Rob Ford, brought to you by …

Support for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is evaporating with stunning speed. Few want to be associated with a man who has publicly and brazenly lied about past behaviour, engaged in open and obnoxious physical bullying, and now on public television used misogynist and degrading language. His mayoralty is disintegrating in a cloud of scandal and shame. We need to be clear, however, that Rob Ford is more than just one, dysfunctional, white former football coach from Etobicoke. He came to this dance party with many partners. Think back to the 2010 municipal elections, and remember the luminaries and institutions that counselled us to take a chance with Mr. Ford. A partial list would include …


Jim Flaherty, Tory Finance Minister, Government of Canada, who “said on CBC radio … that he was endorsing Rob Ford for mayor” (Fiorito, 2010).
Don Cherry, Hockey Commentator: “I was in their [the Ford brothers’] corner right from the start … Rob’s honest, he’s truthful” (HoofandCycle, 2010).
• Toronto Sun editorial board (2010): “It’s time to take City Hall and the City of Toronto in a bold, new direction. Rob Ford is the man to get it done”.
• National Post editorial board (2010): “In our opinion, Rob Ford is the best candidate”
Christie Blatchford (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail: “Every blue-collar, working-class, anti-intellectual bone in my body finds him [Rob Ford] oddly endearing”.
Margaret Wente (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail: “Sometimes, I think only a moron [sic] could vote for Rob Ford as mayor of Toronto. And sometimes, I think I might vote for him myself”.
David Booth (2010), Driving columnist for The National Post: “Let’s get rid of streetcars; Vote for Rob Ford”.
Marcus Gee (2010), columnist for The Globe and Mail would eventually step back and come to warn his readers about the potential problems of a Rob Ford mayoralty. But in February, 2010 – when Ford had yet to announce his candidacy – Gee was calling Ford “the right guy for a lefty race”, and urged him on with the rallying cry: “Run councillor, run”.
• On city council, Ford backers included Mike Del Grande, Ward 39, Scarborough-Agincourt; Giorgio Mammoliti, Ward 7, York West (“I don’t want to be a backbencher”); and three members of the “Responsible Government Group” – Peter Milczyn, Ward 5, Etobicoke-Lakeshore (“it’s time for a real change in attitude at city hall”); John Parker, Ward 26, Don Valley West (Rob Ford is “the only mayoral candidate who will delivery the change that Toronto taxpayers are looking for”); and Frances Nunziata, York-South-Weston (Alcoba, 2010; Anonymous, 2009; Moloney, 2010; Thomas & Rider, 2010)

It is incredibly satisfying to dwell on the 2010 positions of these one-time Ford backers and revel in the error of their ways. Don Cherry can now retreat from politics and restrict his retrograde musings to the hockey rink. David Booth can focus on mufflers instead of municipal politics. Christie Blatchford can find other means to demonstrate her self-professed anti-intellectualism (an odd label-of-choice for a career journalist). And Margaret Wente – well, she’s probably busy in plagiarist rehab at the moment (Kenyon, 2012).

But revelling in the disintegration of the Ford posse will only take us so far. We need to ask ourselves how someone as horrendous as Ford could find himself in the mayor’s chair, and that raises some uncomfortable issues which need to be addressed by the Toronto left and progressive community.

The political terrain of 2010 was the perfect petri dish where the Ford bacilli could multiply. That terrain featured a municipal left which was demoralized, in disarray and discredited in the wake of the 2009 city workers strike (the following is based on Kellogg, 2009).

In 2007, David Miller would let his membership in the New Democratic Party (NDP) lapse (Donovan, 2008). But in 2003 when he ran for mayor and won, his NDP membership was well known. Miller gathered around him a cadre of NDP and left-leaning councillors, and this left wing council was the political face of Toronto for much of the first decade of the 21st century.

The Miller era shed a spotlight on a perennial questions in politics – where does progressive change have its roots? Is the key thing to have good people holding office? Or is the key thing the mass action of the workers’ and social movements? Toronto’s historic 39-day city workers’ strike in 2009 showed just how important these questions are.

The 24,000 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 79 and 416 – were asking for a modest pay increase. The issue, however, around which the dispute came to revolve, was an old provision in their collective agreement, allowing retiring workers to “cash in” unused sick days.

This was a very small benefit – a few thousand dollars at the end of a long career is a small price to pay workers for years of service. It is also a benefit shared by police and fire-fighters in the city – a point that few opponents of the strike bothered to mention. But small or not, this benefit became the rallying cry for an extremely organized anti-union right-wing on City Council (Bonnar, 2009).

This is the moment that the “Responsible Government Group”, mentioned above, emerged into prominence. Constantly represented in the press by right wing councillors such as Case Ootes and Denzil Minnan-Wong, this pro-business section of council demagogically portrayed itself as “friends of the common person,” inconvenienced by the withdrawal of city services (Hanes, 2009a, 2009b).

It would not have been hard to counter their propaganda. A “Solidarity Caucus” could have made a few simple points to galvanize those who supported the unions.

• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for childcare?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved pension benefits?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved health and safety?

Importantly, however, this would have meant not just attacking the right-wing members of the “Responsible Government Group”. It would have meant attacking the position of the “progressive” Mayor David Miller.

This was the challenge facing Adam Giambrone, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Howard Moscoe – all individuals whose entire political careers had been bound up with the left and the workers’ movement. They did not meet that challenge. To do so would have meant showing up on the picket lines (which Moscoe did, to his credit) supporting the striking workers, and openly standing against the position of the mayor. It would have meant a political divide. They were not prepared to take this step. Instead of solidarity, we got silence.

Miller, the ex-NDPer, stood hard against the unions. The left-wing members of Toronto’s city council at worst sided openly with the mayor, at best sat silently. The combined effect was disorientation and disorganization of the left in the city, and the creation of a huge opening through which someone like Rob Ford could enter.

We had seen this film before. In the early 1990s, then-NDPer Bob Rae, as premier of Ontario, led a sharp attack on workers’ rights through the “Social Contract.” NDP members of the legislature (with the honourable exception of a small handful, most prominently, the late Peter Kormos) would not break from Rae. As a result, the anti-Rae sentiment was captured by the Tories, leading to the brutal years of Mike Harris (MacDermid & Albo, 2001).

We need to remember this history. The electoral pendulum could well swing left in the next election. Currently leading the polls is prominent NDP politician Olivia Chow (That, 2013). But replacing Ford with Chow is only a small part of what is necessary to change politics in Toronto. We need a left willing to stand with the social movements, the workers’ movements and the oppressed, even when that means dividing from progressive politicians.

© 2013 Paul Kellogg

References

Alcoba, N. (2010, September 25). Team Ford asks supporters to fight back. National Post, p. A.18.

Anonymous. (2009, March 26). Milczyn garners local support for “Two Per Cent Solution.” Etobicoke Guardian, p. 1.

Blatchford, C. (2010, August 21). Built Ford tough: The gadfly that Torontonians need. The Globe and Mail, p. A.2.

Bonnar, J. (2009, July 17). Incomplete information turns the public against CUPE strikers. rabble.ca.

Booth, D. (2010, October 22). Let’s get rid of streetcars; Vote for Rob Ford. National Post, p. DT.2.

Donovan, V. (2008, September 9). Miller won’t back any candidates; But mayor urges voters to ask how parties will invest in cities. Toronto Star, p. A.16.

Fiorito, J. (2010, September 24). With mayoral endorsement, Flaherty will get us nowhere. Toronto Star, p. GT.3.

Gee, M. (2010, February 6). Rob Ford, please run. You’re the right guy for a lefty race. The Globe and Mail, p. M.3.

Hanes, A. (2009a, July 18). “It’s getting harder with every day’; Councillors facing prospect of a long civic workers’ strike. National Post, p. A.15.

Hanes, A. (2009b, July 22). Poll serves as warning to pols. National Post, p. A.10.

HoofandCycle. (2010). Don Cherry and Rob Ford “…for all the Pinkos out there, that ride bicycles…” Youtube.

Kellogg, P. (2009, August 13). Toronto city workers’ strike: Silence on the left strengthens the right. PolEcon.net.

Kenyon, W. (2012, September 26). CBC turfs Wente from media panel: Q radio show “suspends” her from ethics segment. Toronto Star, p. A.13.

MacDermid, R., & Albo, G. (2001). Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right. In The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories (pp. 163–202). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Moloney, P. (2010, October 16). Councillors choosing sides as Ford, Smitherman battle: New poll suggests Ford still has small lead. Toronto Star, p. GT.2.

National Post. (2010, October 23). Rob Ford; Editorial: Why a vote for Ford is a vote for fiscal sanity. National Post, p. A.1.

That, C. T. (2013, November 14). Poll: 62% of Torontonians wouldn’t vote for Ford in 2014 “under any circumstance.” CTVNews.ca.

Thomas, N., & Rider, D. (2010, September 23). Not everyone is on Ford bandwagon: Even some right-leaning councillors say they will wait and see before backing a mayoral candidate. Toronto Star, p. GT.1.

Toronto Sun. (2010, October 17). Rob Ford for Toronto: Editorial. Toronto Sun.

Wente, M. (2010, October 5). Two and a half cheers for Rob Ford. The Globe and Mail, p. A.21.

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.

Topp and Mulcair – the apparatus man and the ex-Liberal

The late Jack Layton’s political presence in Canadian politics owed everything to the social movements. But when members of the party gather, March 24, 2012 to elect a replacement for Layton, the party is likely to be moved very far from this social movement experience. The implications of this need to be seriously thought through by those interested in progressive social change in Canada.

In 1986, while a City of Toronto alderman, Layton was one of 11 jurors on a mock jury which ruled that the restrictions on abortion in place in Canadian law at the time was “’in contempt of Canadian women’ … “The verdict was greeted with a standing ovation and chants of ‘Choice Now!’ by the crowd of about 250 people who attended the mock court at Trinity-St. Paul’s Church” (Ferguson 1986).

In 1991, he was a co-founder of the White Ribbon campaign to combat violence against women (Minerson 2011), and every year he would wear a white ribbon, symbol of that campaign. Every year he would also happily march at Pride in Toronto, a politician who didn’t fear to be seen defending the rights of lesbian, gay, and transgendered people. In the run-up to the Iraq War, with the Liberal government clearly leaning toward joining in the slaughter, he openly sided with the anti-war movement. As newly-elected leader of the NDP, he marched in the thousands-strong anti-war protest in Toronto, February 15, 2003 (Conradi et al. 2003).

The resumés are very different for at least two of the front-runners to replace Layton – Thomas Mulcair and Brian Topp. The former comes from the Liberal Party. Three times, he won as a candidate for the Liberals in Quebec. In 2003, this saw him elevated into the cabinet of (ex-Tory) Jean Charest (The Canadian Press 2008). And if you doubt his conservative credentials, remember how he shamefully joined in the chorus attacking Libby Davies when she (correctly) stated that the occupation of Palestine had begun in 1948. Mulcair’s comrades in this assault were Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Liberal leader Bob Rae, both calling on Davies to resign as NDP House leader (De Souza 2010). The ease with which Mulcair can keep company with the parties of Corporate Canada came to light during the current campaign, when it became known that before joining the NDP, he held talks with other parties, including the Tories (Ivison 2012).

What about his chief rival, Brian Topp? His reputation is better than Mulcair’s. He has been seen by some as a “labour candidate,” early on winning the backing of the United Steelworkers, “the NDP’s largest affiliated union and the largest private-sector union in the country” (O’Neil 2011). His left-wing credentials were boosted by his early endorsement from deputy leader Libby Davies who somewhat surprisingly said that Topp has “a vision that I share” (Kennedy 2011).

Surprising, because Topp’s story is not one featuring the social movements with which Davies has long been associated, but rather staff positions in the administrative apparatus of the NDP and the union machine. In 1990, he went to work full-time for NDP MP Philip Edmonston, in 1992 moving on to be senior researcher for then party leader Audrey McLaughlin, and from 1993-2000 working first as a researcher and then as deputy chief of staff for Saskatchewan NDP premier Roy Romanow. His career then took him into a staff position in Toronto, working for ACTRA (the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists), until he returned to the NDP to work closely with Jack Layton in 2004 (Rana 2004). Topp is a career apparatus man.

The problem is, when political eyes are habitually fixed upwards – towards either cabinet positions in corporate parties such as the Liberals, or towards staff positions with social-democracy and the union bureaucracy, it becomes increasingly difficult to focus them downwards, to the grass-roots’ activism which is the only place from which we have every won real reforms. A victory by either Mulcair or Topp would make this problem extremely clear.

A recurring issue of the campaign has been whether the NDP should consider cooperation with the Liberal Party, in an attempt to topple Harper. The only candidate openly advocating this policy, is Nathan Cullen (Bryden 2012). But given his background, it is clear that coalition politics with parties of business would come very easily to Thomas Mulcair. As for Topp, remember that as a key adviser to Layton, he was one of the principal architects of the shameful attempt to form a coalition with the Liberal Party in 2008, something of which, by the way, he is extremely proud – see his book How we almost gave the Tories the Boot (Topp 2010).

We don’t know if either of these two will emerge as the eventual leader. But either of them will mean an NDP more firmly wedded to backroom politics, more likely to be enticed by a coalition dance with the Liberal Party – the party which grimly presided over draconian cuts to transfer payments in the 1990s, and the party which took Canada to war in Afghanistan in 1991.

Given all this, it is absolutely not surprising that many on the left of the NDP are backing Peggy Nash in the campaign for leadership. Nash, like Topp, has a long career as a union staffer – working for the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) from 1990 until 2006, returning to the CAW after losing her riding to the Liberals in 2008 (Van Alphen 2008). But unlike Topp, she has also been known as a supporter of the left and the social movements.

In 2001, Nash backed the New Politics Initiative (NPI). “We need a party with fire in its belly and blood in its veins,” she said as she and the NPI fought unsuccessfully to push the NDP into forming a new party rooted in the anti-globalization movement (Edmonds 2011). Throughout the war in Afghanistan, she was a frequent speaker at anti-war rallies. Following a multi-party fact-finding trip to Lebanon, in the wake of Israel’s bloody invasion of that country in 2006, she took considerable abuse for saying the obvious – that “it was just not helpful” to label Hezbollah as “a terrorist organization” (Fisher 2006).

This was one of the few times in recent history that a prominent NDPer took an open stand on the issue of the struggle in the Middle East, long seen as an almost taboo subject because of the way in which it might lose votes for the party. But social movement building is not a popularity contest. It means staking out a principal (for instance, the right of Palestinians to return to their homes under occupation since 1948), and sticking to it regardless of the backlash.

Unfortunately, Nash has been reticent to go much beyond this 2006 position. Neither she nor any other NDP leadership candidate has been willing to publicly identify with the current movement for Palestine rights, the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement which has built exactly the kind of grass roots social movement we need on so many issues. You are unlikely to find any of the leadership candidates attending the many events happening across the country this week, during Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).

That said, there is really no comparison between Nash and either Topp or Mulcair. The people backing Nash include many who know very well that the future of the left will be found in the streets, and not in the back-rooms, that the coalitions we need are not with the corporate-backed Liberals, but with the poor, the oppressed and the working class – coalitions of the 99% to challenge the entrenched power of the 1%.

If either Mulcair or Topp wins, the dangers are obvious. A Nash victory would mean a step back from the brink. But leadership campaigns come and go, and the main task remains – rebuilding social movements from the grass roots up.

© 2012 Paul Kellogg

References
Van Alphen, Tony. 2008. “Nash Back at CAW After Poll Defeat; Former Parkdale-High Park MP Opts Not to Run for Ontario NDP Leadership, Saying Timing Not Right.” Toronto Star, November 18.

Bryden, Joan. 2012. “Cullen Gets Social-media Boost for Co-operation Among Opposition Parties: Cullen Gets Boost from Online Campaigns.” The Canadian Press, February 17.

Conradi, Peter, Bruce Wallace, Joe Lauria, and Anne-Sophie Dumetz. 2003. “Millions Say ‘No’ to War: Cities Around the World Overrun in Biggest Protest in History.” The Ottawa Citizen, February 16.

Edmonds, Scott. 2011. “Federal NDP Rejects Shift to Far Left; Plans to Forge Ahead with Renewal.” The Canadian Press, November 24.

Ferguson, Derek. 1986. “Panel Finds Abortion Law ‘in Contempt’ of Women.” Toronto Star, March 2.

Fisher, Matthew. 2006. “MPs Say Terrorist Label Bad for Peace.” Calgary Herald, August 21.

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

Kennedy, Mark. 2011. “Veteran MP Davies Backs Topp’s Bid; Deputy Leader Says Former Party President Has ‘a Vision That I Share’.” The Province, October 2.

Minerson, Todd. 2011. “Jack Layton and White Ribbon Campaign.” White Ribbon Campaign: Working to End Violence Against Women.

O’Neil, Peter. 2011. “Steelworkers Union Backs Topp for NDP Leader.” Edmonton Journal, October 13.

Rana, F. 2004. “Topp Back in NDP Headquarters for Campaign 2004: ‘I Think Jack Layton and the Federal NDP Have a Very Good Chance in This Election’: Topp.” The Hill Times, May 24.

De Souza, Mike. 2010. “Prime Minister, Liberals Demand Davies Resignation.” Record, June 16.

The Canadian Press. 2008. “Thomas Mulcair Holds NDP’s Only Quebec Riding in Squeaker Vote.” The Canadian Press, October 15.

Topp, Brian. 2010. How We Almost Gave the Tories the Boot: The Inside Story Behind the Coalition. Toronto: James Lorimer and Company.

Cheri DiNovo and the need for ‘Apartheid 101’

This year’s Israeli Apartheid Week took place in a record number of campuses around the world, this in spite of constant attacks on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. In this context, it is worth remembering the stance taken by the NDP’s Cheri DiNovo, this time last year. (Written March 4, 2010 – Part of a series of articles, “Reflections on 2010”) – A Tory resolution condemning the sixth annual Israeli Apartheid Week, received unanimous support from the 30 members of the Ontario legislature who showed up for work on Thursday February 25, 2010. Shamefully, one of those who spoke in favour and voted for this resolution was Toronto-based NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo.[1] In the context of the concentrated attack on Palestinian solidarity coming from all levels of government, DiNovo’s backing of this reactionary motion is very damaging. She and the rest of her party could use a little refresher course – we’ll call it “Apartheid 101.”

In 1948, the State of Israel was formed through the forced expulsion of 750,000 Palestinian residents. Since 1967, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River (formerly part of Jordan), the Golan Heights (formerly part of Syria), East Jerusalem and has variously occupied, surrounded and blockaded the enclave called Gaza (formerly part of Egypt). The latter is an open-air prison – its residents hemmed in on three sides by one of the world’s most powerful military machines (the Israeli) and on the fourth by the shameful Mubarak government of Egypt which has sold its support for the Palestinians for a “mess of potage” – massive military aid from the United States. Israel has conducted war after war against the Palestinian communities it controls, most recently, the attack on Gaza in 2008 and 2009 which killed 1,415 people, hundreds of them children. How can we be sure of the exact number? Because the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights has recorded and made public the names and age of every Palestinian killed in that conflict. It makes for grim reading, especially the hundreds of names highlighted in yellow, names of children, 17 years old and younger.[2]

But DiNovo says that the word “apartheid” is “inflammatory” and “used inappropriately in the case of Israel.”[3] DiNovo might want to read some of the writings of Uri Davis who defines apartheid as “institutionalized racism legislated by Acts of Parliament.”[4] Or she could refer to key documents of international law, in particular the United Nations’ “Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid” which entered into force July 18, 1976. That document describes as a crime “inhuman acts resulting from the policies and practices of apartheid and similar policies and practices of racial segregation and discrimination … inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.”[5] But perhaps DiNovo – like the governments of Canada, the United States and Israel – chooses to stand apart from international law and the 107 countries which have agreed to participate in this convention in order to combat the crime of apartheid.

Like any analogy, the apartheid analogy is not exact. But like a good analogy, it captures the essence of the situation. And in many respects, the parallels are uncanny. The Encylcopaedia Britannica says that “80 percent of South Africa’s land” was set aside for the white minority. [6] Israel exists on 78 percent of historic Palestine.[7] The segregation in South Africa was formally based on skin colour, in Israel on religion. However, that “religious segregation” in Israel is extraordinarily racialized. If you are a white person living in Germany, Poland, Canada, the United States or elsewhere, and are defined as “Jewish” by the Israeli state, then you have the right to travel to Palestine and become a full citizen of the state of Israel. If you are a non-Jewish Arab Palestinian, and your parents were expelled from their homes in 1948 – the Israelis – in defiance of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 from December 1948, will not let you go home, take up residence in Palestine, and vote as a full citizen.[8] According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), that original displacement of 750,000 people has grown to a refugee population of 4.8 million Palestinians.[9]

South Africa enforced its apartheid regime with a series of “pass” laws. Here the apartheid analogy is almost completely exact. The occupied West Bank is riddled with illegal Israeli colonies (121 “settlements” and 102 “outposts”) housing 462,000 Israeli settlers.[10] The Israeli state enforces stringent laws on the South African pattern in the West Bank, where Palestinians are required to carry documents and pass through a myriad of checkpoints on the roads they can use – and there are entire highways which they cannot use, the West Bank being criss-crossed with roads which can be used by Israeli nationals, but not by the Palestinian majority. The “separateness” of the Israeli nationals from the Palestinians is being completed by the construction of a hideous wall ruled illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004.[11] In terms of elections, the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have no say in the selection of the government which rules over them, instead allowed only a vote for the very restricted mandate of the entity known as the “Palestinian Authority.” To add injury to insult, elected Palestinian officials are frequently arrested and jailed by the Israeli state. In August 2008, for instance, fully 47 Palestinian Members of Parliament were in Israeli jails.[12]

DiNovo has some work to do, to explain the way in which this racialized and racist series of policies should be excluded from the term “apartheid.”

She argues that what we need to speak about “is the occupation (of Palestinian territory), the wall, other issues that face us.” She is right. But where will that discussion happen? The magnificent accomplishment of Israeli Apartheid Week since it began in Toronto in 2005, has been its effectiveness in providing a forum for the discussion of exactly these issues. The students at the core of IAW have done a fantastic job in bringing the issues of the oppression of the Palestinians into the spotlight.

And good that they did not wait for the NDP to provide such a forum – the NDP has had some difficulty with the issue. Left-wing MP Svend Robinson did publicly show solidarity with Palestine. He went to Ramallah in 2002 to show his support for the Palestinian people. The result was telling. First, he was fired from his post as Foreign Affairs critic for the party.[13] Second, it was the trigger for Bob Rae to resign from the NDP and join the Liberals.[14]

DiNovo’s position caused an outcry from solidarity activists in the city. In response, party leader Andrea Horwath distanced herself from the resolution, calling it “divisive by nature.” But Horwath stayed silent on DiNovo’s support for this divisive bill.

Horwath said that New Democrats “believe in finding avenues towards a peaceful solution in the Middle East.”[15] Israeli Apartheid Week events, this year and in previous years, have made a real contribution towards finding just such a peaceful solution.

(c) 2011 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Robert Benzie, “MPPs decry linking Israel to ‘apartheid,’” Toronto Star, February 26, 2010: p. A.10.
[2] Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, “The Dead in the course of the recent military offensive on the Gaxa strip between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009.”
[3] Benzie: p. A.10.
[4] Uri Davis, “Foreword” to Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for The Struggle Within (New York: Zed Books, 2003), p. xii.
[5] Cited in John Dugard, “ Introduction” to the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
[6] “apartheid,” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed February 3, 2011.
[7] PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, “Twenty-two years After the Palestinian Historic Compromise: It’s time for decisions,” November 2010.
[8] The relevant text reads as follows: “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date.” UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III), 11 December 1948. Cited in Lucy Dean, ed. Regional Surveys of the World: The Middle East and North Africa 2004, 50th Edition (London: Europe Publications, 2003), p. 55.
[9] UNRWA, “Palestine refugees: Who are Palestine refugees?
[10] “Israeli Settlements,” Palestine Monitor factsheet, 15 March 2010.
[11] International Court of Justice, “Legal Consequences of the Construction of a Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004.
[12] Rory McCarthy, “Israel releases 198 Palestinian prisoners,” The Guardian, 26 August 2008.
[13] Andrew Chung, “McDonough urges U.S. to stop funding Israeli army,” Toronto Star, Jan. 17, 2003, p. A 07
[14] Bob Rae, “Parting company with the NDP,” National Post, April 16 2002, p. A18.
[15] Andrew Horwath, “Open Letter,” rabble.ca, February 26, 2010

Toronto city workers’ strike: Silence on the left strengthens the right

During Toronto’s historic 39-day city workers’ strike, the left-wing members of Toronto’s city council at worst sided openly with the mayor, at best sat silently, and in the process opened the door for a newly-invigorated right-wing. It was a débacle several years in the making.

David Miller – Toronto’s mayor – was swept into office in 2003. A long-time member of the NDP, Miller – with a solid caucus of NDP and progressive councilors behind him – was a welcome change from the long run of pro-business Mel Lastman. Without question it has been a much better situation for workers and the poor in Toronto, to have a council headed by a mayor and council with links to the unions and to the NDP.

But there was always a tension. Where does progressive change have its roots? Do we fundamentally change our position in society through the good offices of friendly progressive councilors? Or is the foundation of our progress the mass action of the workers and social movements? Any examination of history will show that it is the latter – the mass movements – from which we win our gains. But there is a tendency, once in office, to forget the mass movements on which all progressive politicians stand, and to develop the illusion that progress comes from the work of a small progressive elite. This was reflected in the quiet withdrawal of Miller from the NDP in 2007. He was choosing the mayor’s office over the workers’ movement.[1]

Enter the confrontation between Miller and the city inside and outside workers. The 24,000 members of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) locals 79 and 416 – were asking for a modest pay increase. But the issue around which the dispute came to revolve, was an old provision in their collective agreement, allowing retiring workers to “cash in” unused sick days.

This is a very small benefit – a few thousand dollars at the end of a long career is a small price to pay workers for years of service. It is also a benefit shared by police and fire-fighters in the city – a point that few opponents of the strike bothered to mention. But it became the rallying cry for an extremely organized anti-union right-wing on City Council.[2]

The so-called “Responsible Government Group” went into action from the first minutes of the strike. Profiled in the press again, and again, and again, right wing councilors like Case Ootes and Denzil Minnan-Wong, a pro-business section of council demagogically portrayed itself as “friends of the common person,” the working people inconvenienced by the withdrawal of city services.[3]

It is not hard to respond to this kind of conservative union-bashing.

• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for childcare?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved pension benefits?
• Where was the right-wing when we were fighting for improved health and safety?

They were of course, nowhere. But given a chance to lead an attack on Toronto’s unions – these right-wing councilors suddenly discovered their concern for ordinary people, putting aside for a moment their cocktail parties with Real Estate developers.

But for this simple response to the right wing to get a hearing, the response had to be organized by the left on council. There were people who were in a position to do just that. Adam Giambrone, Janet Davis, Paula Fletcher, Pam McConnell, Howard Moscoe – these are all individuals whose entire political careers have been bound up with the left and the workers’ movement. What we needed was a “Solidarity Caucus” to meet and counter the nonsense coming from the pro-business councillors.

But that would have meant breaking from David Miller. It would have meant showing up on the picket lines (which Moscoe to his credit did) and supporting the striking workers against the position of the mayor. It would have meant a political divide. So instead of solidarity, we got silence.

Sometimes it was worse than silence. July 8, Miller emerged from a closed-door briefing with council where by all reports, councilors – left and right – were united against the workers and in support of Miller.[4]

We risk paying a steep price for this in the months to come. There is contempt and hatred for Miller in the wake of the strike. But the most visible voice articulating this anger has been the pro-business section of council.

We know where this can lead, those of us who remember the years of then NDPer Bob Rae as premier of Ontario. He led a sharp attack on workers’ rights through the “Social Contract.” But NDP members of the legislature would not break from Rae. So the anti-Rae sentiment was captured by the Tories, leading to the brutal years of Mike Harris in office.[5]

Let’s not make the same mistake. We need a left on council and outside council to stand up and challenge Miller for his anti-union stance. We need the anger against Miller to be captured by the left and not the right.

An important step in this direction was the decision by the Toronto and York Region Labour Council to refuse to invite Miller to the annual Labour Day parade. A strike is a line in the sand. Miller stood on the wrong side, and must now pay the price.

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Donovan Vincent, “Miller won’t back any candidates,” Toronto Star, Sept. 9, 2008, p. A.16. The drift away from the NDP was visible much earlier. In 2006 Miller backed Liberal John Godfrey in that year’s federal election.
[2] John Bonnar, “Incomplete information turns the public against CUPE strikers,” rabble.ca, July 17, 2009
[3] Allison Hanes, “ ‘It’s getting harder with every day’; Councillors facing prospect of a long civic workers’ strike,” National Post, July 18, 2009, p. A.15 and Hanes, “Poll serves as warning to pols,” National Post, July 22, 2009, p. A. 10
[4] Brodie Fenlon, Jennifer Lewington, “Council determined not to yield as unions threaten long strike,” The Globe and Mail, July 9, 2009, p. A.10 and Alison Hanes, “Council supports city stance; United Front,” National Post, July 9, 2009, p. A. 12.
[5] For an overview, see Robert MacDermid and Greg Albo, “Divided Province, Growing Protests: Ontario Moves Right,” in Keith Brownsey and Michael Howlett, eds. The Provincial State in Canada: Politics in the Provinces and Territories, Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2001, pp. 163-202.

Coalition gives Harper new life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

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

Gaza: Occupation is still the issue

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

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

Dear Jack: Do you really want this war?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2009 Paul Kellogg

References

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

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