Socialist Action (Canadian State) Statement on the Federal Election

Elect an NDP Government! Fight for a Workers’ Agenda!

What is at stake?

Normally, capitalist politicians do their utmost to confuse the issues and obscure their real positions. So they must, because if they said what they truly intend to do, they’d never get elected. Voters heading to the polls on January 23 across Canada face the increasingly daunting challenge of distinguishing fact from fiction, separating the sheep from the wolves. This difficulty is compounded by the fact that the Liberal minority government was propped up for 7 of its 17 month duration by the labour-based New Democratic Party, in exchange for some progressive budgetary concessions — and then the government was defeated by the combined votes of the NDP, the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois, after the Liberals rejected an NDP demand for legislation to ban further private inroads into public healthcare, and when Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin refused to set an election date earlier than March 2006.

Once the election campaign got underway, opinion polls revealed that voters’ priorities are social issues like health and education, followed by jobs and growth. But the major big business parties focus on lower-ranked topics like ethics and taxes.

Why the disconnect? There should be no mystery here.

Social expenditures have taken a beating over the past two decades, at the hands of Liberals for the last twelve years, and the Tories before that. Today, both parties try to disguise their plans to continue to stifle social needs, in part by diverting attention to scandals, personalities and so-called “national unity.”

This is not to say that the infamous sponsorship scandal, in which $100 million went to Liberal-friendly advertising agencies in Québec, resulting in criminal charges and the Gomery Commission laying blame on Liberal Party officials, is of zero popular interest. In Québec it is a lightening rod of national indignation, further discrediting the federal state which tries to buy favour but denies self-determination to the Québécois.

It’s just that political corruption is only a tiny tip of the iceberg of social dysfunction and discontent. Far deeper is the malaise and anger over the deterioration of public health care, education, housing, transport and urban infrastructure caused by the massive spending cuts which neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives intend to reverse.

That brings us to what’s really at stake in this election. It can be summed up as: the corporate agenda (symbolized by tax cut proposals) versus social responsibility (represented by all the targeted past gains of workers’ struggles). The remnants of the post-war welfare state remain on the chopping block, notwithstanding Paul Martin’s pre-election $20 billion burst of spending promises.

Martin’s differences with Conservative leader Stephen Harper are purely tactical. Harper is simply more frank about quickening the pace of privatization of public services, while Martin prefers to do it by stealth, combined with layers of bafflegab woven through an array of (unfunded) “priorities” like the national childcare programme the Liberals have repeatedly promised in elections since 1993.

With a softening of NDP pressure from his left, Martin can be seen adapting to the right, promising a ban on hand guns, a hard line on Québec, a bigger and more interventionist military, and tax changes that favour the rich and big corporations.

Where is the Canadian state going?

The ruling class consensus is to continue the accelerating march of privatization, labour concessions, deregulation of the economy, and the shift of wealth to the business elite.

Since foreign policy reflects domestic policy (and vice-versa), it should come as no surprise that neo-liberalism at home has its counterpart in the Canadian state’s growing role as guarantor and military intervener on behalf of Canadian corporate interests abroad, normally in alliance with Washington.

Jean Chrétien’s much ballyhooed opting out of the Iraq misadventure and Paul Martin’s courteous “no thanks” to Star Wars 2 are more than offset by the sizeable Canadian intervention in Afghanistan, General Hillier’s bellicose and racist remarks about killing “scum bags,” Ottawa’s war ships patrolling the Persian Gulf, military personnel training Iraqi puppet troops in Jordan, occupation forces on the ground in the Balkans, and not least, Canadian army and police support to the coup, occupation and suppression of human rights in Haiti. Canadian imperialism wasn’t born yesterday, but illusions in the “peacekeeper” role are being rapidly incinerated on the altar of Paul Martin’s “duty to protect” doctrine (the white man’s burden to “rescue” the victims of “failed states” — themselves the victims of imperialist domination) and Liberal star candidate Michael Ignatieff’s qualified support to torture and imperialist invasions. Racial profiling, arbitrary detention, secret trials, combined with “deep integration” into U.S. social, foreign and defence policy, including its food and drug safety laws, rounds out the picture. All of these things Martin’s Liberals have done persistently, but quietly. Harper’s Conservatives would do much the same, but openly and with fanfare.

Imperialism abroad would be of little value without securing the imperial state at home. That means keeping Québec, Acadians, and aboriginal peoples in their place. The rulers’ tool of choice for Québec is the Clarity Act, by which the federal government arrogates to itself the power to determine whether a future vote by Québec for sovereignty is based on a sufficiently clear question with a sufficient majority — and this is to be decided by Ottawa after the fact! Lurking not far behind this intimidation tactic is “Plan B,” which includes economic embargo, territorial partition and military intervention. Hardly a recipe for “free trade,” continental cooperation, and democracy.

The resurgence of the Québec independence movement, a product of rising national self-confidence and impatience with Ottawa’s neo-liberal agenda, as much as it is a reaction to ham-fisted federal influence-buying schemes, makes the present election a kind of distorted referendum in Québec. The routing of the federalist parties in Québec paves the way to the next sovereignty vote, which will likely be a big blow to the Canadian establishment and their state, albeit absent a mass Québec workers’ party to pose an anti-capitalist and sovereigntist path forward.

While making some headway through its progressive amendments to the June 2005 Liberal budget, the NDP has lately suffered some setbacks, most of which are self-inflicted. Leader Jack Layton’s slogan, “Making Parliament work,” was briefly useful for extracting minor concessions from Paul Martin, but it also weakens NDP and labour autonomy from the ruling Liberals. This is evident in at least two ways. Layton is campaigning to win “more NDP seats,” not to form a government. Though some claim this is a matter of “practicality,” it is really one of principle. It implies that the prize is another Liberal minority government, propped up by a somewhat larger NDP contingent. This is only a short step away from Canadian Auto Workers’ chief Buzz Hargrove’s explicit call for re-election of a minority Liberal regime, backed by a few more New Democrats.

It does not stop there. Making a Liberal minority Parliament work has translated into NDP silence on the military buildup, and on the Canadian occupation of Afghanistan and Haiti. It caused Layton to reverse position (again) and embrace the undemocratic, anti-Québec Clarity Act. It contributes to ambiguity on private health care facilities, which Layton says the NDP will tolerate, but not fund. It leads to the utterly debilitating pledge of “no tax increases and no new taxes,” combined with a defence of the tax system status quo, including the hated Goods and Services Tax. In the 2004 election, the NDP proposed to hike taxes for individuals with income over $250,000 a year, to tax banks and corporations, to put a 40% tax on inheritances over $1 million (excluding small business and family farms), and to phase out the GST.

Everyone knows the existing federal surplus will not adequately fund a reversal of the social cuts of the past twenty years, least of all at the discretion of a Liberal regime bent on favouring the big banks with huge debt payments at exorbitant interest rates. Opting for the status quo on taxation is tantamount to accepting permanent economic injustice, including malnutrition, homelessness, unsafe drinking water, preventable disease and illiteracy that affects millions. This regressive stance does more than Hargrove’s treacherous opportunism to blur the line between the NDP and the Liberal Party.

An alternative course

A clear alternative to this direction is required in order to advance the interests of working people, oppressed minorities, women, youth, seniors and the poor. To generate such an alternative it is necessary to argue within the existing institutions of our workers’ movement for working class independence in policy and action.

That necessarily begins with a rejection of “lesser-evilism.” It means saying No to “strategic voting” and No to an NDP-Liberal alliance. It means making a clean break with Liberals, Tories, the Bloc and the Greens. It entails fighting for a Workers’ Agenda.

Going into the last election, the NDP was riding a wave of social struggles, including massive anti-war mobilizations, public sector strikes in Newfoundland and B.C., and huge anti-Liberal government protests of workers and students in Québec. That momentum was squandered by a return to electoral routines.

Nonetheless, despite a weakening of ties to the unions, the NDP remains the only mass-based, labour-linked political party in North America — a party the business elite cannot and do not rely upon to run the government in their class interest.

A victory for the NDP, in fact any significant gains for the NDP, will foster better conditions for the entire workers’ movement in challenging the ongoing neo-liberal agenda. For that reason, we call for the election of an NDP government on January 23.

Jack Layton’s orientation to “elect more New Democrats” rather than fight, in principle, for an NDP government fuels the mendacious media mantra that the NDP can’t win, that an NDP vote is a wasted vote — at which point “strategic voting” to stop the ostensibly more right wing Conservatives is often proposed. This is a lose-lose line for the NDP campaign. It should be jettisoned by Layton immediately.

Socialists stress that an NDP government has the potential to open the road to social change by removing the levers of government from the parties of big business. An NDP government could increase the confidence and combativeness of those fighting the neo-liberal agenda. Coupled with resurgent labour and social movements, and a strengthened class struggle left wing inside the party, an NDP government could shift the relationship of forces markedly in favour of the working class and its allies.

Socialists fight for an NDP government which we strive to commit to socialist policies.

Thus, we urge a vote for the NDP in every constituency.

This includes Québec, where the party is weakest and enjoys little union support due to its historic hostility to French language laws and to the goal of Québec self-government. The Union des Forces Progressistes, a growing labour-leftist coalition in Québec, will fuse in February 2006 with Option Citoyenne, another progressive nationalist movement. But neither organization is presenting candidates in the current federal election, nor is there any serious working class campaign for abstention.

The Bloc Québécois, despite its social democratic image, is solidly linked to Québec business and to the former Parti Québécois capitalist provincial regime.

The Green Party, polling at about 4%, insists it is not part of the workers’ movement. It claims to be “neither of the left or right.” For the purpose of this election, we should take the Greens at their word, although it is evident that their policies are quite regressive and certainly not class neutral.

Thus, the English-Canada labour-based NDP represents the only vehicle in this election for independent working class political action across the Canadian state.

Every gain for the NDP on January 23 will be a gain for the working class.

The task of NDP militants now is to link the party’s electoral campaign to the living struggles and mobilizations of workers and the poor, especially to movements to end imperialist intervention in the Middle East, to get Canada out of Haiti, to abrogate the corporate “free trade” deals, and support strikes that challenge cuts to jobs and vital services.

In light of NDP regression on the Clarity Act and on Québec’s right to national self-government, we make special allowance for the possibility of supporting alternative candidates in Québec who stand for independence and socialism.

A Workers’ Agenda…for a change!

In calling for a vote for the NDP in the vast majority of constituencies, we fight equally strongly for a Workers’ Agenda, which should include the following policies:

         Re-build public health care and education. Reverse the funding cuts; start by implementing the Romanow Report and restoring standards. Freeze post-secondary tuition and move rapidly towards free education at all levels. Abolish student debt. Ban private for-profit universities, colleges, hospitals and health clinics. Outlaw public funding for religious, separate and private schools. For free, universal, quality childcare.

         Roll back gasoline and oil home heating fuel prices 25%, and cap them at that level. Nationalize the energy industry under democratic workers’ and community control. Use a large portion of energy revenues to fund research and development of safe, clean energy alternatives.

         Wage war on poverty. Jobs for all. Shorten the work week, without loss of pay or benefits. Raise the minimum wage to $12/hour. Extend Employment Insurance to cover all unemployed workers, at 80% of insured wages, with a low threshold qualifying period, with benefits for up to 52 weeks, and the ability to renew a claim without penalty. Devote 2% of the federal budget to the construction of social housing. Reverse the privatization of public services and the de-regulation of the economy. Re-nationalize Air Canada and the railroads. Stop the layoffs. Open the corporate books. Expand public ownership into the means of communication, natural resources, the banks, land development and construction. Elect managers, subject to recall by employee assemblies; limit salaries of elected officials to the level of pay for skilled labour in the represented occupational sector. Extend and defend the right to strike for all workers.

         Withdraw Canadian forces from Afghanistan, Haiti, the Middle East, and the Balkans. For a foreign policy based on solidarity, internationalism, and social justice. Not one penny for imperialist war and occupation. Confine Canada’s armed forces to a rescue and disaster relief role, and cut the military budget accordingly. Defend revolutionary Cuba and the Bolivarian republic of Venezuela. Work for freedom now for the Five Cuban anti-terrorists imprisoned in the U.S., for Mumia Abu-Jamal, Leonard Peltier, and all social justice political prisoners.

         Self-determination for Québec and Aboriginal Peoples. Repeal the Clarity Act.

         Reverse the attack on civil liberties; end secret trials, stop “extraordinary rendition” to torture states, free the political detainees, welcome the war resistors. Revoke the so-called “anti-terrorism” laws. For full and equal rights for women, lesbians, gays and bisexual people, and for racial and ethnic minorities. Defend choice on abortion, the right to marriage for same-sex couples, and affirmative action for women and minorities in employment and education. Abolish the Senate and establish directly proportional representation in the House of Commons and provincial legislatures.

         Save the environment; force the corporations to clean up their mess. Phase out the nuclear industry. Place a very high priority on ecological protection, clean energy generation, and on meeting and exceeding the Kyoto Accord targets on reducing green house gas emissions.

         Fund cheap mass public transit and urban renewal. Ensure that cities have guaranteed, stable and sufficient revenues, based on progressive taxation, plus the statutory authority to plan urban development.

         Significantly increase taxes on the wealthy, on capital gains, on speculative financial transactions, on inheritances above $1 million, and on the giant corporations and the banks. Abolish the GST.

         Abrogate the corporate trade deals, FTA, NAFTA, and the FTAA, and institute fair trade practices with diverse partners. Draw on the positive example of the Venezuela-Cuba sponsored Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA) which features bilateral cooperation, a Compensatory Fund to help weaker economies, and non-exploitative joint ventures.

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