Mulcair, the NDP and the movements

MARCH 27, 2012 – The New Democratic Party (NDP) has a new federal leader. Thomas Mulcair, has no roots in the social movements, a long history of being a senior Liberal Party member, and is someone  openly committed to pushing the NDP considerably to the right. The implications for all interested in progressive social change are sobering.

The conservative Globe and Mail praised his victory calling it a victory for “pragmatism” and a “shift to the centre” (The Globe and Mail 2012). This “shift to the centre” will be a shift against the environment. He sent a strong signal to the oil industry at his first press conference, carefully using the term “oil sands” rather than the more accurate (and pejorative) “tar sands” (Ivison 2012). This “shift to the centre” will see any residual “left” phrases in party literature confined to the history books. Mulcair is committed to ending use of the term “democratic socialism” in NDP literature (Leblanc and Galloway 2012).

Leadership candidate Niki Ashton challenged Mulcair during the campaign, saying, “you’ve attacked our [the NDP’s] opposition to unfair trade deals, our links with the labour movement, our championing of ordinary people”. His response? “Between the Ontario border and the B.C. border we now hold a grand total of three seats” (Ibbitson 2012). Progressive policies, in other words, need to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency.

In raising the issue of trade deals, Ashton was putting her finger on something quite important. One of the defining issues of the last generation has been building opposition to the neoliberal policies embedded in so-called “trade deals” such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). But Mulcair, far from profiling his opposition to NAFTA, profiles his work with NAFTA. His web site proudly announces that he was president of the Quebec Professions Board from 1987 until 1993. “The work done by the Quebec Professions Board on the Free Trade in services portion of the NAFTA had led to increased contacts with the U.S. on these issues” (thomasmulcair.ca 2012). During the campaign, Mulcair announced that he had helped draft some of NAFTA’s articles which centred on the environment (Cameron 2011).

On international issues, Mulcair doesn’t occupy the centre. He is firmly on the right. He was part of a caucus revolt in 2008, causing then leader, the late Jack Layton, to withdraw NDP support for the 2009 United Nations-sponsored Anti-racism Durban Review Conference, a follow-up to the 2001 World Conference against Racism (WCAR) (National Post 2008). What was WCAR’s supposed crime? Its Declaration and Programme of Action expressed “concern about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation” (WCAR 2009). Mulcair was “successful in muting NDP criticism of the January 2009 Israeli bombardment of Gaza” but was not muted at all the next year when he joined with Tory Jason Kenney and then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff in condemning Israeli Apartheid Week (Shniad and Presentey 2012).

In truth, we don’t really need all this evidence. His willingness to serve for years as a cabinet minister under Quebec Liberal Premier (and ex-Tory) Jean Charest, in many ways tells us everything we need to know. Thomas Mulcair is a man of the establishment, not of the movements.

But Mulcair won, and actually won quite easily. He led the first ballot, capturing 19,728 votes (30.3%). The next ballot, his vote increased to 23,902 (38.3%), 8% up on his first result, double the rate of increase of Peggy Nash and more than double that of Brian Topp and Nathan Cullen. The third ballot was the only one where another candidate increased support faster than Mulcair, Topp’s support increasing by 6.6% compared to Mulcair’s 5.5%. On the last ballot, Mulcair’s vote soared 13.4% compared to 11.2% for Topp, giving Mulcair 57.2% of votes cast, and a clear victory (CPAC 2012).

Not that Topp would have been a particularly “left” alternative. For a quarter of a century, he has been very far removed from the social movements, serving as a backroom apparatus-man – a staffer for either the NDP or the union bureaucracy (Kellogg 2012). His principal claim to fame was pushing the party, not to the left but to the right, attempting to forge a coalition with the Liberal Party in 2008. Mulcair announced at the time, that if the NDP shared governmental power with the Liberals, they would also share the prosecution of war in Afghanistan, telling the press, “the NDP is putting aside its differences that have existed historically with the Liberals on such issues as Afghanistan” (Kellogg 2009).

There were two candidates who galvanized social movement activists. Many were understandably attracted to the youth and social movement orientation of Nathan Cullen. Judy Rebick said that his “language was very close to the politics of the New Politics Initiative. He speaks of social struggles and the alliance between the party and First Nations and environment groups” (Rebick 2012). But his main profile in the campaign became calling for an alliance with the Liberals – the same kind of approach that was so clearly wrong in 2008.

So it was Peggy Nash who became, for many, the best hope of social movement activists. Like Topp she has spent many years in full-time union and political positions. But unlike Topp, her early years were spent on the shop floor as a union activist. She has always been a friend of the social movements, appearing on the platform of many demonstrations – including demonstrations against the Afghanistan war which Topp and Mulcair were so ready to support in 2008.

But her first ballot result of 8,353 votes (12.8%), more than 2,000 votes behind Cullen and far behind Topp and Mulcair was extremely disappointing. She lasted only one more ballot. As for Cullen, he did manage to increase his vote total to 15,426 (24.6%) by the third ballot. But again, this was far behind the two front-runners. The end result was a sharp defeat for candidates associated with the social movements, and a surprisingly strong victory for the most mainstream leader in the history of the NDP.

For all the candidates, their relationship to the social movements was a more accurate standard by which to assess their politics, than by the usual NDP standard of relationship to labour. In this campaign, the message from the union movement was completely confused. Some labour leaders took a clear principled stand. Sid Ryan of the Ontario Federation of Labour (OFL), and the United Steelworkers Toronto Area Council, were prominent backers of the Nash campaign (peggynash.ca 2012). But the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) as a whole was quite happy to overlook the pro-war coalition moment of 2008, and endorse Topp as a candidate (Galloway 2011). Much worse, United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada, The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Toronto’s Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) all declared for Mulcair (UFCW 2012).

Rebick’s invocation of the New Politics Initiative (NPI) points to the importance of the social movements, and also captures the extent to which the NDP has travelled to the right this century. The NPI was formed just over ten years ago, with a view to dissolving the NDP, and launching a new party rooted in the anti-globalization movement, a party “with two key objectives: promoting the environment and combatting ‘corporate globalization’” (MacKinnon 2001). This push for a new party – supported by Nash among others – was very narrowly defeated, losing by just 684 to 401 at the November, 2001 convention (O’Neill 2001).

That November 2001 vote was the high water mark for the social movement left inside the NDP. Unfortunately, the NPI became reoriented away from the anti-globalization and anti-war movements, and toward facilitating the leadership campaign of Jack Layton. When he launched his bid, he was very much an outsider – and the NPI provided a door in. The only two NDP federal caucus members to support Layton’s leadership bid in 2002-2003, were leading NPI figures Svend Robinson and Libby Davies. Riding the wave of the anti-globalization movement which the NPI reflected, and coming out openly for participation in anti-war demonstrations against the war in Iraq, Layton won a crushing first ballot victory with 53.5% of votes cast.

But this victory has proven pyrrhic. It was Layton who opened the door to Mulcair. “Jack, his wife Olivia Chow, Tom [Mulcair] and Catherine [Pinhas] had a meeting and supper together at a restaurant in 2007” leading to Layton naming Mulcair his “Quebec Lieutenant” (thomasmulcair.ca 2012). The NDP did not become a vehicle with which to amplify the issues and concerns of the social movements. The NDP became a vehicle focussed on national office, and suddenly that vehicle has ex-Liberal Thomas Mulcair in the driver’s seat.

Gregg Shotwell, a retired veteran of the autoworkers in the United States, had a message for activists in last year’s Occupy movement. Be careful of orienting on the Democratic Party, “where all good movements go to die” (Shotwell 2012). The situation may not be quite so extreme in the NDP. But it’s not far off. What at first seems like a comfortable home can too often be transformed into a debilitating trap. When the focus shifted from the NPI and movement building to Layton, leadership selection, and electoral success, the end result has been the most movement-averse leader in the history of the party.

Some will draw other lessons from this process. Former leader of the Reform Party, Preston Manning, sees the NDP’s problem as having “rooted itself in Quebec” (Manning 2012). This is a noxious reminder of the anti-Quebec politics of Manning’s (and Stephen Harper’s) Reform Party roots. It is also completely wrong. The problems with Mulcair are not his Quebec roots. The problems with Mulcair are his establishment roots.

In a certain sense, what we need is to root ourselves more, not less, in Quebec. It is Quebec, after all, which is the home of Québec solidaire (QS) “a party of the ballot box and the streets” (Life on the left 2011). A massive student movement is sweeping the province, and QS spokesperson Amir Khadir proudly wears “the red cloth squares of the striking students” (Dougherty 2012). At a press conference March 22 before a wonderful 200,000 strong demonstration against tuition fee hikes, the other QS spokesperson, Françoise David was there, calling for taxing the corporations to pay for education (Steuter-Martin and Gallant 2012). That is the way we win our gains – building mass movements, and posing politics in class terms.

One last thought which might just sum it all up – the man against whom the students are protesting is Liberal Premier Jean Charest. We’ve met him before. He’s the ex-Tory who gave Thomas Mulcair his start in politics.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

For any who are in Toronto this week, an important discussion of the implications of the NDP leadership race, will take place at the monthly General Membership Meeting of the Greater Toronto Workers’ Assembly, 7pm, Thursday March 29, Beit Zatoun House, 612 Markham Street (west of Bathurst, south of Bloor).

Publishing History

This article has been published as Canada: Thomas Mulcair, the New Democratic Party and the social movements,” Links, 27 March.

References

Cameron, Duncan. 2011. “Tom Mulcair Plays a Terrible Hand on Trade.” Rabble.ca.

CPAC. 2012. “NDP Leadership – Mulcair Wins Leadership.” Cpac.ca.

Dougherty, Kevin. 2012. “10 Questions and Answers About Quebec’s Student Strike.” The Gazette, March 6.

Galloway, Gloria. 2011. “United Steelworkers Endorse Brian Topp for NDP Leader.” The Globe and Mail, October 12.

Ibbitson, John. 2012. “Enter Mulcair.” The Globe and Mail, March 26.

Ivison, John. 2012. “Mulcair Denies Cabinet Demand; NDP Leadership Hopeful Had 2007 Talks with Tories.” National Post, March 2.

Kellogg, Paul. 2009. “Dear Jack: Do You Really Want This War?” PolEcon.net.

———. 2012. “Topp and Mulcair – the Apparatus Man and the ex-Liberal.” PolEcon.net.

Leblanc, Daniel, and Gloria Galloway. 2012. “A Principled Pragmatist Who’s Always up for a Fight.” The Globe and Mail, March 26.

Life on the left. 2011. “Québec Solidaire: A Québécois Approach to Building a Broad Left Party (Part II).” Lifeonleft.blogspot.ca.

MacKinnon, Mark. 2001. “Rebels Aim to Dissolve NDP, Form New Party.” The Globe and Mail, June 6.

Manning, Preston. 2012. “The NDP’s Mulcair.” The Globe and Mail, March 27.

National Post. 2008. “Layton Backtracks on UN Racism Conference.” Canada.com, June 24.

O’Neill, Juliet. 2001. “NDP Delegates Vote Against New Party: Policy Convention Leaves Some in Tears as Members Argue over Party’s ‘Mushiness’.” The Ottawa Citizen, November 25.

peggynash.ca. 2012. “Peggy Nash: Announcements.” Peggy Nash.

Rebick, Judy. 2012. “Understanding the Victory of Thomas Mulcair.” Rabble.ca.

Shniad, Sid, and Fabienne Presentey. 2012. “Thomas Mulcair – Israel, Right or Wrong.” Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada.

Shotwell, Gregg. 2012. “Where Workers Have Power.” SocialistWorker.org, March 27.

Steuter-Martin, Marilla, and Jacques Gallant. 2012. “Hundreds of Thousands Flood the Streets.” The Concordian, March 22.

The Globe and Mail. 2012. “Editorial – Mulcair’s Moment.” The Globe and Mail, March 26.

thomasmulcair.ca. 2012. “About Tom.” Thomas Mulcair.

UFCW. 2012. “NDP Leadership Candidate Thomas Mulcair Gaining Momentum as We Head Toward Convention.” UFCW Canada.

WCAR. 2009. “Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.” In Durban, South Africa.

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

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

Afghanistan is still the issue – anti-war movement in convention

December 6, on the second day of the biennial (every two years) convention of the Canadian Peace Alliance, 100 or so delegates and observers gathered in the bitter cold on the sidewalk outside the student centre at Ryerson University in Toronto. Behind a massive banner and carrying dozens of placards saying “Troops Out of Afghanistan” we marched to join the 3,000 strong anti-Harper rally taking place that day at City Hall. We took the streets, and as our little contingent turned the last corner before arriving at City Hall, we took up the chant, “Harper Out of Ottawa, Canada Out of Afghanistan.” The message couldn’t have been clearer – no matter what government is in office, there is a movement on the streets telling any who will listen, Afghanistan is still the issue.

Most in the crowd greeted us with enthusiasm. Thousands of NDP members have been central to the anti-war movement. But Jack Layton has told them that the Afghanistan file is on the shelf while he pursues the increasingly forlorn project of coalescing with the Liberals. Suddenly, it is not at all clear that the NDP federal leadership considers it “legitimate” to be against Harper and against the war at the same time. The CPA contingent gave voice again to the crowd that was in its vast majority anti-war. The reception was fantastic (except for some disgruntled senior Liberal Party members). It was a moment when all present were very proud to be part of Canada’s anti-war movement. Opposing the war in Afghanistan is not a bargaining chip to be used in parliamentary coalition negotiations. It is a non-negotiable matter of principle. The troops must come home. The killing must stop.

The convention was an intense three-day event, December 5 to 7, which brought together elected delegates from 39 anti-war and peace organizations from across the country. Together with observers, more than 100 people attended.

The central decision of the conference was the adoption of a two-year “Campaign Goals, Strategy and Actions.” The delegates unanimously agreed that for the next two years, the war in Afghanistan and the War Resisters Campaign would be the strategic focuses for the CPA. The plan commits the CPA to two bi-national demonstrations against the war in Afghanistan each year, one in the spring, one in the autumn. The first one in 2009 will be held in the first week of April to coincide with the call from anti-war groups in Europe to mark the 60th anniversary of the creation of NATO – the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which is prosecuting the brutal war in Afghanistan.

One of the most intense discussions occurred at a packed workshop centred around the war at home, and the attack on civil liberties. Matthew Behrens from Homes not Bombs said “the biggest losers from the Coalition have been the people of Afghanistan.” He and others expressed the fear that along with the war taking a back seat, so would campaigns around Islamophobia and the attacks on racialized communities. Delegates from the Tamil Youth Organization talked about how their community has been harassed and labelled as “terrorist”, and the implications that has had on community members. There was considerable enthusiasm for the idea of organizing a conference centred on the defence of civil liberties.

The issue of the changing political terrain and the war in Afghanistan was a recurring theme throughout the convention. On the opening panel, Maude Barlow from the Council of Canadians said of the coalition, “we don’t agree with the concession around Afghanistan,” but nonetheless said that the coalition gave us “an opportunity to have our voices heard.” You can support the coalition, she argued, without agreeing with all its policies. On the Saturday panel, “Thinking Strategically: Building the movement to end the war,” Susan Spratt from the Canadian Auto Workers Union made a similar point. “Without a coalition” she argued, “we’re going to end up with a fascist regime that won’t budge on the war.”

But the overwhelming sentiment at the convention was that the anti-war movement had to steer an independent course. The CPA has a responsibility to keep the issue of “Troops Out of Afghanistan” in the public eye, by keeping the anti-war movement active and on the streets. This is even more the case when the political party with an official position calling for Troops Out – the NDP – has shamefully traded the push to end to the war for the promise of six cabinet seats.

The coming months will not be easy. In Canada, the Afghanistan issue has become confused because of the actions of the Coalition. In the United States, the election of Barack Obama has rightly excited millions. But while Obama is committed to winding down the war in Iraq, he is equally committed to a major escalation in Afghanistan. He is using his massive popularity to argue that Afghanistan is the “good war,” an argument that will confuse many people.

Raymond Legault from the Quebec based “Collectif Échec à la guerre” – attending the convention as an observer – argued that we had to face the fact that “fewer people are at our protests and rallies, not more.” This doesn’t mean an end to organizing, it just means that organizing has to take a different shape. “We don’t hear much about the reality of the war,” he said. “We need to bring this reality to people.” To that end, Échec à la guerre is organizing a Peoples’ Summit in Quebec for the autumn of 2009, to provide a forum where the bitter reality of war can be made more visible. The CPA delegates voted to organize a similar Peoples’ Summit in English Canada.

The convention was a real success, a coalescing of local anti-war organizing that revealed the framework around which our movement can continue to organize and build in the coming months – challenging Canada’s war both abroad and at home.

For more information, check out http://www.acp-cpa.ca, http://www.aqoci.qc.ca/ceg/ and http://www.resisters.ca/

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

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,” rabble.ca, 6 December.

References
[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

References

[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

References

[1] According to Nodice, www.nodice.ca
[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

References

[1] “40th Parliament, 1st Session: Edited Hansard: Number 012,” Wednesday, December 3, 2008, www.parl.gc.ca
[2] “Full text of Harper’s televised address,” www.thestar.com, December 3, 2008
[3] “Fanning anger toward Quebec,” The Globe and Mail, December 4, 2008, www.theglobeandmail.com
[4] Translated from Vincent Marissal, “Situation désespérée, stratégie du désespoir,” La Presse, 04 décembre, 2008, www.cyberpresse.ca
[5] Graeme Hamilton, “Old bogeyman usurps real crisis,” National Post, December 4, 2008, www.nationalpost.com
[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.