Northern Lights

By Barry Weisleder

Torch the Liberals! Vote NDP on October 14

“The worst Liberal campaign ever.” That was the headline one Toronto Star political columnist employed. And he’s not alone. Former Liberal Party president Stephen LeDrew, writing in the National Post, predicted that his party is “going to take a drubbing in this election, which is exactly what they need…” The recriminations, hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth by elite pundits and Grit partisans is almost audible from coast to coast to coast.

Aloof, academic Liberal Leader Stephane Dion is clearly going down, along with his regressive Green Tax-Shift plan. Liberal leadership runners-up Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff, catapulted onto centre stage, are there ostensibly to save the furniture, but also provide a prelude to the post-election race to replace Dion. As attack ads supplant policy debate, revving up once again is the all too familiar concomitant of a failed Liberal campaign. It’s the corporate siren song that implores us to “unite the left, stop the Stephen Harper Conservatives at all costs!” And it’s as big a fraud as the Liberal Party’s environmental policy.

Meanwhile, the labour-based New Democratic Party is waging its strongest campaign in decades, having abandoned the self-limiting slogan of yesteryear “Lend me your vote,” in favour of a fervent fight for government. The party’s TV ads carry an anti-corporate message. (One shows trucks dumping piles of money onto a big company boardroom table.) The ads call for an end to tax subsidies to businesses that export jobs and pollute the environment. The NDP is poised to dislodge the declining Liberals as the second-largest party in Parliament. Even face to face with an ugly Tory majority in the next Parliament, an NDP-led Opposition would be a step forward for independent working class political action.

This sense is emerging also in Québec, where Liberal support is collapsing, and the Tories are shunned as war-mongers and culture-haters. Leading members of the new leftist pro-sovereignty party Québec Solidaire are debating the merits of voting NDP as an alternative to the bourgeois nationalist, neo-liberal Bloc Québécois, and as a possible bridge to the labour movement in English Canada, despite the latter’s serious weakness on Québec self-determination.

So, why the desperate appeal for “strategic voting,” “vote swapping,” “coalition government” and similar disreputable schemes? Indeed, why does a wing of the Canadian establishment so exaggerate its differences with Harper?

Well, they do it for at least two related reasons. One, to keep the Liberal Party viable. And two, to undermine the labour movement and its political arm, the NDP.

But exaggeration doesn’t stand the test of inspection. Recent Liberal federal governments under Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin cut social expenditures much more than the Harper Conservatives have done, or threaten to do. While Harper has taken aim at relatively low-budget federal programmes unpopular with his base, like legal aid funds for women to take the government to court, and cultural grants, he has not dismantled what’s left of the welfare state, such as employment insurance. He didn’t need to do that. Chrétien already slashed E.I. entitlement, and Martin ploughed the surplus into the coffers of the big banks — in the name of debt reduction.

Like the Liberals, Harper funds medicare through an eye-dropper, and ignores creeping privatization, refusing to enforce the Canada Health Act.

Dion accuses Harper of squandering the $12 billion budgetary surplus he inherited. But Harper, like his Liberal predecessors, simply used the surplus to make debt payments, reduce taxes for the affluent, and increase federal spending, especially on the military. Lest we forget, it was the Liberals who first sent Canadian troops to Afghanistan, and they voted with Harper to keep them there until at least 2011.

Even the scandals that dog the two parties are eerily similar: the Liberal sponsorship program versus the Conservative election financing scheme.

While the two parties are not the same, what they have in common dwarfs any differences. It is their devotion to maintaining the crisis-wracked capitalist system, at the expense of working people and the environment, that unites them.

Now the Green Party wants to join the corporate rulers’ club. It is a very worthy applicant indeed. Leader Elizabeth May emphasizes the party’s fiscally conservative ideas. Her Green Shift tax plan is even more regressive than the Liberals’. She insists that the Greens would tax small business less than the Conservatives do. The Green pledge to completely eliminate Canada’s $481 billion debt attracted candidates like Adrian Visentin. He is a former Reform Party member and Canadian Alliance candidate now running for the Greens in Vaughan, north of Toronto. Also alluring to the right are Green promises to cut payroll taxes, slash the E.I. fund, and allow “income splitting” on tax returns.

Because opinion surveys show that the NDP is the overwhelming second choice of Green voters, and potentially vice-versa, NDP Leader Jack Layton feels the Greens nipping at his heels. But his attempt to keep Elizabeth May out of the TV leaders’ debate was self-defeating. Layton’s embarrassing reversal on this issue, compounded by his refusal to apologize for his initial undemocratic stand, undermined the NDP’s credibility as an advocate of electoral reform and proportional representation — to say nothing of its stated opposition to sexism and environmental destruction.

The way to differentiate from the Greens and to unite the left and working people behind the NDP is to offer a leftist, working class agenda. But a “cap and trade” carbon emissions policy (proven ineffective in Europe) won’t cut it. Neither will proposing a mere “monitoring agency” to combat corporate price gouging at the gas pumps. Neither will forswearing deficit spending on the eve of a major worldwide recession, or talk of “working with our NATO partners” to refashion the imperialist “mission” in Afghanistan.

For the NDP to survive and prosper, it must turn sharply to the left. That means projecting a major tax hike on banks, corporations and the rich (not just a reversal of recent corporate tax concessions). That is needed to pay for a public, universal, quality child care system, a public medical drug plan, expanded training of doctors and nurses, replacement of the country’s decaying infrastructure of roads, bridges and railways, for a free, mass urban public transportation system, a major expansion of social housing, restitution of lands and rights to aboriginal peoples, abolition of student debt, and the institution of free post-secondary education. It means demanding that Canada get out of NATO, no support for military interventions abroad, major cuts to military spending, and a radical re-direction of the Canadian Forces to a domestic rescue and disaster relief role. It means public ownership, under workers’ and community control, of the giant oil and gas companies, of the big banks, of major polluting industries, and the investment of their mega-profits into safe, clean energy alternatives and the development of green, sustainable jobs and manufacturing.

A Workers’ Agenda, comprised of such policies, would be in flagrant contradiction with the interests of the main backers of the Liberals, Greens and the Bloc Québécois, which have nothing in common with the left or the needs of working people.

But a Workers’ Agenda is fully in line with the needs and aspirations of the broad base of the unions and the NDP electorate, notwithstanding the pro-capitalist views of most NDP and labour leaders.

For that reason, workers and progressive people should vote to elect an NDP federal government, and step up the fight for socialist policies inside and outside the party.

$22 Billion spent on Afghan occupation: study

The Canadian component of the imperialist military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan will cost more than $22 billion, according to a yet-to-be-released study by David Perry, a former deputy director of Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. His findings were discussed at a conference on maritime affairs attended by military leaders and analysts from Canada, the United States and several Asia-Pacific countries on September 17, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

In a separate interview, Mr. Perry said he was not surprised at the numbers he found. “We’re fighting a war on the other side of the world and that takes a lot of resources,” said Mr. Perry, currently in Ottawa. He projected the number of Canadian veterans in Afghanistan to be about 41,000 by 2010. That far exceeds the estimated 25,000 Canadian veterans from the Korean War.

The figures do not include the cost of “aid” to Afghanistan, or the cost of the occupation for other federal departments, such as the RCMP and Foreign Affairs. Such figures are anticipated since Parliament’s new budget officer, Kevin Page, pledged on September 17 to release his comprehensive study of the cost of the war.

Under pressure from all three major opposition leaders, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he has no objection to the release of the report, after “independent peer review” of it. The fear is that the process of completion and review of the report could drag on past the October 14 federal election date.

A majority of Canadians oppose the war and occupation of Afghanistan, which has cost the lives of nearly 100 Canadian soldiers and thousands of Afghan civilians, for the sake of propping up a corrupt regime of war lords and drug exporters in Kabul. Conservative and Liberal politicians, who agreed to extend the war through 2011, would prefer to keep the issue out of the election campaign. Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is asking for military commitments beyond 2011.

Some figures used in the Perry study came from the Department of National Defence. Other elements were estimated based on cost models of the U.S. military in the Iraq and Afghan wars. The breakdown of the Afghan expenses is as follows:

$7 billion for the cost of the war — this is an incremental sum from late 2001 to 2012. It includes everything from ammunition and fuel to the salaries of regular force military personnel.

$11 billion is the estimated bill for Veterans’ Affairs and DND for long-term health care of veterans and related benefits, including traumatic stress disorder among troops. Veterans’ Affairs Canada predicts an increase of 13,000 soldiers to its client base by 2010. Using U.S. estimates, between 10 to 25 per cent of returning veterans may experience mental health problems as a result of their overseas deployment. U.S. studies estimate that country’s long-term health care and disability costs for its Iraq and Afghan veterans to be between $350 billion to $650 billion.

$2 billion is for the purchase of mission-specific equipment. That includes everything from Leopard tanks, howitzers, six Chinook helicopters, countermine vehicles to aerial drones. Defense officials argue that such equipment will be used on future missions beyond Afghanistan — now that’s a comfort. The figure did not include the latest $95 million lease for additional aerial drones.

$2 billion is for the replacement of the military’s LAV-3 fleet. $405 million is for repair and overhaul costs. The study also shows that the previous Liberal government provided extra funding to the Defence Department to cover 85 per cent of the Afghan war costs, while the current Conservative government is funding only 29 per cent of the cost to DND, with the remainder coming out of DND’s existing budget. In other words, the Tories are providing more funding for the war, but less transparently.

In January, army commander Lt. Gen. Andrew Leslie warned that the military was stretched to the breaking point and replacement stocks of equipment for Afghanistan have long been used up, either destroyed by the resistance or in the process of being repaired.

So, to use military-speak, this may be an ideal time to “cut our losses” and “re-deploy forces” from the widening counter-insurgency quagmire in Asia, towards more useful engagements, such as rescue and natural disaster relief missions on Canada’s land and waterways — and in the process, re-direct a few billion dollars for progressive social purposes.

RCMP criticized on Taser use

An independent report ordered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the force did not do “due diligence” when it approved the Taser stun gun for use as a less-than-lethal weapon by its officers.

The report by a group of consultants led by Ottawa-based John Kiedrowski, was ordered after the uproar caused by the death of a Polish immigrant shot with a Taser at Vancouver airport in October 2007. Submitted in June to RCMP Commissioner Bill Elliot, the review was not made public until obtained by the Toronto Star in September under Access to Information. It says the force relied too much on the Taser’s American manufacturer in developing its policies and training, did not consult widely enough with medical and mental health experts about its impact on people, and did not treat the weapon as a “prohibited firearm” — its proper legal classification since 1998.

The report slams the use of the non-medical term “excited delirium” by police to describe combative, resistant suspects, saying it is an excuse to justify firing the 50,000 volt charge.

Across Canada, 170 police agencies use stun guns, and 22 people have died after being hit by stun guns.

The report urges the federal government to set national standards for Taser use by all police forces in Canada, under its powers in the Criminal Code to regulate firearms.

We have a better proposal. Take that barbaric torture and killing device out of the hands of the cops and put it beyond all use.

A proper “returns policy” for Archbishops

The Roman Catholic archbishop of Montréal is returning his Order of Canada because abortion-rights activist Henry Morgentaler received the same honour.

Perhaps Jean-Claude Cardinal Turcotte could return something else while he’s at it — the property tax savings of his tax-free, patriarchal religious institution.

Think of the multi-millions in excused property tax dollars, past and present, that could be collected from churches to help fund public health care, including sex education, contraception, and to provide safe, legal, therapeutic abortion services where needed.

Toronto’s first Trotsky School

November 14 – 15, 2008 at OISE, U of Toronto,
252 Bloor St. W., just above St. George Subway Station

Friday, November 14, 7 p.m.
How Marx became a Marxist
Dialectical materialism, historical materialism, scientific socialism and all that stuff.
Presentation by Adam Shils, Chicago Socialist Action, leading member of SA-US

Saturday, November 15,
10 a.m.
Introduction to Marxist Economic theory
Surplus value, commodities, alienation of labour, imperialism, capitalist over-production, the decline in the rate of profit, economic crisis, and economic planning.
Presentation by Tom Baker, SA-Canada steering committee member, Hamilton

1 p.m.
Is Trotsky’s Marxism relevant in the 21st Century? Revolutionary Crisis, Permanent Revolution, Socialist Democracy, anti-Stalinism, anti-fascism and the United Front.
Presentation by Adam Shils, Chicago SA

4 p.m.
The Revolutionary Party in the Struggle for Socialism
The integral connection between the vanguard party and democratic-centralism to socialist transformation of society and the rise of a socialist democracy — with some Canadian historical background.

Presentation by Barry Weisleder, federal secretary,
Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste

6 p.m. Social event at a nearby pub

Conference at: 252 Bloor Street West, room 2-212
Registration: $10 (or pay what you can)
For more information, call: (416) 535-8779