildrose backlash as their reactionary politics became exposed. The National Post editors will have to ponder the fact that their preferred party lost because it was perceived as being too right-wing – in Alberta.

The Tar Sands

One other key issue also galvanized opposition to Smith – her stance on climate change. She angered many in the province when she argued, one week before the election, that the question of climate change was not yet settled (The Canadian Press 2012). This is an enormous issue in Alberta, centre of the environmentally catastrophic Athabasca tar sands. Smith herself acknowledged the role of climate change in her defeat, saying after the election that she and her party would have to reconsider some of their policies. “The fact of the matter is there are certain policies that clearly Albertans didn’t want to see implemented,” including on her list her questioning of climate change (CBC News 2012b).

But the fact that Redford is no Klein and that the climate-change skeptic Smith lost, leaves little room for complacency. Climate justice is likely to be just as much at risk from Redford as it would have been from Smith. The editors of the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper of conservatism, backed the Tories not Wildrose. They saw Redford as a more positive voice for Alberta’s oil industry, arguing that “her Canadian Energy Strategy would facilitate the shipment of oil-sands oil to Asia, the U.S. and Central Canada; she also promises to help fund oil-sands extraction technology” (The Globe and Mail 2012).

The Globe and Mail editors were reflecting the point of view of big sections of Corporate Alberta. Those who travelled in the rarefied air of that section of Alberta, were very comfortable with a victory by either Wildrose or the Tories. Both parties received corporate donations running to the hundreds of thousands of dollars, in the case of Wildrose almost reaching one million dollars.

Most significantly, 25 corporations hedged their bets, giving cash to both parties, most prominently, companies in the petrochemical and energy industries. For Cenovus, Enbridge, Encana, Marathon Oil, North West Upgrading, NOVA Chemicals, Penn West Petroleum, Suncor Energy, Transalta and TransCanada Pipelines – there was a certain indifference. Smith or Redford would do. Either of them would be a good bet to allow the expansion of tar sands production into the foreseeable future.

The table at the end of the article (Wildrose 2012; PC Alberta 2012) lists all the corporations who made donations to both parties, beginning with those involved in petrochemical and energy. This is an astonishing table. Individual voters take our vote very seriously. We care which party is elected – which is why, of course, there are election campaigns in the first place. Very few people walk about the streets sporting buttons for two parties. People pick one, and cast their ballot. But corporate Alberta had a sweet situation. A victory by either the Tories or Wildrose would be fine. Under either party, it would be business as usual. It is no exaggeration, then, to say that both parties are parties of big oil. For big oil, the key is continuing the rush to pull oil out of the mud of Northern Alberta, regardless of the environmental consequences. We dodged the bullet on a government of social conservative dinosaurs. But we entrenched in power another majority government enthusiastically committed to Alberta’s boiling mud economy, absolutely focused on a systematic increase in the exploitation of the tar sands.

And – even though Wildrose lost, it did in fact come very close. For just under half a million voters to put an “X” beside Tea Party North, means that there is a very large base for extremist politics in the province. In addition, the fact that the Tories have become custodians of “liberalism” for now is disquieting. The Tories know very well how to be conservative. We can be absolutely sure that they will be loyal soldiers for Corporate Alberta. Very little in their background has prepared them to be loyal soldiers of progressive politics.

Redford has a comfortable majority, and can now rule without fear of a defeat in the legislature for a full four-year term. We’ll have another election sometime between March 1, 2016 and May 31, 2016 (Alberta 2006, 36). That doesn’t mean there will be an absence of politics for four more years. The most important political work always happens between elections, in the nitty-gritty work of organizing social movements from the grass roots up. February 16, hospital workers in Edmonton showed us what that kind of politics might look like, walking out on an unauthorized wildcat strike, angered at a terrible contract offer from their employer, Alberta Health Services (Kellogg 2012).

Not yet an Alberta Spring – but a lovely example of what real politics from the grass roots – and a more stable base for progressive politics – might look like.

Charts and tables referenced in the text

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article has been published as Alberta election – Party of Big Oil Defeats Party of Big Oil,” Global Research, 4 May; “Alberta Election: Big Oil Party Defeats Big Oil Party,” Climate & Capitalism, 30 April; “Alberta Election – Party of Big Oil Defeats Party of Big Oil,” The Bullet No. 628, 4 May 4


Alberta, Government of. 2006. Election Act.

CBC News. 2012a. “Albertans Elect Tory Majority Government – Alberta Votes 2012.” CBC News Canada, April 24.

———. 2012b. “Wildrose May Reconsider Some Policies, Smith Says – Edmonton.” CBC News Edmonton, April 24.

Chief Electoral Officer. 2008. The Report on the March 3, 2008 Provincial General Election of the Twenty-seventh Legislative Assembly. Edmonton: Elections Alberta.

Edmonton Sun. 2012. “Editorial: Time for a Change.” Edmonton Sun, April 22.

Gerson, Jen. 2012. “‘Caucasian Advantage’ Quip Casts Shadow over Wildrose Campaign Despite Poll Lead.” National Post, April 18.

Kellogg, Paul. 2012. “Angry Hospital Workers Wildcat in Edmonton.”, March 7.

National Post Editorial Board. 2012. “National Post Editorial Board Endorses Danielle Smith and the Wildrose in the Alberta Election.” National Post, April 19.

PC Alberta. 2012. “Progressive Conservative Party Releases Campaign Donors.”, April 22.

Postmedia News. 2012. “Alberta Election 2012: Alberta Voter Turnout Highest Since 1993.” The Vancouver Sun, April 25.

The Canadian Press. 2012. “Wildrose Leader Says Climate Science ‘Not Settled’.” CBC My Region – Alberta Votes, April 16.

The Globe and Mail. 2012. “Editorial – Alberta’s Conservatives Offer More Change Than Wildrose.” The Globe and Mail, April 19.

Wildrose. 2012. “Redford PCs End Campaign Like They Began – With A Broken Promise.”, April 22.

Wingrove, Josh. 2011. “Will Tories Roll Out Red Carpet for Redford?” The Globe and Mail, September 11, sec. A.

Wood, James. 2012a. “Wildrose Candidate Tells Gays in Lady Gaga-inspired Blog Post: ’You Will Suffer the Rest of Eternity in the Lake of Fire, Hell“.” National Post, April 16.

———. 2012b. “Alberta Election: ‘Family Feud’ Between Wildrose, PCs Heats Up.” Postmedia News, April 21.

Afghanistan – Et tu Bruce?[1]

Bruce Cockburn sang against U.S. imperialism in Guatemala. He sang for the revolution in Nicaragua. He is now singing for Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan. Our movement is weaker for it.

In the 1980s, Central America was in the throes of revolution and counter-revolution. The signature event was the 1979 overthrow of the brutal Somoza dictatorship in Nicaragua, an overthrow led and organized by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). That revolution was bitterly opposed by the Generals who controlled many Central and South American states at the time, and the United States which had long backed military regimes in the region. U.S. president Ronald Reagan, funded a bloody proxy war against the Sandinistas, leading to tens of thousands of deaths. Building solidarity with the Sandinista revolution – and with the other resistance movements in Central and South America – was a central political task for activists in the Global North in that decade.

Cockburn did his part. In 1983 he traveled to Mexico and Nicaragua, “with several other Canadian artists at the invitation of OXFAM, the world hunger organization.”[2] The result was a beautiful and moving 1984 album, Stealing Fire, many of whose songs were inspired by the repression and resistance he encountered on his trip. “Nicaragua,” “Dust and Diesel” and “Yanqui go home” are explicit tributes to the new society being wrenched from imperialism’s grasp in desperately poor and embattled Nicaragua.[3] “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” is the best-known track from the album, famously covered by Bareknaked Ladies.” It is not explicitly political, but when he calls out that you’ve “got to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight,” we knew what he meant.

Bruce has now stumbled into the darkness of support for Canada’s war effort in Afghanistan. His brother is a Captain in the Canadian military, and part of Canadian forces in Afghanistan. In early September, Bruce went to the country, visited his brother, and performed for Canadian troops while he was there.

“It’s a long discussion on whether we should be in Afghanistan” he said, “whether anyone should be in Afghanistan … but since we are, and since we’ve gone this far, I don’t think it’s appropriate to leave at this stage.”[4]

This won’t do. Many of us have friends and relatives in Afghanistan. All of us want them to come home unharmed. All of us want them to come home without having done harm to others. But all of us – Cockburn included – have to ask ourselves the hard questions.

Are Canada’s troops – troops that include Bruce’s brother, two of my cousins, one of my close friend’s brother, and thousands of other Canadians either in Afghanistan or on their way – are these troops risking their lives for democracy and freedom?

What if the answer is “no?” What if we realize that the regime Canada is supporting is far from democratic (as the farce of the recent elections has clearly shown)? What if it is true that Canada is there for the same reason the U.S. is there, for the same reason the U.S. was, and is, in Central America – to expand the spheres of influence of the Great Powers in the region? And what if, as a brutal bonus, we conclude, as many military experts long ago concluded, that this war is not winnable?

For people of Bruce’s generation these hard questions might be hard to answer. In the 1980s, the progressive movement in Canada was dominated by “left nationalism.” Thousands in Canada understood the horror that was U.S. imperialism and joined movements to oppose it. But at the same time, many of those same people thought that Canada too was a victim of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. was bad, but Canada was good, peace-loving and democratic.

Cockburn’s confusion on Afghanistan represents the confusion of an older generation, looking to find the “good” Canada exporting its values abroad. Canada is at war in Afghanistan, and Canada is not the U.S., so maybe that makes Afghanistan “the good war,” a war to bring “Canadian values” to a far-off land? And besides, this war was problematic when it was conducted by the evil George W. Bush, but now we have the progressive Barack Obama in the White House. Surely Obama’s war is a good war?

Afghanistan is not a good war. The thing that made Afghanistan the wrong war was not that it was being conducted by George W. Bush – it was the wrong war because it was a war for U.S. corporate power. At the end of the day, that is what Bush represents – and it is what Obama continues.

The bitter reality is, that Canada is not one of the countries oppressed by the United States – it is a partner with the United States in keeping the world safe for corporate profits. They have Exxon and General Motors. We have Magna and Research In Motion. The fact of a border does not magically make “our” corporations any less greedy and avaricious than those in the United States. Our government is in bed with these corporations just as much as the U.S. government is in bed with its own corporations. This is what their democracy looks like, and it is not pretty.

Let’s not choose a “good” U.S. imperialism under Obama over a “bad” U.S. imperialism under Bush. Let’s not choose “good” Canada over “evil” United States. Whether we live in Canada or United States, we live in the privileged Global North that for too long has lived off oppressing the impoverished countries of the Global South.

Cockburn’s signature political song from Stealing Fire was, without a doubt, “If I had a Rocket Launcher.” He sang it to “wild applause” to members of Task Force Kandahar, after which – in a grotesque parody of the song and of Cockburn’s whole anti-imperialist past – he was temporarily presented with a rocket launcher by Task Force Kandahar commander General Jonathan Vance.[5]

Let’s not remember Cockburn for his new role as progressive cover for Canada’s imperial adventures abroad. Let’s remember him for his anti-war, anti-imperialist anthems from the 1980s. Let’s remember the helicopters which bring death and destruction to peasants and the poor in Guatemala, Colombia, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Here’s your playlist to help in that process.

If I Had A Rocket Launcher
Lovers in a Dangerous Time and as performed by The Barenaked Ladies
Dust and Diesel
Call It Democracy

This article written in memory of anti-war teacher Wayne McCrank, 1960-2009.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg


[1] From “Et tu, Brute?” William Shakespeare, “Julius Caesar,” Act III, Scene I, line 77 in Peter Alexander, ed., Tragedies: William Shakespeare (London: Collins, 1971). “Perhaps the most famous words uttered in literature, ‘Et tu, Brute?” (Even you, Brutus?) this expression has come down in history to mean the ultimate betrayal by one’s closest friend.” “Et tu Brute? Shakespearean Quotes,”
[2] “Songs: If I Had A Rocket Launcher,”
[3] Bruce Cockburn, Stealing Fire (Toronto: Golden Mountain Music Corp., 1984)
[4] Canadian Press, “Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan,” Sept. 10, 2009
[5] Canadian Press, “Cockburn visits brother in Afghanistan

Norman Penner – A life for the struggle

May 3, close to 200 people crowded into Glendon Hall in Toronto to pay tribute to the life and work of Norman Penner, who sadly passed away April 16 at the age of 88.[1] There could not have been a more appropriate month for such an event. May is after all, the month where every year we celebrate May 1, International Workers’ Day. It is also the month where the great Winnipeg General Strike began, 90 years ago, a strike that remains the defining moment of the Canadian working class movement, and a strike which was brought back to life for a new generation, in large part through the efforts of Norman Penner. For this alone, Penner’s life would be worthy of commemoration. We were reminded May 3 that there was so much more – a life genuinely lived for the struggle.

Penner’s father, Jacob Penner, had been a leading socialist in his own right, and as one of the founders of the Social Democratic Party of Canada, an opponent of conscription during the slaughter of World War I. When the Winnipeg General Strike erupted in 1919, Penner was one of the strike leaders.[2]

Norman – born into a family of the left – carried on the tradition from a very early age. We heard, at the memorial, of his 1930’s activism as a teenager – speaking to mass audiences, campaigning in defence of among others, his father, when the city of Winnipeg was trying to strip the now communist Jacob Penner, of his elected seat on Winnipeg’s city council.

Norman himself would become a leading member of the party. But he would not let organizational loyalty trump principles. When the supposedly “communist” Russian tanks moved in to crush the workers’ uprising in Hungary in 1956 – the same year that Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev exposed the crimes of Joseph Stalin to a stunned international left – Penner resigned the Communist Party, even though that meant leaving behind his employer in a decade of intense anti-communism.

He found a way to make a living as probably the only Marxist electric heating salesman in Canada. In the mid-1960s, he set out on a university career, acquiring his degrees, and from 1972 until his retirement 24 years later, teaching in the Political Science department at Glendon College, part of York University in Toronto.

It was at Glendon as a professor, that Penner had his biggest impact. In 1973, he edited a riveting book on the Winnipeg General Strike, bringing back to life, in the words of the strikers themselves, that defining moment in Canadian labour history. In 1977 he wrote a careful and balanced assessment of the Canadian Left, that remains indispensable reading for any who aspire to fight for social change in this country. Perhaps more important than his books, however, were his classes, where with patience and intelligence – and humour – he would genuinely engage with young people from a new generation, tell them about the lessons from the past, and most importantly, listen to the new insights that every new generation brings to the social movements.

It is this latter quality that set Penner apart from many in his generation – the capacity to listen. While many from the old left, shaped by the Russian Revolution and the Great Depression, were too often suspicious of the long-haired radicals of the 1960s and 1970s, Penner found real joy in their company. He would have loved the fact that in Toronto, the day before his memorial, young radicals of this generation, members of No One Is Illegal, had led a spirited May Day march through the streets of the city, taking over Yonge Street for a period, draping banners off the Eaton Centre, and then joining up with members of the Tamil Community, demonstrating against the terrible genocide underway in their homeland. He would have known that today – as in 1919, as in the 1930s, as in the 1960s – the future of the social movements is in the hands of the impatient youth, much more than it is in the tidy offices of this or that union or party bureaucracy.

His grandson, Dylan Penner – himself an anti-war activist in the tradition of Norman and Jacob – in one of many moving tributes given by family and friends, gave us all the proper framework in which to remember the life of this remarkable man. In the words of Industrial Worker of the World activist and songwriter Joe Hill – “don’t mourn, organize.”[3]

Books by Norman Penner, available from online booksellers

Winnipeg 1919: The Strikers’ Own History of the Winnipeg General Strike (1973)
The Canadian Left: A critical analysis (1977)
From Protest to Power: Social Democracy in Canada 1900-Present (1992)
Canadian communism: The Stalin years and beyond (1988)

© 2009 Paul Kellogg


[1] See “Professor Emeritus Norman Penner was a Glendon mainstay,” YFILE, April 24, 2009 and “Norman Penner,” The Toronto Star, April 25, 2009
[2] There is some information about Jacob Penner on wikipedia. His story, and the story of his wife Rose Penner, has been documented on video (Cathy Gulkin, “A Glowing Dream: The Story of Jacob & Rose Penner,” Episode 33, A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada, Season III, White Pine Pictures, 1999)
[3] See “Joe Hill, (1879-1915),” AFL-CIO: America’s Union Movement; and “The Joe Hill Project,”

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


[1] “Inside a crisis that shook the nation,”, 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

Breakthrough for Québec solidaire

DECEMBER 9, 2008 – Amir Khadir, one of the two spokespersons for Québec solidaire (QS), has won a seat in the Quebec National Assembly. Among the many excellent aspects of the Québec solidaire platform, is a call for the Quebec government to pass a motion opposing “any Canadian imperialist intervention in Afghanistan.”[1] The QS success represents an important advance for the social justice and anti-war movements in both Quebec and English Canada.

Khadir’s victory was not just the victory of one individual. In his riding of Mercier, QS won 8,861 votes, 38.06% of votes cast, defeating Daniel Turp, a star candidate of the Parti Québécois (PQ) by 872 votes. But in the ridings surrounding Mercier, QS also did extremely well. In Gouin, the other co-spokesperson for QS, Françoise David, came a very close second to the PQ winning 7,987 votes (31.95%). In ridings adjacent to either Mercier or Gouin, QS won 2,963 votes (13.01%) in Laurier-Dorion, 2,228 votes (11.43%) in Outremont, 3,009 votes (15.22%) in Saint-Marie-Saint-Jacques, 2,502 votes (12.91%) in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, and 2,470 votes (8.24%) in Rosemont – more than 30,000 votes in total in these seven ridings on the Island of Montreal.

There were also important results in other parts of Quebec, QS candidates polling 2,241 votes (8.42%) in the Quebec City riding of Taschereau, 1,995 votes (8.78%) in the Outaouais riding of Hull, 439 votes (5.04%) in the vast northern riding of Ungava, 1,413 votes (5.77%) in the “near-North” riding of Rouyn-Noranda-Témiscamingue, and just shy of 2,000 votes (6.46%) in Sherbrooke, the riding of Liberal premier Jean Charest.[2]

QS was formed at a convention, February 3, 4 and 5, 2006. Institutionally, it was the coming together of l’Union des forces progressistes (UFP) and Option citoyenne (OC). What this fusion accomplished was to provide a space for the expression of the hopes and dreams of two generations of struggle in Quebec. Those who attended the 1,000 strong opening rally, will never forget the emotion – a video showing the history of struggle in Quebec reaching back through the tumultuous decades of the 1960s and 1970s, from the War Measures Act of 1970 and the General Strike of 1972, to the women’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, and the anti-globalization and anti-war movements of the 21st century.[3] There was a feeling of history being made.

With a seat in the National Assembly, QS has a new tool to add to the historic commitment of the UFP to be a “party of the street and of the ballot box.”[4] The visibility that comes from having a sitting member will propel QS into the public eye in a new way.

There were some other encouraging results from the election. In particular, the right-wing Action Démocratique du Québec (ADQ), which had soared to second place in the 2007 election, saw its vote collapse by a stunning 694,487, leading to the election night resignation of leader Mario Dumont.

But there remain many challenges, of which QS members are very aware. Celebrations of Khadir’s victory were tempered by disappointment over Françoise David narrowly failing to join Khadir in the National Assembly. In addition, the overall result was a majority government for Jean Charest and the Liberal Party, a leader and a party who are a known commodity in Quebec politics – committed to defending the interests of corporate power.

More worrying, in an election which saw 720,000 fewer voters turn up at the polls than in 2007, it was the two traditional parties – the Liberals and the PQ – which saw their votes increase, 49,137 for the Liberals and 13,639 for the PQ. While QS saw its overall percentage increase slightly (from 3.64% to 3.8%), and while it displaced the Green Party as the fourth party in the election, its overall vote total actually declined by more than 20,000, dropping from 144,418 to 123,061.[5] (See table here for complete figures.)

The spectre of an economic crisis is a factor in this. Fear of recession in the absence of mass struggle means many in the electorate are looking for “safety” in the face of a stronger Liberal government. And it is probably the case that an increased number of people turned to the PQ in disgust at the federal Tories Quebec bashing in the context of the current national political crisis.

Given these huge currents in the economy and in mass politics, it is remarkable that QS did as well as it did, and that Khadir was able to win a seat. There is now a more visible progressive voice that can express the concerns of working people in the face of recession and layoffs, and be a voice against war in the face of parties like the federal NDP quietly putting Afghanistan on the shelf as the price for its coalition with the federal Liberals.

The story of QS needs to be given much more visibility in English Canada. Our sisters and brothers in Quebec have taken up the challenge of forging a united alternative to the traditional parties of politics, and have had some real success. Sometimes it seems that in English Canada we know more about events of this sort in Germany, Britain or France than we do about events down the 401, just across the Ontario border. Hopefully the presence of Amir Khadir in the National Assembly will give QS more visibility, not just in Quebec, but in English Canada as well.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article has been published as Breakthrough for Québec solidaire,, 12 December; “Quebec: Breakthrough for Québec solidaire,Links, 9 December.


[1] “Engagements 2008 de Québec solidaire,”, English version available here
[2] All electoral results from Le Directeur Général des élections du Québec, “Cartothèque: Cartes individuelles des 125 circonscriptions électorales provinciales,”
[3] Québec solidaire, “Historique”,
[4] Richard Fidler, “Canada: Quebec’s new united left party,” Green Left on line, December 10, 2003,
[5] Figures for 2007 from “Tableau synoptique des résultats pour l’ensemble des circonscriptions,”, for 2008 from “Élections générales: Résultats préliminaires,”

Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

DECEMBER 5, 2008 – (Article 4 of 4) Of all the compromises that might happen to keep a coalition alive, by far the most troubling is the one that is brewing on the war in Afghanistan. As news of the coalition began to surface in the last week of November, The Globe and Mail reported that “a senior NDP official said that no policy issues are considered deal breakers” including that of the war in Afghanistan.[1]

This above all else has to be a “deal breaker.” The NDP has been the one major party that has been committed to ending the war in Afghanistan. As this is being written, news came across the wires that three Canadian soldiers have been killed, taking the military death toll past 100.[2] We don’t know how many Afghanis have been killed in the war – there is no official attempt to keep track.

No compromise is possible on war. You are either for it or against it. The Liberals began this war. The Liberals voted to extend it to 2011. We all know that it is an unwinnable war, fought for corporate profits and geopolitical power, not for democracy and human rights. An anti-war party cannot stay anti-war and enter a cabinet with a pro-war party. Layton and the NDP leadership have to face up to the fact, that were the coalition to take office, the war in Afghanistan would become their war, and the deaths and injuries suffered in that conflict would be their responsibility.

Some will say that were the NDP to insist on this point, then the coalition would not be possible. That is probably true. But a coalition that includes “compromise” on Canada’s military adventure in Afghanistan is not a coalition worth having. Canada is engaged in an imperialist adventure in Central Asia – part of the long slow re-militarization of Canada begun by the Liberals and continuing under the Tories. Opposition to this war is a matter of principle, not one of political expediency. Were Layton and the NDP leadership to compromise on this issue, it would do immeasurable damage to the anti-war movement in Canada – and ultimately to the NDP itself.

There is fear among millions in the face of an unfolding economic crisis. There is anger at the arrogance of a Tory minority that is pushing full steam ahead with neoliberalism at home and militarism abroad.

But it is no solution to replace Harper with a coalition government led by the other party of corporate power and of militarism – the Liberal Party of Canada. All that would be accomplished would be the burying of the independent voice of Canadian labour – the voice of the NDP – behind the pro-corporate voices of Michael Ignatieff and his colleagues.

If the coalition does not take office, we know the way forward. We need to build social movements against war in Afghanistan, against the militarization of Canadian society, against sending off working class men and women to die for corporate profits. We need to build inside the workers’ movements, unions with the muscle to challenge the agenda of the corporations. Don’t bail out the auto companies – nationalize them and convert the jobs to green jobs, building public transit, building the infrastructure of a sustainable green economy. If the coalition does take office – the way forward is exactly the same.

We will be told that raising Afghanistan is divisive. So be it. We will demand that the coalition withdraw the troops immediately, even if that means the Liberals abandoning the coalition and the government falling. The only lasting basis for gains for working people and the poor is in building social movements that do not rely on manoeuvres at the top of the system. The Liberals will say “but we are a party of peace, we didn’t go to war in Iraq.” We will remind them that they were going full speed ahead to war in Iraq in 2003, until 400,000 people took to the streets – including two massive, beautiful demonstrations in Montreal – demanding that Canada stay out of that conflict. The Liberals reluctantly stayed out of the Iraq war because it would have been political suicide for them to join the Coalition of the Killing.

That is the way we will win progress whether it be a Harper government, or a Liberal/NDP government – by mobilizing on the streets and in the workplaces, whether the Prime Minister is Stephen Harper, or Stéphane Dion, or Bob Rae, or Michael Ignatieff.

Previous articles:Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism
Are the Liberals an Alternative?
Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article was published as Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan,”, 6 December.

[1] Brian Laghi, Steven Chase and Gloria Galloway and Daniel Lebanc, “Harper buys time, coalition firms up,” The Globe and Mail, November 29, 2008
[2] Graeme Smith, “Canada suffers 100th military casualty of Afghan mission,” The Globe and Mail online, December 5, 2008

Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power

(Article 3 of 4) It is not news to many in the social movements that we have had trouble with both the Tories and the Liberals while in office. Nonetheless, there is considerable enthusiasm for an NDP-Liberal coalition being able to offer real change – change that could not happen under the Harper Tories. But we have to be very sober about what is possible. We cannot judge political parties by their momentary positions, by their style, by their individual leaders. Parties are reflections of class power in a class-divided society – and in Canada, there is no question that the Liberals, like the Tories, are a party of the corporations, a party of the capitalist class.

This used to be quite easy to demonstrate. Until December 31, 2006, political parties could receive open contributions from corporations and unions. This changed with the passing of the “Federal Accountability Act” in 2006, which restricted donations to “citizens and permanent residents of Canada” and expressly forbade “corporations, trade unions and unincorporated associations” from making these donations.[1] This does not mean that corporations and unions do not have parties of their choice – it just makes the links between parties and classes in society more obscure.

But the readily available information we have before the passing of this act makes one thing very clear – there is little difference between the Liberals and the Tories from the standpoint of the boardrooms of Canada’s major corporations. In fact, through much of the last generation, their preferred party has been the Liberals, not the Tory/Reform project of Stephen Harper. The chart here documents this clearly.[2]

While the Tories were in office under Mulroney, they were lavished with funds from Canada’s corporations. But once the Liberals replaced them, corporate funding for the Tories collapsed, and the corporations increased their donations to the Liberals, year after year preferring them to either the Tories or the Reform/Alliance, in some years sending many millions more into the Liberal coffers than into those of Tory/Reform.

We know that the economic crisis is seen differently from Bay Street than from Main Street. We know that the corporations will seek to solve the problems of the economy on the backs of working people. We know that attacks on wages, attacks on union rights, attacks on social services – we know that all of these are being prepared in the corridors of corporate power, their usual arsenal when faced with a crisis of their system.

And we know from the data on this page, and from years of bitter experience, that the Liberal Party of Canada is at its core, a party of these corporations – a party which will bend its effort to rule in the interests of these corporations.

Jack Layton is hoping that the NDP will be able to set the terms of the coalition. There is no chance of this happening. The NDP was committed to funding social programs by rescinding the corporate tax cuts made under Harper’s watch. During the election campaign, this was one of the strongest part of the party’s platform. It wasn’t only Harper who opposed it. Stéphane Dion called it a “job killer.”[3] One of the first casualties of the coalition was this NDP campaign promise. Liberal finance critic Scott Brison said that “corporate tax cuts set to kick in next year would remain in effect as part of a Liberal-NDP coalition government.”[4]

What will it mean for working people of Canada if, in order to get into office, policy after policy from the NDP campaign book has to be sacrificed in order to try and align themselves with Canada’s party of Bay Street?

Previous articles:
Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neo-Liberalism
Are the Liberals an Alternative?
Read next:
Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] Elections Canada, “Backgrounders: New Rules for Federal Political Donations
[2] Compiled from Elections Canada, “Financial Reports: Registered Party Financial Transactions Returns,” various years
[3] Mike Blanchfield and Juliet O’Neill, “NDP to tax corporations to aid families,” Edmonton Journal, September 29, 2008
[4] David Akin and Paul Vieira, “No rollback on corporate taxes: Liberal’s Brison,” The Financial Post, December 1, 2008

Are the Liberals an Alternative?

(Article 2 of 4) Harper and the Tories are unfit to govern, and should be shown the door. Unfortunately, the alternative we were offered December 3, after Harper’s broadcast to the nation, was not very promising. The Liberal-NDP coalition would be headed by outgoing Liberal leader Stéphane Dion. Along with Harper, Dion was offered ten minutes of air time on national television to present his position. In a strange piece of melodrama, Dion’s tape was delivered late – so late, that it only appeared on CBC, and was not aired by CTV.

For those who saw the video, the effect was depressing. The message Dion put forward was confusing and hesitant (as well as looking as if it had been produced by a webcam). Many who watched it and had supported the Liberal-NDP coalition, had second thoughts after seeing his performance.

Dion is a lame-duck leader of a Liberal Party that was deeply wounded in the last election. The Liberals received their lowest percentage vote ever, getting the backing of just 26% of the electorate.[1] It is only because they are so weakened that they have been forced to turn to the BQ and the NDP for support.

The role of the NDP and the recently ex-NDP is in fact extremely important in this drama. The origins of the coalition idea seems to have come from current NDP leader Jack Layton in consultation with former NDP leader Ed Broadbent. Layton – far more popular with the electorate than Dion – is centrally important in giving the coalition credibility. And in the dramatic radio coverage of the decision to prorogue Parliament, the CBC had Ed Broadbent on the phone for the NDP, and for the Liberals – former NDP premier of Ontario Bob Rae, and former NDP premier of B.C. Ujjal Dosanjh, both of whom are now senior members of the Liberal Party of Canada, one of whom (Rae) is a leading candidate to replace Dion.

But make no mistake – if the NDP is central to the formation of the coalition, this will be a Liberal government. The prime minister will be Liberal. The finance minister will be Liberal. Most of the cabinet seats will be Liberal. And these Liberals are a known quantity, a party little different from the Tories in both their fiscal and foreign policies.

Harper is hated because of his neoliberal policies. But the bitter truth is, there is nothing to choose between the Liberals and the Tories in terms of neoliberalism. One way of measuring this is in the support given by the federal government to the provinces. In the Canadian system, it is the provinces that deliver the bulk of Health, Education and Welfare. But given the much greater taxation powers of the central state, they are very dependent on transfer payments from the central state to finance these “social wage” activities. One of the key aspects of neoliberalism is launching an assault on this social wage. The chart on this page shows the record here for both the Liberals and the Tories.[2]

The neoliberal era in Canada is usually seen as beginning with the Mulroney Tories in the 1980s. The chart shows that social wage transfers did stagnate through much of the 1980s under Mulroney’s watch. But the years of devastating cuts were 1995 to 1998, years of a Liberal government. The critical moment was the 1996 budget authored by then finance minister Paul Martin, working with then prime minister Jean Chrétien. That is the budget which collapsed long-standing programs for delivering money to the provinces (Established Program Financing and Canada Assistance Plan) into the Canada Health and Social Transfer. Disguised in this bureaucratic shuffle were cuts in billions to the transfers necessary to sustain the social wage – more than $1 billion in the first year, more than $2 billion in the second and almost $3 billion in the third. In Ontario in those years, we could see the open neoliberals – Mike Harris, Jim Flaherty and Tony Clement – launching horrible attacks on hospital and public school funding. But their open neoliberal attacks were made possible by the “silent” neoliberalism of Paul Martin and Jean Chrétien. The fact that those transfer payments go up in the last years of the Liberal tenure should give none of us comfort. The first years of the 21st century saw an unprecedented world-wide economic expansion, which filled the federal coffers with billions of tax dollar windfalls. So transfer payments increase in the last years of Chrétien and Martin – but they have also increased in the last two years of the Harper Tories. This is not because either became wedded to protecting Canadian workers – it is because of the economic boom, a boom which has now come shuddering to a halt.

This division of labour between the Tories and the Liberals has long defined Canadian politics. Their policies are virtually indistinguishable – Liberals playing the soft cop as a counterpoint to the Tories’ hard cop. Social policy is not the only place where this is visible. In foreign policy, the Liberals love to portray themselves as the party of Lester Pearson, the party of peacekeeping – contrasting themselves to the hawkish Tories. And in fact, Harper’s Tories have openly relished increasing the militarization of the Canadian state. This year, Harper has boasted about his plans on these lines. In May, the National Post gave a “sneak preview” of the plans.

Over the next 20 years, the Tories want to commit Ottawa to spending $30-billion more on the military. Mr. Harper foresees an expansion of our Forces to 100,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen. Troop strength will include 70,000 regular forces, up from 65,000 today, while the reserves will expand from 24,000 to 30,000. Ageing warships will be replaced, and new transport aircraft and armoured vehicles wibe purchased. New medium-lift helicopters will be bought immediately to ferry our troops over and around roadside bombs and snipers in Afghanistan.[3]

This was confirmed on the evening of Thursday June 19, 2008 – “the night before Parliament adjourns for the summer”[4] – a major document appeared on the National Defence web site, announcing a 20 year, $490-billion “Canada First” Defence Strategy to steadily upgrade Canada’s military capacity over a generation.[5] But the chart here documents that this increase in spending on war did not begin with the Tories – it began with the Liberals.[6] Under Liberal Paul Martin’s watch between 2003 and 2006, military spending increased more than $1 billion, in real terms, every year. Under Harper, those increases actually slowed for two years, before returning to Martin era levels in 2007-08. There is nothing to choose between the Tories and the Liberals in terms of Canadian militarism.

The “Canada First” increase in Canada’s militarism, builds upon a generation of moves by both Tories and Liberals to move away from the peacekeeping moment. In 1991 under the Tories, Canada was a full participant in the first Gulf War. Canada’s 1993 intervention in Somalia looked to the Somalis more like occupation than peacekeeping.[7] In 1999, under the Liberals, Canada was one of the principal contributors to NATO’s bombing campaign against Yugoslavia. And from 2001 to the present, it has been a central component of the war in Afghanistan. It was not the Tories who sent Canada into this overseas adventure – it was Jean Chrétien, and John Manley, and Paul Martin, and John McCallum, and Stéphane Dion – the very Liberals we are now told are an alternative to the Tories.

The Harper Tories are a threat to peace, a threat to social programs, a threat to the interests of working people in Canada. But the record of the Liberal Party over a generation should make us soberly assess the chances of a coalition – a coalition they dominate – being any better.

Previous article:
Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism
Read next:
Liberals and Tories – parties of corporate power
Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] According to Nodice,
[2] Department of Finance, Canada, “Fiscal Reference Tables, September 2008: Table 11 – Major transfers to other levels of government,” adjusted into 2008 dollars based on Statistics Canada, Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System (CANSIM) “Table 3260020 – Consumer Price Index, 2005 basket, monthly” accessed December 5, 2008.
[3] “Bolstering our Forces,” National Post, May 14, 2008
[4] David Pugliese, “Parliament in the dark on major weapons purchase,” Canwest News Services, June 19, 2008, accessed June 20, 2008
[5] “Canada First Defence Strategy,” National Defense, Canada, June 18, 2008, accessed June 20, 2008.
[6] Department of Finance, Canada, “Fiscal Reference Tables, September 2008: Table 7 – Budgetary expenses (millions of dollars),” adjusted into 2008 dollars based on Statistics Canada, Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System (CANSIM) “Table 3260020 – Consumer Price Index, 2005 basket, monthly” accessed December 5, 2008
[7] Sherene H. Razack, Dark Threats and White Knights: The Somalia Affair, Peacekeeping and the New Imperialism (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004)

Harper’s Tories: Attacking Quebec to Save Neoliberalism

(Article 1 of 4) Stephen Harper won a seven week reprieve December 4, the Governor-General granting his request to prorogue Parliament until January 26. But the events of the past week have pushed him into a corner and he is fighting for his political life. The fight has revealed something many people already knew. Behind the fuzzy sweater donned during the last election, behind the “fireside chat” chumminess that he was trying to cultivate, behind this façade of polite civilized behaviour, there resides the same man who was cadre for the Reform Party and Canadian Alliance. That political formation built itself on a combination of polarizing attacks on Quebec and neoliberal dogmatism. Harper in a corner, with his fangs bared, has showed himself not to have changed one iota.

The anti-Quebec politics he has unleashed are appalling. In Question Period December 3, Tory member after Tory member repeated the same two words over and over again – “separatist coalition” – 36 times to be exact, if the official record is to be believed.[1] Harper used the same language in his address to the nation December 3, saying that a time of crisis is “no time for backroom deals with the separatists.”[2] At various times, Tories were using the words “treason,” ” and “deal with the devil” as they carried their polemic against the proposed coalition.[3] This was clearly a planned, coordinated strategy, the most blatantly open anti-Quebec politics to come from the federal stage in years.

Just a few months ago, Harper was trying to woo the voters of Quebec, hoping to re-create the Brian Mulroney coalition of the 1980s. He had surprisingly supported the idea of calling Quebec a nation – something that angered many of his old Reform Party comrades. But pushed into a corner, he needs to rally his base – and nothing energizes the old Reform Party more than attacks on Quebec.

“In the space of just a few days” said one commentator, “the phobia of ‘separatists’ has reappeared in Ottawa and in English Canada, with a force we haven’t seen in years, since the referendum in 1995, since the Meech Lake controversy.”[4] It has become legitimate again to speak about Quebec with outright hostility and bigotry, made legitimate by the irresponsible rants of Harper and the Tory caucus.

Harper is aware just how inflammatory is his language. In the French version of his address to the nation, he translated the loaded word “separatist” into the much less value-laden “souverainiste”.[5] But this transparent ruse is unlikely to fool the people of Quebec, who are rightly recoiling in shock at the display of venom coming from Harper and his followers. As one radio commentator put it, the price for Harper rallying the troops to his anti-Quebec flag, was to put “scorched earth” between the Tories and what had been their developing base in Quebec.

Harper’s target is the Bloc Québécois (BQ), which has indicated it would support the proposed coalition between the Liberals and the NDP. Harper’s attack is ridiculous. First, the BQ is not part of the coalition – it has only indicated that it will give the coalition 18 months to govern. Second, this is not unusual. The BQ was, after all, central to keeping Stephen Harper’s last minority government alive in its early months. And these parliamentary details are beside the point. The Tories are focussing on the fact that the BQ supports sovereignty. That is their right. They are also the party supported by 1.3 million Quebeckers in the last election. The BQ is a legitimate part of the political spectrum in Canada. It has a long record of operating in the House of Commons – including being the official opposition in 1993, a party which has “contributed to debates outside matters of Quebec’s status and powers, on everything from climate change and Afghanistan to efforts to repatriate Omar Khadr” as even the editorial writers for The Globe and Mail have to admit.[6]

But Harper is teetering on the edge of losing his office, and will use every weapon at his disposal to say in office – even if that means fanning the flames of anti-Quebec bigotry. What brought Harper to this impasse was his stubborn commitment to neo-liberal orthodoxy, even in the face of the economic storm sweeping the world economy. In country after country, governments have turned their back on the neoliberal allergy to the state – and begun the process of rediscovering Keynesianism and state intervention – indispensable in the face of the horrors of the unfettered free market. But Harper and his finance minister Jim Flaherty – the latter trained in the neo-liberal era of Ontario’s Mike Harris – had delivered an economic update that instead of stimulating the economy, would have further depressed it. They are dogmatic neoliberal ideologues, very reluctant to abandon the old, failed orthodoxy.

Flaherty has been trying to argue that he has already stimulated the economy through previously announced tax cuts. The Department of Finance depends on four firms to help with the preparation of budget documents. One of these is the Centre for Spatial Economics. Flaherty’s view “is a fantasy” according to the Centre’s Robert Fairholm, quoted in The Globe and Mail. “Most of the short-term stimulus from these measures have already boosted economic activity, and so will not continue to provide [a] short-term jolt to growth.” The tax cuts coming January, 2009 put $2.5 billion into the economy. But the update was going to cut $4.3 billion, “so the net effect is contractive, Mr. Fairholm explained.” In fact, instead of stimulating the economy, Fairholm estimates that the impact of Flaherty’s “update” would be to turn a 0.3 per cent annual growth rate to a decline of 0.1 per cent.[7]

Harper has revealed his colours – first as a neo-liberal dinosaur who has no understanding of how to respond to the economic crisis, second as a politician willing to go to any lengths – including irresponsibly provoking an anti-Quebec backlash in English Canada – to consolidate his base and keep his job. No wonder that his actions have disgusted thousands, and that the three other parties in the House of Commons are trying to push him out.

Read next:
Harper out of Ottawa, Canada out of Afghanistan

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] “40th Parliament, 1st Session: Edited Hansard: Number 012,” Wednesday, December 3, 2008,
[2] “Full text of Harper’s televised address,”, December 3, 2008
[3] “Fanning anger toward Quebec,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008,
[4] Translated from Vincent Marissal, “Situation désespérée, stratégie du désespoir,” La Presse, 04 décembre, 2008,
[5] Graeme Hamilton, “Old bogeyman usurps real crisis,” National Post, December 4, 2008,
[6] “Fanning anger toward Quebec,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008, p. A22.
[7] Cited in Heather Scofield, “Flaherty’s plan prolongs the pain, forecaster says,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008, p. A4.

Harper’s Afghanistan solution – send in the killers

Do a google search for “24th Marine Expeditionary Unit” and “John Moore”. The first search result provides a picture that says, more than any article, what the real implications of the Tories’ war plans will be in Afghanistan. The picture shows five members of the marines, heads shaven, three of them chomping on cigars, coming off the plane at Kandahar airfield.[1] This should send shivers down the spine of all of us. When the marines go in, the killing starts. But getting the marines into Kandahar is the price Harper (backed by Dion) accepted in exchange for prolonging the war to 2011.

The Harper/Dion deal to extend the war to 2011, was based on the “demand” that NATO allies help out the Canadian war eHarper’s Afghanistan solution – send in the killers

The Harper/Dion deal to extend the war to 2011, was based on the “demand” that NATO allies help out the Canadian war effort, providing at least 1,000 new troops to the dangerous southern region around Kandahar. But there is little taste for taking casualties among many of the European NATO countries. Anti-war sentiment directed at the Iraq war kept many countries in Europe out of that war (France and Germany being the most prominent), and led to huge protests in others – Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom seeing hundreds of thousands on the streets. That anti-war sentiment has not yet focused on Afghanistan, but only because that war has yet to see thousands of coalition casualties.

So, the NATO deal to “help” Canada, does not involve any new countries putting soldiers into combat zones. France has agreed to deploy a battalion (about 700 or 800 soldiers) into eastern Afghanistan, freeing up the U.S. to send 1,000 troops to the danger zone in Kandahar.[2] There is no excuse for any illusions about what this means.

Let’s have former marines tell us about their history of intervention. William Crandell served with the U.S. 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. “We went to preserve the peace and our testimony will show that we have set all of Indochina aflame. We went to defend the Vietnamese people and our testimony will show that we are committing genocide against them. We went to fight for freedom and our testimony will show that we have turned Vietnam into a series of concentration camps.”[3] Crandell gave this testimony during the Winter Soldier Hearings in Detroit in 1971, sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to expose war crimes in Vietnam.

21st century U.S. soldiers know very well that this is not just a history lesson. Because of the barbarism of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. based Iraq Veterans Against the War organized “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan” to document the horrors committed in those “theatres.”[4] Because of modern technology we have the “privilege” of witnessing some of this barbarism in a way that was impossible for the Vietnam generation. Web sites like “Democracy Now” have done a brilliant job of making this available to the world.[5]

Harper and Dion are making Canada complicit in this history of U.S. military intervention and barbarism.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg


[1] John Moore, “Marines Land,” Getty Images, in, Mar. 11, 2008,
[2] News Staff, “NATO agrees to send 1,000 more troops to Kandahar,” Apr. 2, 2008,
[3] William Crandell, “Opening Statement,” Winter Soldier Investigation, Vietnam Veterans Against the War Inc., January 31, February 1 and 2, 1971
[4] Iraq Veterans Against the War, “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan”,
[5] Amy Goodman, “Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?”, May 30, 2006,