Category Archives: New Democratic Party

Internal Revolt Shakes B.C. NDP, Labour Movement

By Roger Annis
Two political shakeups have rocked British Columbia in the past two months. First was the resignation of the long-standing premier of the province, Gordon Campbell, on November 3, victim of the fallout of a hated tax he imposed. One month later, the leader of the opposition party, Carole James, was forced to step down by a revolt within her party. Continue reading

Confronting Industry Shutdowns: Multinational’s Assets Seized in Newfoundland

By Roger Annis. A Conservative Party provincial premier has presented an unlikely challenge to trade unions and the New Democratic Party across Canada. No, it’s not another assault on workers’ rights and living conditions. It’s a surprising decision to stand up to a corporate giant. On December 18, the House of Assembly of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador unanimously approved a resolution to revoke the access to timber and river water held by paper conglomerate AbitibiBowater in central Newfoundland. Continue reading

Canada’s Election and the Climate Crisis: Five Parties, No Solutions

By Ian Angus. For the environment, there’s good news and bad news in Canada’s current federal election campaign. Good news: for the first time ever, climate change is a central issue in the political debates. Bad news: despite much sound and fury, none of the major political parties is proposing effective measures for dealing with the climate change crisis. The differences between them amount to “Don’t do anything” versus “Don’t do much.” Continue reading

Canadian Delegates to World Social Forum Discuss Election Result, Working Class Political Action

By Roger Annis

CARACAS, VENEZUELA — Sixty delegates from Canada attending the World Social Forum here crowded into a conference room at the Hilton Hotel on January 26 to discuss the outcome and lessons of the just-concluded Canadian election. The meeting was organized by the International Socialists and featured four panelists who led off a discussion.

David Langille of the Center for Social Justice noted the increase in the New Democratic Party vote, up 475,000 from the previous federal election. He said the goal of the new, minority Conservative Party will be to govern for a short period of time and then call an election in which it would hope to win a majority. It is then, he said, and not before, that the party would try to implement the radical right program that it kept under wraps during the election campaign.

Langille said that the NDP could continue to improve its vote if it focused on three strategies — encouraging popular mobilization to oppose cuts to social services; engage in debate on the issues of the day to challenge the virtual monopoly of right-wing ideology in the mainstream of politics and media, and offer a “positive alternative” to the two main capitalist parties on issues such as taxation, military spending, and crime. He did not indicate what such an alternative would consist of.

Paul Kellogg of the International Socialists declared that the election result was a sign of the decline of “neoliberalism.” He noted the rise of the NDP vote and the growing combativity of the working class. He criticized the rightward shift of the NDP under Jack Layton´s leadership. “Layton needs to learn that the population is moving left. I don’t think the NDP ran a good campaign.”

He said that Layton was saying good things in the period after his election as NDP leader in 2003, citing the party’s support for the protests against the U.S. occupation in Iraq in March, 2004.

Conservative Party support in Quebec rose dramatically in this election, Kellogg argued, because it paid some lip service to Quebec sovereignty. The NDP, on the other hand, ran a chauvinist campaign that supported the federal government Clarity Bill.

Deborah Bourque, national president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, began her presentation by explaining that a delegation from her union had spent a day visiting with postal workers in Venezuela. She said the experience was inspiring. Postal workers here are moving to take more control over postal operations, including using post offices as centers for the delivery of social services. They are also striving to unite all postal workers into one, pro-Chavez trade union.

Bourque explained that her union had endorsed the NDP in the election for first time in its history. She said the decision was preceded by an intense discussion among union members. The reason for the decision was the continued attacks by the federal Liberal government on postal services.

“Personally,” she said, “I stopped voting for the NDP after 1995. Today I am waiting to see which direction the party moves in.”

Judy Rebick, well-known publisher and political activist, said the big story of the election was the rise of the Conservative vote in Quebec. The rightist party earned more than 900,000 votes, a huge gain from the previous election. “People I talk to from Quebec are in shock,” she said.

“The Tories will use this next period to build on their vote in Quebec and aim for a majority government in an election within two years. This will present an enormous challenge to the Bloc québécois.” (The Bloc won the majority of votes and seats in Quebec, but its vote declined from 2004.)

A lively discussion period followed the presentations. The most common concern voiced was the rightward shift of the NDP in the election and what should be done about it.

Steve DaSilva of the Toronto Haiti Action Committee spoke early on. He criticized an earlier comment that “Canada is a more left-wing country” than the United States. “While Canadians may be more wedded to the values of healthcare and social spending, the Canadian state is just as imperialist and right-wing as the United States. The difference being that Canada is one-tenth the size.”

Substantiating this claim, DaSilva went on the underline the importance of the issue of Haiti solidarity in Canada. “Defending Haiti’s sovereignty should be the number one priority for anyone claiming to defend social justice because the Canadian government has played a critical role in the imperialist occupation of Haiti.”

This writer also spoke. “I agree with others who have said that this election does not signify a shift to the right in the thinking or action of working people and youth.

“There is a shift to the right, however, and unfortunately it includes some of those who are leaders of the union movement and NDP. Several people here have given examples of this—Jack Layton’s support to the Clarity Bill and to tougher “anti-crime” measures. I will add a few more.

“We saw union leaders campaigning for Paul Martin. And I’m not just talking about Buzz Hargrove. The president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees campaigned for (national security minister) Anne McClelland. Former IWA national president Dave Haggard was a Liberal candidate in Vancouver East.

“In the Haiti solidarity movement, we are campaigning to oppose the crimes being committed by the Canadian government in Haiti and to demand the withdrawal of its soldiers and police. But we can’t convince the NDP members of parliament to join us in this.

”The working class in Canada needs a political party that seeks to win political power and wield it to lead a process of social change similar to what we see unfolding in Venezuela today and Cuba before, that is, a struggle for socialism.

“Such a party must support the national rights of the Quebecois people in order that we may have a truly united working class movement,” I said.

This must necessarily involve unity among all left forces committed to such a program, be they inside the ranks of the NDP or outside. More discussions like the one held at this forum are vitally important to further such a process.

Federalist NDP No Alternative in Quebec

By Richard Fidler

Editors’ note: Socialist Voice #59 (“Election Challenge to the NDP”) condemned the New Democratic Party for lining up with the federal state against the national rights of Quebec but did not discuss the character of the NDP campaign in Quebec. That omission is made good in the following article by Richard Fidler, which completes his analysis of the elections in Quebec begun in Socialist Voice #61. We agree with Richard’s conclusion that the present federal NDP campaign in Quebec does not advance the cause of independent labour political action and is not worthy of support.—Roger Annis and John Riddell


In 2004 NDP leader Jack Layton, campaigning in Quebec, came out against the Clarity Act, Ottawa’s legislation arrogantly asserting its right to dictate the terms of a successful Quebec referendum on sovereignty. He was quickly disavowed by members of his own parliamentary caucus and some provincial NDP leaders.

In this election campaign, Layton has come out foursquare in defense of the Clarity Act. Speaking in Montreal on December 7, Layton said he had reversed his opposition to the Act and now considers it “acceptable”. He said, “It follows directly from the principles laid out by the Supreme Court….”

Layton’s comments were made in a speech setting forth the NDP’s conditions for supporting a minority government in the next federal Parliament. A key condition is the enactment of some system of proportional representation (PR).

Layton is careful to point out that PR will limit the representation in Parliament now enjoyed by the “separatists”. He told the Hamilton Spectator last August 24: “We think that with proportional representation in Canada, and in Quebec, you’d never have a referendum on separation again.” (Quoted in Le Devoir, December 16)

More recently, Layton has begun echoing Liberal leader Paul Martin’s warning that a Tory minority government will ally with the Bloc Québécois to help “to dismantle the Canadian state”, as he told reporters January 4.

For his part, Quebec NDP leader Pierre Ducasse, instead of appealing to Quebec nationalists to support the NDP as a party that fights for Quebec rights, is openly appealing to Liberals to support the NDP as the appropriate federalist alternative to their scandal-ridden party.

Indeed, any appeal to Quebec nationalists would be precluded by the statement adopted in 2005 by the Quebec Council of the NDP, “La voix du Québec: la voie d’un Canada différent (Fédéralisme, social-démocratie et la question québécoise)”:

This nine-page document resurrects the NDP’s “cooperative federalism” position of the 1960s, in the early years of the Quiet Revolution. It is ahistorical and abstract, containing virtually no references to the actual evolution of federal-provincial relations, the federalist offensive against Quebec (which is far more than the sponsorship scandal), and the real confrontation that now exists and is continuing to develop between the independence movement and the federal regime.

  • The document presents the Bloc québécois as the obstacle to “the emergence of a united left in Canada.”
  • It puts the Quebec NDP squarely within the federalist camp (“The NDP … will promote a united Canada”), and says most of its positions can be implemented within the present constitutional framework without any changes.
  • It presents a “vision” of “asymmetrical federalism” that completely overlooks the real record of federal intrusions on Quebec’s constitutional powers. It cites the “Social Union” agreement of 1999 (signed by NDP premiers) as its model of cooperative federalism, although that agreement was widely criticized in Quebec, and even subjected to sharp criticism by some Liberals such as Claude Ryan for violating Quebec rights. The agreement was not signed by Quebec.
  • It talks about “good faith” negotiations between Quebec and Ottawa, but fails to stake out a negotiating position or point of departure for Quebec. No trade unionist would want to enter negotiations on that basis.
  • Quebec is a nation, the document says, but the NDP thinks it is not necessary or useful to legally or constitutionally formalize the right of self-determination.
  • In a referendum on Quebec’s constitutional status, it says, fifty percent plus one is a sufficient mandate for change. But the statement is silent on the Clarity Act; the federal government’s responsibility, it says, is to “determine its own process”.
  • It mentions that Quebec has not ratified the 1982 Canadian Constitution, but ignores the fact that the federal NDP and the NDP provincial governments did ratify it.

This statement, featured by Ducasse on his web site, appears to mark the definitive triumph of the Layton leadership over any residual autonomist stirrings in the Quebec NDP rump.

The NDP’s hostility to Quebec self-determination has placed it in frontal opposition to the national consciousness of most Quebec working people. As a result, the party’s popular support in Quebec is marginal and its ties with the labour movement almost non-existent. Although some individual NDP candidates in Quebec may hold differing views, their campaigns are inevitably burdened by the party’s official policies on Quebec and do not advance the cause of independent labour political action.

Election Challenge to the NDP: Take the Road of Struggle

By John Riddell and Roger Annis

Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union (CAW), dealt the New Democratic Party a low blow at the outset of Canada’s federal election campaign on December 2 when he announced his support for re-election of the Liberal Party of Prime Minister Paul Martin.

“We want a clear minority government, led by Paul Martin, with as many New Democrats holding the balance of power as possible,” Hargrove said while introducing Martin to his union’s national conference. The “extreme right-wing” Conservatives need to be kept from winning at all costs, he added.

Martin’s minority government lost a parliamentary vote of confidence on November 29. The NDP teamed up with the pro-Quebec sovereignty Bloc Quebecois and the right-wing Conservative party to defeat the government. An election is set for January 23.

Lesser-evil politics

Some union leaders argue that Martin represents a “lesser evil” compared to Conservative leader Stephen Harper. But this approach plays into the hands of Canada’s ruling rich, who control both the Liberal and Conservative parties. Elections play a subordinate role in a political system dominated by big business, big media, the courts, and the high government bureaucracy.

Unless a mass movement intervenes, election results are shaped by the dominant social forces. Voters are encouraged to vote not for what they want, but for the lesser evil. When working people buy the lesser evil line, the capitalist power brokers always get their way, since the two dominant parties advocate close variants of the same policies.

Liberals offer nothing to labour

To judge from the record of the “lesser evil” Liberals, this mechanism is clearly working well. Since the last election in June 2004, the Liberal government has done nothing to earn support from the working class movement. They showed their true colours in a pre-election gift to Canada’s ruling rich: $5.2 billion in corporate tax cuts, which boosted stock values by tens of billions overnight.

Although Martin professes concern for health care, he failed to counter the threat to public health insurance posed by this year’s Supreme Court ruling authorizing private insurance plans (see Socialist Voice #44). Such are the Liberal attacks on health care that Stephen Harper, whose party is the most outspoken advocate of privatizing health care services, is making headway in the election campaign by masquerading as a defender of public health care.

Canada is enjoying what passes under capitalism for buoyant economic conditions: industrial production is up, official unemployment statistics are edging downward, the currency has soared, and the government is awash in budgetary surpluses. Yet the capitalist war against working people continues without let-up, and unions in particular are under sharp attack (see Socialist Voice #54). Martin is proposing modest increases in social spending, but these fail utterly to address the urgency and depth of poverty and economic insecurity in this country.

Flush with financial resources earned from cutting salaries and social services to workers, the government has set Canada on the road to war. Earlier this year, it voted a $12.8 billion increase in military spending over five years. This will expand the army by 5,000 troops and 3,000 reservists. The NDP voted for the increase.

Thousands of Canadian soldiers have been shipped to Afghanistan, charged by army chief of staff R.J. Hillier to kill the “ball of snakes” represented by those who resist foreign occupation. Meanwhile, Canada has sent police and political advisers to back the murderous junta it helped install in Haiti (see Socialist Voice #49 and #50).

Some 40,000 people marched through the streets of Montreal on December 3 to demand radical improvements to protection of the environment, on the occasion of a major international conference on the environment. Yet the federal government has done little to implement even the weak and inadequate Kyoto accord. Greenhouse-gas emissions have been increasing faster in Canada than in most industrialized countries — almost twice as fast as in the U.S.

NDP leadership aspires to lesser-evil status

The labour movement in Canada sought a way out of the two-party trap by building its own party. In 1961, it joined with others to found the New Democratic Party in the hope that the new party it would represent workers, farmers, oppressed layers, and movements for social change.

Yet, where the NDP is strong enough to elect provincial governments, it acts as a faithful defender of the capitalist order, effectively replacing one of the old-line parties in the role of lesser evil. All the provincial NDP parties aspire to this role. And the federal NDP, barred from hope of government by its hostility to Quebec’s national rights, projects no more ambitious a goal than to exert a helpful influence on a Liberal or Tory government.

Although NDP leader Jack Layton argues against Hargrove’s support for the Liberals, he proposes much the same formula: electing “as many New Democrats as possible.” It is the same goal as Hargrove: positioning the NDP to hold the balance of power in a parliament where no party has a majority.

Moreover, the federal NDP’s program, while advocating some useful measures, is shaped to enhance their parliamentary credibility, hewing close to the Liberal model. The party leadership opposes or at best abstains from the mass struggles that can in fact create conditions for meaningful social change. They are committed defenders of capitalist rule.

Balance-sheet of NDP-Liberal alliance

The record of the NDP’s parliamentary alliance with the Liberals this year shows the bankruptcy of this course. The New Democrats backed the federal government budget earlier this year in return for a promise of $4.6 billion in additional social spending and withdrawal of proposed tax cuts for corporations. In November, when the NDP joined in pushing through a non-confidence motion against that same government, the Liberals had restored and augmented the corporate tax cuts, while the fate of the promised social spending, little of it yet delivered, was tossed in the lap of the next parliament.

In return, the NDP did more than approve a budget proposing massive increases to military spending. It lapsed into silence over the government’s military interventions in Afghanistan and Haiti — actions that would have aroused strong opposition across the country if the NDP had spoken up. By falling in line with the Liberals’ war program, the NDP did working people an injury that weighs much more heavily than the benefits of increased social spending.

Failure to defend Quebec rights

During the NDP-Liberal alliance the inquiry by Justice John Gomery into Liberal government corruption and political payoffs in Quebec reached its culmination. These revelations brought to a head Quebecois’ resentment of federal tutelage. Liberal party support in Quebec plummeted; support for sovereignty soared; and the Bloc Quebecois is poised to win almost every Quebec seat where francophones are in the majority.

Here was an historic opportunity for the NDP to speak out in defense of the right of the Quebecois to national self-determination and democratic government, rights denied by the Liberals’ scandal-ridden attempts to bribe Quebecois into supporting federalism. The NDP could have blocked with the Bloc Quebecois in defense of Quebec and for the elementary reforms advocated by both parties. In doing so, the NDP would have taken a step toward an alliance with the Quebecois people against the Liberal-Tory federal regime to the benefit all working people in Canada.

Instead, during the entire “sponsorship” scandal, the NDP kept silent on Quebec rights. And during the election campaign, Jack Layton has come out squarely in support of the oppressive “Clarity Bill,” the law that empowers the federal government to nullify the results of any future  referendums on sovereignty in Quebec. (Pro-federalism forces won the last referendum, in 1995, by less than a one percent margin).

Crisis in auto industry

The months of Liberal-NDP alliance also saw gathering clouds over Canada’s unionized auto industry. The U.S.-based auto giants are embarked on a program of plant closures and new demands for wage and benefits takebacks. At a minimum, the autoworkers need effective government measures to protect their livelihood, health benefits, and pensions. The NDP’s policy does none of this. Presenting his “auto strategy” in Oshawa on December 1, Jack Layton called for (1) more auto research and development; (2) “targeted incentives” (that is, subsidies) for auto plant retooling; (3) more vigorous trade policies against foreign competition; and (4) easier border crossings for auto transport trucks.

This is “lesser-evil” politics with a vengeance. The possibility of a fightback against the cuts is simply ignored. Each of the NDP’s demands aims at government assistance — not for the auto workers — but for the giant auto corporations. This has increasingly been the approach of the Canadian Auto Workers leadership, and it provides a rationale for their tilt toward political support of the Liberal government that holds the money bags.

The NDP as labour’s alternative

The NDP’s current program, put to test of government or governmental coalition, turns out to be not substantially different from old-line bourgeois parties. This program positions the NDP as nothing better than a lesser evil — a somewhat less cruel administrator of capitalist oppression. And the NDP as lesser evil is not worthy of support.

Nevertheless, socialists should give critical support to the NDP, and oppose the Liberal and Conservative parties. The NDP, despite its right-wing course, contains within it the germ of an alternative — the consciousness among hundreds of thousands of its supporters that working people need our own party and our own government, committed to defending them against corporate power. Major NDP gains in the federal election would be a step forward for the working class and a stimulus to workers’ struggle.

We need a workers government in Ottawa, one pledged to champion the interests of the working class. The NDP and other working class organizations must break with the lesser-evil framework of politics in Canada and support the struggles of working people.

For union and political activists today, the way to push the whole movement along this path is to step up campaigns for solidarity with the people of Haiti, against factory closings and cuts to social services, or support of the self-determination struggles of indigenous peoples and the Quebecois. Far from relaxing these efforts in the name of playing the electoral game, we need to redouble them.

Working People Take Aim at Hated Government in B.C.

By Roger Annis

This article, by Socialist Voice co-editor Roger Annis, was first published in the April 5 issue of Seven Oaks magazine.

Working people across the province of British Columbia are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to throw the Liberal Party government of Premier Gordon Campbell out of office on May 17, the date of the upcoming provincial election.

The B.C. Federation of Labor has launched a “Count Me In” campaign to canvass and mobilize union members in support of the opposition New Democratic Party. It has hired six organizers to conduct this campaign, aiming to reach every workplace in the province.

Members of the NDP are hitting the streets and neighborhoods to talk to voters and distribute a pre-campaign flyer that opens with, “Gordon Campbell has run a one-sided government that helps the powerful, but squeezes middle class people and working families, and punishes the most vulnerable. It’s a trail of broken promises.”

Meanwhile, the pro-business, anti-NDP campaign is beginning to heat up. The first blast was fired on February 28 by the chief executive officers of the largest computer technology companies in B.C. They held a press conference to state that future growth and investment in their industry will be jeopardized if the NDP is elected. They worry that the NDP will cancel or tinker with the myriad of tax breaks and handouts that the Liberal government has provided the industry.

Anger at the record of Campbell government

Since its election in 2001, the Liberal government has made savage cuts to the rights and living standards of the working class in British Columbia:

  • Hospitals have closed, waiting lists for treatments are longer, service and cleanliness within hospitals has declined, the cost of premiums has risen by fifty percent (to $108 per month for a family), the number of long-term care beds for the elderly has declined, and the conditions of work for many health care workers have drastically declined.
  • One hundred and thirteen elementary and secondary schools have closed since 2001, and there are 3,500 fewer teachers. Classroom sizes are up, and there have been sharp reductions in library services and services to special needs students such as Aboriginals and the physically handicapped. Spending cuts by local school boards leave students and parents paying for many services and supplies.
  • The Liberals lifted a freeze on post-secondary tuition fees that had been in place for six years during the preceding NDP government. The result has been a seventy percent rise in fees. Financial aid to needy students has also been cut.
  • $881 million has been cut from the so-called misery ministries–Human Resources; Children and Family Development; and Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services. Almost 100,000 people have been thrown off the welfare rolls. Legal aid services to the poor have been cut, and eliminated altogether for family law cases. The hardest hit in these cuts have been Aboriginal people and poor women.

Several tens of thousands of jobs in government services have been eliminated by the Liberals, and wage freezes have been the norm for those who have kept their jobs. To implement these cuts, the new government tore up existing collective agreements with the affected unions, something which it explicitly stated it would not do during the 2001 election campaign. It also outlawed the right to strike for teachers.

The union hardest hit by these cuts has been the Hospital Employees Union. Thousands of its members have lost their jobs as services they performed were contracted out to private companies paying a few dollars per hour above minimum wage.

The most exploited workers in the province—youth, and agricultural workers—have also felt the wrath of the Liberals. Changes to the province’s labor code strip away protection to agricultural workers in many areas such as hours of work and payment for statutory holidays and overtime. A new slave-labor minimum wage for youth allows employers to pay $6 per hour to workers with less than 500 hours of verifiable lifetime work experience. (The full minimum wage is $8.)

Money for the rich

The wealthy class has enjoyed a tax-break bonanza. The first act of the new government was to implement tax reductions totaling nearly $1.5 billion. Taxpayers earning less than $30,000 per year—almost one million people—shared $181 million of those reductions, while the 8,200 richest people in the province—those earning $250,000 or more–shared $191 million. A blizzard of new fees or fee increases for government services have more than cancelled out any tax relief that lower income people may have received.

Another bonanza for the rich is looming on the horizon, in the form of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver/Whistler. The federal and provincial governments will be shelling out billions of dollars of tax revenue to build and operate the Olympic facilities. Companies engaged in construction, engineering, transportation, tourist accommodation, and real estate will make a killing from this, while desperately-needed social services will continue to be neglected.

Strikes and protests

The government’s attacks have not gone unchallenged. Health care workers staged strikes and protests soon after the election of the Liberals. Teachers organized protests and strikes in late 2001 against wage freezes and cuts to education services, culminating in a walkout of 46,000 on January 28, 2002. Ten thousand community service workers struck a few months after that.

In late 2003, more than 4,000 members of the ferry workers union closed down the vital coastal ferry network for four days to protest wage freezes and the threat of job losses. For two of those days, they defied special anti-strike legislation.

The most spectacular job action against the Liberals occurred in late April, 2004 when more than 40,000 health care workers went on strike for seven days. Thousands of workers in other industries walked off the job in solidarity, to the point where the province teetered on the edge of a general strike on May 3. At that point, officials from the major unions in the province called off the strike. (For background to this strike movement, see Socialist Voice #3 and Socialist Voice #5).

Many local protests marked the years of the Liberal regime. In the summer of 2004, residents of the small town of Forest Grove in the B.C. interior occupied their elementary school after the local school board announced it would be closed. Plans to privatize the Coquihalla Highway had to be called off by the government in the face of stiff opposition.

Recent actions are a hopeful sign that victims of the Liberals’ policies will not be silent during the election. Residents of the town of Lytton are campaigning for the reopening of their local hospital. Its services have been reduced to little more than that of a first aid station.

Hundreds of residents of the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of northern B.C., have closed down logging operations for two weeks now at two locations. They are saying “No!” to the environmental destruction by planned logging operations and are demanding that no logging, mining or other resource extraction permits be granted by the government without first negotiating with islands’ population, especially its Haida aboriginal people.

NDP platform

In the upcoming election, two parties will vie for the vote of socially-progressive people. The New Democratic Party is the majority party of the working class. Most trade unions are affiliated to the party. The unions play a central role in its policy making.

The NDP governed the province from 1991 to 2001. In 2001, its vote dropped from 40 percent in the preceding election to 22 percent. It won only two seats out of 79. Today, it is running neck and neck with the Liberals in pre-election polling.

The Green Party is a rising political force that taps into widespread concern over the practices of resource-extraction industries and other causes of decline in the natural environment. Its vote rose from 2 percent in 1996 to 12 percent in 2001.

The NDP says it will not issue an election platform until one month before the election. But the outline of its program is already clear. Leader Carole James has said that the party will not reverse the policies implemented by the Liberals. “I’ve been clear from the start that you can’t turn back the clock four years,” she told the Vancouver Sun on February 28. “We won’t be rolling back any of the tax cuts that have been given.” She told the Sun that complaints from business about NDP policies “come from a lack of information and a lack of research.” She argues that her party’s policies will be business friendly.

James gave a similar message to nurses when their union met earlier this month and announced a political campaign leading up to the election. Explaining that 1,300 acute-care hospital beds and 4,000 long-term care beds have been closed by the Liberals, the union wants an end to bed closures and urges construction of facilities for 1,000 new long-term care beds.

Carole James responded to this demand by stating, “I am not interested in signing on to things that are not costed.” The NDP has said it would provide 1,000 long-term care beds by reopening some of the closed facilities.

James is seeking to distance the NDP from its trade union base. Shortly after her election as party leader in 2003, she struck a committee to come up with recommendations to weaken or end union affiliation to the party. But opposition to this course resulted in a deadlock on the committee.

Green Party alternative?

The Green Party in B.C. describes itself as “Fiscally conservative, socially responsible”. While it posits itself as a party that would curb the environmentally and socially destructive practices of big business, its program raises few demands that would challenge the domination of big capital. In fact, the Greens pride themselves on a political orientation that aims to convince big business that socially progressive policies are in its best interests.

The Greens supported the hospital workers strike in 2004, but its platform has no proposals to reverse the destruction of union and social rights that is the legacy of the Liberal government. It supported the deal that ended the strike and resulted in thousands more union members losing their jobs to privatization.

The Greens advocate measures that would make it illegal for working people, through their unions, to support a political party such as the NDP.

The Greens’ proposals are no better than those of the NDP and often worse. More important, they lack the NDP’s overriding positive feature: the web of bonds that link the NDP to the B.C. labor movement and working class. In other countries where Green parties have been elected, such as Germany, they have entered capitalist governments and carried out policies identical to the big business interests they claim to oppose.

World events: a “provincial” issue too

The Canadian government is playing an increasing role in imperialist military adventures abroad. Canada has 3,000 troops currently engaged in the imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. It was a central actor in the coup against the constitutional government of Haiti last year. It supports efforts to legitimize the puppet occupation-government in Iraq, and it is party to the international gang up against the peoples of Palestine and Iran.

The NDP and its supporters should join in solidarity with the victims of this new imperialism. The provincial election campaign will be a time of heightened political awareness, so it’s a time to convince people that we have common interests with those who are under attack from the Canadian government and its allies.

We can join with those in Iraq and Haiti who are fighting the illegal and repressive foreign occupations of their countries. Canadians have a special responsibility to act in solidarity with the people of Haiti because the Canadian government was party to the February 29, 2004 coup in that country.

We have much to learn from those in other countries who are showing a way forward in the fight for a just society. That means supporting and learning more about the socialist system created in struggle by the people of Cuba. It means acting in solidarity with the people of Venezuela as they mobilize to create a new society of social solidarity.

Needed: political power for working people

The attacks on social and political rights in British Columbia are part of a broader pattern, nationally and internationally. Employers are increasing their attacks on the working class and other exploited classes and peoples in order to shore up declining profit rates and deal blows to rival competitors in other countries.

The government in Ottawa has set the lead in Canada for these policies. Provincial governments have been willing and enthusiastic partners, including the two NDP governments that ruled British Columbia from 1991 to 2001. With only a few exceptions, such as a six-year freeze of post-secondary tuition fees, the NDP governments’ actions were indistinguishable from their counterparts in other provinces. Big cuts to social welfare and health care began under the NDP, only to be deepened by the Liberals.

This ruling class offensive will not be stopped by electing a provincial NDP government pledged to keep things as they are. It will take a mighty wave of working-class struggle, expressed in strikes, street protests, and political organizing.

In this election, working people will vote for the NDP in their tens and hundreds of thousands, and every class conscious worker should join them in this effort. A defeat of Campbell’s Liberals will encourage and strengthen the struggles that have been waged against its policies. But if the NDP is elected, we must challenge it to break with the attacks by Ottawa. We will need more movements like the strike last year of B.C. hospital workers or the massive student strike movement that is shaking the province of Quebec right now.

This is not a simple task. It is the basic challenge faced by the unions today—how to replace the existing capitalist governments with a government of working people that is not simply a “lesser evil” but a government that rules on behalf of working people and refuses to cater to the privileges of the wealthy minority.

The 2004 Election and the Left: Some Lessons from Quebec

Editors’ Note: The following article first appeared in the August-September issue of Relay, A Socialist Project Review. It is reprinted with permission of Relay and Richard Fidler. To subscribe to Relay, send a $15 cheque payable to Socialist Project to P.O. Box 85, Station E, Toronto ON M6H 4E1. Richard Fidler is an Ottawa member of both the Socialist Project and the UFP. — Roger Annis and John Riddell


By Richard Fidler

A few thoughts on the June 28 federal election, focused on the Quebec results and their implications for the left in the Rest of Canada.

1. The sovereignty movement is here to stay

This was the fourth consecutive federal election in which the Bloc Québécois has emerged as the dominant party in Francophone Quebec. And the sixth consecutive election in which the federal Liberals, Canada’s “natural governing party,” failed to win a plurality let alone a majority among Quebec’s Francophone voters. The Bloc received 300,000 more votes than it got in 2000; rumours of its imminent demise proved greatly exaggerated.

Quebec has produced nationalist splinter parties in the past: Henri Bourassa’s Parti Nationaliste, the anticonscription Bloc Populaire in the 1940s, Réal Caouette’s rural Créditistes. But none with the longevity and popular support of the Bloc Québécois, not to mention the Parti québécois. Throughout most of the 20th century, until the 1980s, Quebecers, as a minority people within Canada, tended to vote overwhelmingly with the party in power in Ottawa. That was how they could exert maximum influence within the federal system of government, the reasoning went. Now, however, the myth of “French power” within the federal government has been largely abandoned.

One obvious explanation for this change in traditional voting patterns, of course, lies in the fallout from the unilateral patriation of the Constitution in 1982 and the failure to repair that error (Meech, Charlottetown). The roots go much deeper, however. During the Trudeau years, many Francophone Quebecers were able to overlook his visceral hatred of Quebec nationalism because his governments, initially at least, offered some real hope of improvement in their status within Canada, through such things as the official languages policy and repeated (albeit unsuccessful) attempts to develop a made-in-Canada constitution that would be acceptable to Quebec. But since the early 1980s federalism — meaning now the constitutional status quo — has been on the defensive in Quebec. Federal politics in Quebec now more closely resemble the alignments that have developed on the provincial level since the Quiet Revolution of the1960s, the PQ and now the BQ building on the ongoing strength of the pro-sovereignty sentiment.

Quebec’s alienation from the federal regime in the wake of the Meech debacle triggered the collapse of the Tories and now, following the disclosures over the “sponsorship” campaign — with its contemptuous approach to Quebec referendum laws and Québécois political allegiances — has reduced the Liberals to minority government status.

2. Once again, NDP hopes of a Quebec breakthrough are dashed

The NDP’s vote in Quebec, while increasing by 95,000, remained well below 10% of the total. And some of its best scores were for candidates known for their pro-sovereignty views, such as Omar Aktouf (14%), a leader of the Union des forces progressistes (UFP). Until recently, Jack Layton and his Quebec adjutant Pierre Ducasse had banked their hopes for big NDP gains on what they perceived as waning support for sovereignty and with it a decline and eventual disappearance of the Bloc — just as the PQ’s decline in the mid-1980s, when it dropped the sovereignty goal and embraced the “beau risque” strategy with the federal Tories, resulted in a brief surge in the provincial NDP’s support in Quebec. But when the PQ reoriented toward sovereignty under Jacques Parizeau, the Quebec NDP collapsed; its remnants are now in the sovereigntist UFP.

The Quebec national question has plagued the NDP from its inception. At its 1961 founding convention, attended by some 300 delegates from Quebec, the new party adopted a position that recognized Quebec as a distinct “nation”. Even then this was controversial; Eugene Forsey, then the research director for the Canadian Labour Congress, quit the party on the floor of the convention over that nod to reality. Within a few years, faced with the chauvinism of the party’s federal leadership and some key members, mainly Anglophone, in Montreal, most of the party’s supporters in Quebec had left, first to form the Parti Socialiste du Québec, then to join the Parti Québécois or one of the groupuscules further to the left. Since then, with the notable exception of some goodwill earned by the party’s opposition to the War Measures occupation of Quebec in 1970, the NDP’s support in Quebec has been inversely proportional to the fortunes of the sovereigntist movement.

The party’s claim to support Quebec’s right to self-determination has been constantly belied by its practice. In 1982, in the face of unanimous opposition from Quebec’s National Assembly, the NDP parliamentary caucus supported Trudeau’s reform of the Constitution with its Charter of Rights specifically designed to frustrate Quebec legislation in defence of the French language. In 1992, the party campaigned for the Charlottetown Accord, rejected by a majority of Quebec voters. And in 2000, its MPs voted with only two exceptions for the Clarity Act, Parliament’s arrogant declaration that it – and it alone – would decide whether Quebec had a right to negotiate its exit from Confederation.

For a moment, during the recent campaign, it looked as if the federal NDP had finally got it: in Baie Comeau, Pierre Ducasse at his side, Jack Layton denounced the Clarity Act. But Layton’s statement was promptly denounced by both NDP provincial premiers and leading members of his parliamentary caucus. Layton quickly backtracked: the Act was “ancient history”, it was time to move on. And its repeal was not included in Layton’s conditions for possible support to a minority Liberal government.

The NDP’s 66-page platform had one sentence referring to the Quebec national question: it called for “recognizing the fundamental differences that constitute Quebec being a nation within Canada and working with Quebec to obtain common objectives with equitable outcomes, with the option of Quebec opting out of new federal programs with compensation to pursue common objectives and standards in a provincial program.” The emphasis throughout was on the need to enforce “common objectives and standards” — without even a hint of recognition that many of the planks in the platform are matters over which Quebec has or seeks exclusive jurisdiction. Quebec was treated as little more than a province like the others, albeit one requiring perhaps a bit more attention.

The source of these deficiencies is clear. Social democrats have a fundamentally benign and classless perspective on the capitalist state, which they view as the primary instrument and repository of progressive social policy. Quebec’s national demands, by threatening the integrity of the central state, disrupt this perspective, even though Quebec has in recent decades enacted some of the more progressive legislation in Canada in asserting and occupying its jurisdiction. The NDP’s Canadian nationalism effectively trumps Quebec nationalism and subverts the party’s ability to relate to progressive grassroots social movements and activists in Quebec who are in most cases supporters of a sovereign Quebec. As the NDP’s record amply shows, the party’s entire political culture is hostile to Quebec self-determination. It has more or less consistently tailed the Liberal conception of Canadian federalism.

The NDP’s indifference, misunderstanding and sometimes downright opposition in the face of Québécois national demands and aspirations (recall Ed Broadbent’s spurious claim, just prior to the PQ’s 1976 election victory, that French-language communication between Francophone air crews and ground controllers jeopardized air safety?) has tended to isolate it from some of the most dynamic and progressive forces in Quebec society. And as a direct result, its lack of support in Quebec has undermined its credibility throughout Canada as a serious contender for government in the Canadian state.

3. Strategic challenge for the left

In English Canada, it is not just the NDP, of course, that identifies the defence and extension of social programs with preserving and strengthening the Canadian state. Virtually the entire left and progressive milieu shares this perspective to various degrees, and often reveals a remarkable inability to relate to Québécois concerns.

A notable example of the contradictory dynamics in the two nations occurred in the 1988 struggle against the original Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement. The procapitalist PQ favoured the Agreement: free trade, it argued would guarantee access by a sovereign Quebec to the U.S. market, lessen Quebec’s dependence on Canadian markets and investments and limit the regulatory authority of the Canadian state. Quebec trade unions were sceptical and even opposed to the deal. But nationalist-minded Quebec trade unionists and social activists were unable to relate to a movement against the deal that framed its campaign as one in defence of “Canadian sovereignty” and even named its coalition the Pro-Canada (later Action Canada) network!

When Quebec voters, under the influence of the still-pending Meech Lake Accord, helped to re-elect Mulroney’s Tories, leftists in English Canada could hardly contain their anger. It was the definitive breach for many who had found it easy in the 1970s to sympathize with the radical manifestoes then being published by Quebec’s unions, which for the most part had not yet become overt supporters of independence.

The divisions and hostility generated in the1988 FTA fight graphically illustrated the need for the left to develop a strategy that could encompass Quebec self-determination and independence with English-Canadian workers’ concerns and interests in a joint struggle directed against the common ruling class in the Canadian state. The failure to develop such consciousness and solidarity — replicated in both the major political confrontations (Meech, Charlottetown, the ’95 referendum, the Clarity Bill) and the ongoing issues over language rights or the fiscal imbalance that strongly favours the federal government — is arguably the greatest single weakness of the working class in both nations.

Significant progress in developing such ongoing strategy and practice of solidarity would do much to help the unions and grassroots social movements in Quebec to see and develop progressive class-based options independently of the current procapitalist leadership of the nationalist movement. In any event, it should be clear by now that there will be no anticapitalist party with mass support in Quebec that does not support Quebec independence.

Developing such a strategy is not an easy task, to be sure, but it is one that in my opinion the Socialist Project needs to address in the near future.

Our founding Statement, a 4,500-word document, assigned virtually no strategic weight to the Quebec national question, simply stating that “acknowledging Quebec’s right to self-determination… means being prepared to facilitate sovereignty-association.” The election pamphlet, A Different Canada is Possible, acknowledged that “Quebec has a wider claim to jurisdictional authority than other provinces” and urged the NDP to commit itself to “bargaining in good faith for a new constitutional settlement”.

The support for “sovereignty-association” or a “new constitutional settlement”, however, sits somewhat uneasily with the unconditional recognition of Quebec’s right to self-determination. There is certainly no harm in holding out the possibility of a federalist constitutional arrangement that accommodates both nations on an equal footing. But the formulations, as they stand, appear to put the cart before the horse. What if Quebec decides it does not want some form of constitutional “association” or “settlement” with Canada?

A more strategically oriented approach, in my view, would build on the UFP’s call for a democratically elected Quebec constituent assembly to adopt a Quebec constitution that would then be put to a popular vote. After all, it is Quebec ¾ a nation that is denied recognition as a nation under the Canadian Constitution, laws and courts ¾ that has the right of self-determination, not Canada, an independent country. (For reasons that are unclear to me, the UFP section of our election pamphlet omitted its call for a constituent assembly.)

Unlike the NDP, socialists do not equate the existing state structures with democracy, equality and progress. We have every interest in supporting the struggles of the Québécois for national independence if that is their choice.

And we need to flesh out and implement a strategy that incorporates the right of self-determination in all its expressions. It cannot be confined to the formal issue of separation or federation. It must include day-to-day solidarity with the Québécois fight against all manifestations of national inequality and oppression, including the issue of language rights, repressive legislation, inequitable tax policies, etc. The recent columns by UFP leaders in Canadian Dimension and the joint production of the election pamphlet with the UFP comrades have been very positive initiatives toward beginning to develop this solidarity between anticapitalist activists in both nations.

Canada’s Federal Vote Deals Blow to Capitalist Rulers

Canada’s rulers emerge weakened from Canada’s June 28 federal election

By Roger Annis and John Riddell

The Liberal Party in Canada was denied a fourth consecutive majority government. The popular vote of the two dominant capitalist parties, Liberals and Conservatives, declined, while the Bloc Quebecois (BQ) and the labour-based New Democratic Party (NDP) gained ground. This outcome highlights a decline in legitimacy for Canada’s capitalist rulers and a deepening class polarization. The rulers’ unceasing attacks on the rights and living standards of working people provoked increased anger and a search for ways to fight back.

Prior to the election call, polls showed a fourth Liberal government would be a shoo-in. But voters delivered a sharp rebuke. The Liberals were reduced to 135 seats in the new parliament, down from 172 in 2000 and 20 seats short of a majority. Their share of the vote fell from 41% to 37%.

Capitalists get bad news from Quebec

The worst news of the election for Canada’s wealthy elite was the resurgence of the Bloc Quebecois (BQ), which advocates the independence (or “sovereignty,” as the BQ calls it) of Quebec from Canada. Its vote total in Quebec rose from 40% in the last federal election in 2000 to 49%, and it captured 54 seats, equal to its best previous score.

The BQ victory is a repudiation of federal government attacks on the movement for Quebec independence, especially with regard to the so-called “sponsorship scandal.” The federal government used hundreds of millions of dollars to sponsor public events in Quebec aimed at boosting the reputation of Canada’s constitutional and legal status quo. Much of that money was diverted into the pockets of Liberal Party friends and hangers-on. Revelations about this scam angered and offended the Quebec population, even those who do not favor independence.

Despite its public stance for sovereignty, Bloc leaders insisted during and after the election campaign that a vote for the Bloc would have no bearing or consequence on the historic fight of the Quebecois for independence. But that does not alter the fact that 49% of Quebec voters opted for the pro-sovereignty party.

The BQ is supported by the officials of the unions in Quebec, and its highest vote is won in working class districts. Many of its leaders claim that it stands on a program of social reform. In reality, like the union-based New Democratic Party (NDP), its program is pro-capitalist. But unlike the NDP, it has no formal ties or affiliation to the unions.

Defeat for rightist party

The Conservative Party of Canada, founded last year through the merger of the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada and the Alliance Party, received a decisive setback in the election. Its seat total increased, but vote total dropped by almost one million from that of its predecessors, to four million (30%).

The new Conservative Party program proposed accelerated attacks on the working and living conditions of workers, farmers and youth; attacks on abortion rights; denial of the rights of oppressed peoples in Canada; and a more aggressive role for Canada in the U.S.-led “war on terrorism.” But such was the reading of the popular mood party leaders that as the campaign wore on, they temporarily shelved the real program and instead claimed the party would defend and improve the public medical care system and would not implement restrictions on access to abortion and to the rights of gays and lesbians. Party leader Stephen Harper said his demands earlier in the year for Canada to join the U.S. war in Iraq were a “misunderstanding.” Even so, the prospect of a possible Conservative victory persuaded many voters to back the Liberals as a “lesser evil.”

NDP upsurge

The vote total for the New Democratic Party was almost double its 2000 result, rising to 2.1 million (16%). But the party won only 19 seats, two short of the minimum required to give the Liberal Party a majority. The sharp rise in the NDP vote resulted from the Liberal government’s sharp attacks on workers rights and the social wage, as well as Liberal leader Paul Martin’s stated goal to move Canada into closer alliance with U.S. foreign policy.

The NDP, a social-democratic party based on the unions, published an extensive platform prior to the election containing many reform proposals. These included defense of women’s right to abortion, increased funding for education and health care, expansion of public transit and public housing programs, an end to some of the more draconian attacks on democratic rights. This platform was far superior, for example, to that of the Green Party, which won 4% of the vote on a program to the right of the Liberals. But NDP election platforms are designed to draw activists into the party, not to guide the party’s actions during election campaigns, or after.

During the campaign, NDP Leader Jack Layton backed away from his stated opposition to the Clarity Bill, a federal law empowering the federal government to ignore a decision by future Quebec referendum in favor of sovereignty. Layton told CBC Radio on June 21 that while the Clarity Bill was a “bad idea,” it was not a priority issue for the NDP. “We think these [discussions of the Clarity Bill] are debates of the past. What we are trying to do…is put forward a flexible, alternative federalism.” The NDP’s continuing failure to defend the right of the Quebec people to self-determination is the biggest single obstacle in the fight to create a political party of the working class that can mount a challenge for political power in Ottawa.

Throughout the campaign, Layton also stayed silent on his previous critique of the U.S.-led war and occupation in Iraq. It was one of the topics of the party leaders’ televised debate on June 22, but he refused to address it. His only comments on U.S. foreign policy during the campaign were to criticize the Liberal and Conservative parties for wanting to join in the new generation of missile weapons proposed by Washington in the name of “North American defense.”

Instead of challenging for government on behalf of working people, the NDP lobbies for reform and is very comfortable with its role as a minority party and with the prospect of governing in a de facto coalition with the Liberals. The party supports mobilization of working people only on the rarest occasions, when they deem that the rulers need a reminder to pay heed to their lobbying efforts.

The NDP emerges from the elections with renewed vigor and a more prominent role in the closely divided parliament. Another federal election is now expected in two years or less, and during this short interval, the capacity of NDP mount a challenge for government will be put to the test. The NDP needs to maintain a stance of principled opposition to the Liberal government and to place itself militantly on the side of workers’ struggles, the rights of the Quebecois, and opposition to imperialist oppression around the world. This would be a first step toward a political break with Canada’s capitalist rulers and toward launching a fight for a workers’ and farmers’ government.

The Stakes for Workers in Canada’s General Election

By Roger Annis and John Riddell 

Canada’s June 28 federal election wasn’t supposed to unfold this way.

According to the Liberal Party script, Paul Martin’s accession to leadership of the party last year would guarantee the election of a fourth Liberal majority government in a row. Martin would bring a fresh face and “new ideas” to Ottawa. His business roots in Quebec and command of the French language would help marginalize the bourgeois nationalist Bloc Quebecois party. Voters would accept the Liberals as a lesser evil to the more overtly right-wing Conservative Party. The union-based New Democratic Party (NDP) would be sidelined through a deft election campaign that would posit the Liberals as defenders of the country’s social programs.

Canada’s business elite sighed with contentment at this scenario.

But the wheels have fallen off the Liberal wagon. Poll results in early June have the Liberals running neck and neck with the Conservatives. Support for the NDP and the pro-sovereignty Bloc Quebecois is up. The wealthy class is now preparing for all possible results. A Conservative majority? A Conservative governmental alliance with the Bloc Quebecois? A Liberal/NDP alliance? The uncertainty is rattling them. A Globe and Mail editorial on June 3 commented, “Paul Martin is among the best qualified prime ministerial candidate in Canadian history. Why is he struggling so?”

What happened to the Liberals best-laid plans? How can working people use the June 28 election and the Liberal disarray to fight back against eleven years of attacks spearheaded by Liberal governments in Ottawa?

Growing social polarization

The Liberals’ misfortunes are the result of a growing social polarization in Canada. Working people have suffered many blows over the past 11 years of Liberal Party rule. The levers of state have been applied to transfer massive wealth from working people into the pockets and bank accounts of the wealthiest Canadians. Taxes have gone up for workers and down for the rich. Social programs have been sharply cut. Democratic rights have been seriously eroded, through laws like the anti-Quebecois “Clarity Bill” and so-called anti-terrorism laws.

Paul Martin was the finance minister during these years and a principal architect of Liberal policies. Today he is reaping the backlash. In the few months preceding the federal election call, large strike and political protest movements headed by the trade unions rocked the provinces of Newfoundland, Quebec and British Columbia. There is deep anger in Ontario as the newly elected Liberal government reneged on its promise not to introduce health care premiums.

Martin’s intended direction in foreign policy has also taken a battering. Last year, he announced intention to seek a closer political and military alliance between Ottawa and Washington. But the news from Iraq has been all bad since then; so bad that Conservative leader Stephen Harper is denying that his party would send Canadian troops to Iraq. Opposition is growing to a new missile defense treaty between the U.S. and Canada.

Despite the Liberal record, there is division among Canada’s rulers because many believe the Liberals have not pushed far and fast enough to advance capitalist interests. As a result, they are backing the Conservatives.

In these circumstances, the New Democratic Party has an opportunity for important electoral growth. The party is based on the unions and is viewed by masses of working people as the only major party which defends their rights. It has published a detailed election platform containing many proposals for reform, including:

  • Public works programs to create socially useful employment.
  • Extension of unemployment insurance benefits.
  • Extension of the public health care system, including provision of abortion services to women.
  • A 10 percent reduction in post-secondary education tuition fees.
  • Scrapping the federal Anti-Terrorism Act.

Prior to the election campaign, NDP leader Jack Layton spoke out against the war and occupation in Iraq. He has pledged that an NDP government would repeal the “Clarity Bill,” the federal law that authorizes the Canadian army to occupy Quebec should the people of that province ever vote for independence from Canada. This Bill was adopted with the support of most NDP members of parliament.

Indeed, the modest upturn in support for the NDP that has marked the opening weeks of the election has begun to draw the wrath of Canada’s rulers. Their campaign against the NDP will deepen as the party continues to draw support. They oppose the NDP’s political platform. But even more, they oppose what this union-based political party symbolizes for many of its supporters, namely, political action by working people that is independent of the capitalists’ political parties and governmental apparatus. That’s why every person concerned for social justice in Canada has an interest in electing an NDP government, however slim the prospects of that may seem today.

Fight for working class policies

The present leaders of the NDP and the trade unions do not propose nor fight for radical change in the present social order. They dislike the injustices that they see around them, but have no remedy. Jack Layton told interviewers with Canadian Dimension magazine last year, “My belief is that the way you transform the big phenomenon is by a huge number of local actions… The older notion of fundamental, once and for all transformation of society is less likely to succeed. Besides, it’s unpalatable to Canadians and to me as well.”

“It is local institutions like non-profits and cooperatives and local democracy where the action is.” When asked what would replace the capitalist system if his proposed “local actions” brought the social order to the point of dysfunction, Layton responded, “It is something to think about.”

Layton’s stated goal in favor of peace in today’s war-torn world does not explain nor challenge the social order of capitalism that breeds war. The peace plank in the NDP’s election platform focuses its attention on the protection and enhancement of the Canadian state. Titled, “Protecting Canadian security through peace,” the platform proposes a pivotal role for United Nations-sponsored military intervention in foreign lands, with Canada as an enthusiastic partner. The platform says nothing about the imperialist occupation forces presently in Haiti and Afghanistan in which Canada is a key player. Nor does it call for an end to the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Domestically, the NDP platform fails the key test of support to the national rights of the Quebecois. It opposes the right of the oppressed Quebecois nation to self-determination. Instead, it proposes something called “flexible federalism,” whereby provincial governments could opt out of federal programs provided they meet standards set by the federal government.

For their part, union officials in Quebec have long ago turned their back on organizing for working class unity across the Canada/Quebec divide, choosing instead to support, and thereby subordinate workers’ interests to, the bourgeois nationalist Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois parties.

The historic failure of the trade unions and the NDP in English-speaking Canada to recognize and defend Quebec’s right to self-determination, including the right to independence, is the biggest obstacle in the way of the working class in Canada forging a political alliance across language and national barriers and mounting a challenge for government.

Lacking any perspective of replacing capitalism, the NDP has in practice seen no alternative to defending the prevailing order, and NDP provincial governments have without exception proven to be reliable defenders of capitalist order.

Nevertheless, the election of an NDP government in Ottawa would unsettle Canada’s political and economic order. Working people’s expectations of change would clash sharply with the NDP leadership’s commitment to defend capitalism. This would open the door to developing a new, socialist leadership and program for the working class.

This election is an opportunity both to build support for the NDP and also to explain why its pro-capitalist course runs counter to the interests of its working-class base and why socialism offers the only alternative.