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December 17, 2010

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.

Campbell’s Liberal Party will now attempt to rise from the wreckage of the hated consumption tax it imposed in 2009. A new leader will be chosen at a convention early next year, following which the party will claim it has something “new” to offer for voters. A snap election would catch the opposition seriously unprepared.

For its part, the trade union-based New Democratic Party is facing a wrenching decision, namely, whether it wants a new leader and platform that would distinguish it from the government’s course. The outgoing leader never did that. A significant section of the party decided it was unlikely it could win government with her at the helm.

But replacing the hated Liberal regime with a government committed to social justice will be a tough political battle for NDP and social activists, facing not only the Liberal Party but also a conservative, entrenched leadership of the NDP/social movement/trade union alliance.

Liberals under the gun

The Liberals’ principle undoing has been the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST), announced without prior warning just days after a provincial election held on May 12, 2009. It took effect on July 1, 2010. It  taxes the purchases by individuals of many goods and services that were previously exempt, while lifting many production input sales taxes paid by businesses.

The announcement sparked popular outrage and a petition campaign to get rid of it. Seven hundred thousand people signed the petition during the past summer. It was submitted to the provincial Legislature in September.

Under the province’s petition law, the government was left with two choices: either submit the petition’s demand for recall of the tax to a vote in the Legislature, or call a referendum vote. It opted to buy some time by announcing a referendum vote in September 2011.

But anti-HST organizers were having none of that, not least because the government can change the referendum date on a whim. They have moved ahead with Plan B: Recall of government members of the legislative assembly (MLAs). The campaign is now petitioning to unseat three of those judged most vulnerable, with more to follow.

The government presently holds 47 seats out of 85 in the Legislature.

The government launched a sputtering propaganda campaign in late summer extolling the virtues of the tax. Then on October 27, in a blatant attempt to buy support, it announced a personal income tax cut of 15 percent for the first $72,000 earned. Nothing worked. The premier’s popularity dropped to the single digits in polls. The prospect of getting rid of Campbell, and the HST, proved far more attractive than any income tax reduction he might offer. Out he went. His announced tax cut was cancelled.

Big business loves the HST. Billions of dollars of taxation will be shifted onto individual taxpayers. It has supported the tax strongly. But it is dismayed at the how badly the government fumbled its implementation. The Liberal leader who replaces Campbell, and the party elected in the next provincial election, will face unrelenting pressure to repeal the tax. For big business, this all sets the very bad precedent that popular will can prevail over capitalist economic policy.

NDP crisis

Several challenges now confront the working class. One, whose interests will be served by a repeal of the HST? The right-wing populists who have dominated the anti-HST campaign are hoping to use popular anger to boost the electoral chances of a more overtly right-wing party than the Liberals. They will use their anti-tax/anti-government message to pressure whoever forms the next government to curtail public services and social programs even more than the Liberals have done.

And two, how can the NDP alliance organize to not only defeat the Liberal government and its hated tax but also elect a new government committed to defending public services and the living standards of working people?

The downfall of Carole James has several origins. There is dissatisfaction within and without the party with the business-friendly course that she has followed since her election as party leader in 2003. There is also opposition within the party, including among its MLAs, with an autocratic internal party regime that brooks little tolerance for differing ideas.

As well, James has lost two elections as party leader, in 2005 and 2009. She resisted pressure to step down after the 2009 loss. Polls show her popularity has remained flat, even in the face of the Liberals’ HST meltdown.

Her ouster seemed sealed on December 1 when the party’s longest-serving member of the provincial legislature, Jenny Kwan, went public with a searing blast against James’ leadership. Kwan said the leader lacked sufficient appeal to lead the party to victory in the post-Campbell election that looms.

Kwan also said that internal party democracy has been squashed. “Debate has been stifled, decision-making centralized, and individual MLAs marginalized.”

Twelve other NDP MLAs said they backed her challenge.

The internal battle lines were drawn in October when James booted MLA  Bob Simpson out of the NDP caucus for writing a mild criticism of her in his local, weekly newspaper column. He complained she had offered few new ideas in a speech given to the annual convention of the BC Union of Municipalities.

The following month, the MLAs now grouped around Kwan refused to be pressured into a degrading display of public support for James – the wearing of yellow scarves – at a party provincial council meeting. The meeting voted by a large margin to refuse opposition MLAs’ request for a party convention and leadership election.

Few substantive policy differences have emerged between the two MLA groups. Simon Fraser University professor and former federal NDP candidate Kennedy Stewart told CBC Radio on the day of James’ resignation, “I have never heard of any discussion of policy differences between the two groups.”

Kwan explained in her December 1 open letter, “British Columbians want more than an opportunity to vote the Liberals out of office, they want the chance to choose a party with an inspiring vision and a clear alternative, progressive point of view.”

When asked by another CBC interviewer what direction she would like to see for the NDP, she offered nothing different that the mantra of Carole James. “We want to defeat the BC Liberals and we’re going to come together to do that.”

Bob Simpson told a radio interview on December 6 that the NDP should fight the next election on a platform of “good governance.”  He has since announced his resignation from the NDP.

Pro-business course of the NDP

Since her election to leader in 2003, James has taken the NDP further along a pro-business course. Laurie Jones of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business praised James during a December 7 CBC Radio interview. She said James has “gone out on a limb” to court business interests and promise they would be looked after under an NDP administration.

British Columbians are rightly wary of such a political course. Big business under the Liberals has devastated British Columbia since their election to office in 2001. The Liberal government has imposed widespread cuts to social services, kept welfare rates and the minimum wage at well below the poverty line, given vast subsidies to environmentally destructive or socially regressive projects such as expansion of fossil fuel production and hosting of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and drastically reduced public supervision of the vast forest industry in the province.

Large reductions in income and corporate taxes have made BC the most “business-friendly” jurisdiction in Canada.

All of these measures have been urged by the very business interests in whose partnership James says the future of the province lies.

The NDP stood largely aloof from struggles against the harsh cuts and regressive industrial policies. In her speech to the BC Federation of Labour convention just a few days before her resignation, James staked out few positions on the difficult challenges facing working people.

To the extent the NDP has opposed cuts to social programs, these are usually voiced as opposition to the timing or exact form that cuts would take. The NDP gave only half-hearted support to strikes of hospital workers in 2004 and teachers in 2005 that could have mobilized the entire province in a general strike showdown with the government. It has offered little by way of alternative to the Liberals environment-wrecking industrial megaprojects.

Even on the hated HST, the NDP has soft-pedaled. It has ridden the wave of the popular revolt and gained in polls as a result, but James said she would not repeal the tax if elected. Right-wing populists have been left to control the message and direction of the anti-tax campaign.

Why the political timidity over the HST? Because the fight against it necessarily requires a clash with big business. The fight also encourages people to look for more radical policy alternatives, including anti-capitalist ones.

A glimpse of where James and her entourage want to take the NDP can be found in municipal politics in the city of Vancouver. An alliance of big business interests and municipal reformers, including leading NDP figures, came together in a party called VISION to win the 2008 election. It oversaw the construction and real estate bonanza leading into the 2010 Winter Olympics. Lots of money flowed to real estate and other capitalist interests, but municipal taxpayers have been left to foot the bills and the city’s marginalized population is poorer than ever.

The VISION government has also implemented a significant tax shift mirroring the HST, away from business and onto individual taxpayers.

New ideas needed

James’ departure leaves the labour movement adrift. If there was any dissent from her leadership and support for the opposition MLAs, it was not in evidence at the BC Federation of Labour convention which met during the very week in which Kwan and her supporters delivered their bombshell.

The unions have stayed on the sideline of the anti-HST fight, assuming, along with the NDP, that the party would automatically garner the lion’s share of the electoral shift resulting from the anti-tax revolt.

But this is playing with fire, and is a betrayal of working class people. In the recent municipal election in Toronto, a rightist politician, Rob Ford, played heavily to working class dissatisfaction with “big government and high taxes.” He came out of nowhere, seemingly, to win the mayoralty.

Two reasons for Ford’s success were the record of the outgoing and discredited VISION-type mayor, David Miller, whom the union movement backed in the 2003 and 2006 elections, and the tepid, status quo platform of the candidate that the labor movement and NDP backed to replace him this year.

The BC Liberal Party is damaged, but working-class people have yet to organize a campaign for a meaningful, alternative governing course. Surprisingly to many, polls taken since Campbell’s resignation show that the Liberals will remain competitive with the NDP if they can pull off a successful public relations drive around a new leader.

A fighting alternative

There are issues and social movements with which the NDP could successfully ally itself. These include:

  • Significant protests taking place across the province to cuts in education by teachers, parents, students and elected members of school boards. As well, university and college students are protesting the fact that they now pay more in tuition than corporations pay in earnings taxes.
  • A burgeoning environmental movement that opposes the expansion of oil and gas drilling, coal mining and related pipeline and transportation megaprojects; calls for an end to factory farming of salmon that is devastating the wild stocks of the fish; and is fighting for expansion of public transit in the Vancouver region instead of more highways.
  • A broad movement for social housing and other services for the poorest and most needy, including raising of welfare rates and the minimum wage.
  • Widespread anger over the violations of democratic principles that have marked the Liberal record, such as the privatization of BC Rail and the imposition of the HST.
  • Support for improvements to the electoral system, notably proportional representation.

Championing these social and protest movements is one way for the NDP and trade unions to turn the anti-HST campaign in a positive direction. This would also help reach the fifty percent of eligible voters who no longer participate in elections. Failure to do so leaves the political terrain open to the right wing populists and their dangerous propaganda that blames “taxes” and “big government” for the world’s ills.

There are strong traditions of social struggle in British Columbia that can be drawn upon for such a course. And the broad, fighting movements that are emerging in many European countries provide new inspiration and examples to follow.

One of the keys to success will be to ally with protest movements emerging in other provinces so that the ultimate culprit in socially regressive policies in Canada be targeted – the federal government in Ottawa and the capitalist system it upholds.

12 Comments »

12 Responses to “Internal Revolt Shakes B.C. NDP, Labour Movement”

  1. Benoit Renaud on 17 Dec 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    Reading this article made me wonder if BC could be ready for at least the first stages of building a new party similar to Québec solidaire. What are your thoughts on that? Incidentally, QS will have its second program convention at the end of March. We will be discussing economic and environmental policies, in other words capitalism and how it exploits people and destroys the planet.

  2. Larry Mutter on 17 Dec 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    The NDP is mired in a take the middle road approach to please everybody, but ends up pleasing nobody.If you ask a candidate if they are socialist you get a vague look and some comment about labels etc.Most are good people with good intentions and as a conventional party they are at least in the game.But for any real hope of a socialist agenda would take a radical transformation.

  3. Steve Anders on 19 Dec 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    One issue you forgot to mention is that both Bob Simpson and Jenny Kwan were very critical of the role of (long time NDP insider) Moe Sahota in all of this. Apparently Moe Sahota was offered a $75,000 salary paid mainly by CUPE and the BC Fed to be president of the NDP. According to Simpson and Kwan, this is highly irregular and was kept secret from the NDP caucus and provincial council at the last convention. This is outrageous, and shows contempt by the labour movement towards ordinary citizens. If not, why did they try to keep it secret?

    Big labour continues to fail to accept that it has lost the respect of the majority of British Columbians. Ordinary folks have come to see the unions as self serving, arrogant, anti-democratic (as the Sahota incident demonstrates), and largely irrelevant to the vast majority of workers who are not unionized.

    And as you mention, both big labour and the NDP are increasingly perceived as pandering to big business interests and unwilling to reach out to the grassroots movements of the province fighting on the ground for the important issues affecting our communities, from unjust tax policy, to poverty, to homelessness, to crumbling social programs, and local environmental crisis, etc. Two clear examples of this were Carol Jame’s weak efforts to pander to mainstream environmental concerns by parroting vague nonsense about green energy and green jobs, while utterly failing to engage any of the various environmental crisis that real people are fighting for in communities all across the province – from loss of farmland, saving the few remaining original rain forests, protecting wild salmon, the destruction caused by road building and energy and mining megaprojects (not to mention the concerns raised about the privatization of our energy resources), etc. Then there’s the example of Geoff Megs, former executive director of the BC Fed and top staffer to NDP premier Glenn Clark, as well as key figure in the Vision Vancouver municipal government. Not only does Megs continue to act as NDP and Big labour insider, but also is clearly linked to powerful real estate interests in Vancouver. The same interests who through their infinite greed and worship of free market ideology are largely responsible for the outrageous housing costs in Vancouver (the housing bubble) and the related crisis in homelessness, urban poverty, inequality, and multiple related social ills. Both examples appear to expose the real nature of the official ‘left’ in BC as completly pro big business and pro status quo, and perhaps different from the BC Liberals only in its degree of subservience to the wealthy, contempt for poor folks, and worship of free market ideology.

    The obvious conclusion is that big labour and the NDP are no longer feasible political institutions for the advancement of the interests of ordinary folks in the province. If we want real political power, we have to organize ourselves in completely new ways and build our own political movements and parties, as well as support the champions who will fight for our interests in the public sphere. Both the Liberals and the NDP belong to a corrupt, discredited, and crumbling political order that is nearly useless to ordinary people – the abysmal voter turnout figures are just one of the many reflections of this.

    Unfortunately this probably won’t happen, and (as the Tea Party movement and the anti-HST campaign show) right-wing, proto-fascist populists will fill the political void left by the mainstream parties and sadly move our society in dangerous and destructive directions.

  4. Robin Wylie on 23 Dec 2010 at 12:39 am #

    What could be added to Roger’s analysis is that the Trade union bureaucracy, especially the BC Fed leadership, has worked very hard to prevent any direct action challenge to the Liberals over the last decade – and to deflect worker concerns into voting for the NDP (thus the under the table payments to Moe Sihota). This dampening effect was pronounced when CUPE tried to mobilize a broad strike over the contracting out of hospital support staff union jobs.

    Political deflection also has union membership effects. Union density has declined to 29%, while the majority of new union members are mergers of existing unions (for a gain of about 2000 people per year). In fact, the single largest new union drive in the province in the last three years is the organization of 45 (yes, that’s right) English as Second Language instructors by the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators.

    Secondly, when socialists argue for an alternative agenda, we can argue for public enterprise and regulation, not just a defense of social wages, the environment, and for democratic reforms. At the heart of the Liberal agenda there has been a significant reduction in public goods and services as a proportion of provincial GDP – and regulation of the private sector.

    One would like to hope that Benoit’s question will result in a new formation, but, to this point, all the evidence points to differences over process than policy.

    For example, the chief question at the BC Fed was over raiding, with NUPGE likely to leave the CLC (so the BCGEU) provincially, and CUPE, with about 20% of the delegates, boycotting the proceedings over the GEU’s presence. Infighting, not focusing out, dominated labour’s parliament.

    Forcing Carole James to quit seemed to provide a brief opening for more socialist arguments, but the whole spectrum of NDP leadership have closed it quickly, despite a leadership contest for April 17.

    So it’s still an argument for socialism with the ones and twos, and, unfortunately, as Roger concludes, the danger of a right populist response (shades of Christy Clark).

  5. Roger Annis on 30 Dec 2010 at 1:11 am #

    Thank you to everyone for the thoughtful and provoking questions and comments on my article.

    I agree with Robin that there is nothing so far showing in the NDP leadership contest to indicate serious reflection in the trade unions on the decline in working class struggle since the defeat of the hospital workers in 2004.

    You can read about the 2004 hospital workers strike in several articles we penned in Socialist Voice at the time:
    * Health Workers Take on BC Liberals: http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=7
    * Lessons of the BC hospital strike: http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=9

    And here is an article on the 2005 strike of teachers in BC that pushed back the worst of government attacks: http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=72. This and the Telus strike of the same year are the last large strikes to have been waged in the province.

    Yes, there is certainly a need for a political party of the left to emerge in BC. Why are we seeing so little motion in this direction? The answer is complex and socialists should be meeting and discussing that very question. We need to hear from each other as well as express our own views, so in that spirit I won’t venture any further here.

    I think it is wrong to delay such a party out of a belief that somehow, some way, the NDP will undergo a left transformation. It would be equally wrong for a left to ignore and dismiss the hopes and expectations that many workers and their unions still hold in that party.

    We should also guard against a slide into provincialism. A new left party is needed throughout Canada (I leave aside the matter of Quebec where the struggle against national and language oppression lends a distinct dynamic to working class struggle).

  6. Barry Weisleder on 30 Dec 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Will NDP and Labour rise to the challenges of 2011?
    Beyond North America, labour is on the march and the left is finding its voice again. Well into the third year of the global economic crisis, opposition to capitalist policies is fueled by layoffs, social cutbacks, rising school fees, currency wars, environmental catastrophes, attacks on civil liberties and festering imperial military interventions.
    So why do the accumulating conditions for a radical resurgence seem to spell trepidation and crisis for the labour-based New Democratic Party and for unions in Canada? Could it be that the labour leadership has been driving in reverse gear for so long that they find it difficult to stop and shift into forward?
    The problems are numerous. Many are self-inflicted. Instead of fighting the bosses, some union leaders are fighting one another. Conflicts over raiding (in the Canadian Labour Congress) and bids to undermine elected top officers (in the Ontario Federation of Labour) testify to that.
    Instead of mobilizing the rank and file to reverse corporate bail-outs and tax gifts to the rich, union leaders tend to rely on weak ad campaigns, legalistic initiatives and token rallies. Instead of bolstering labour’s political independence, the tops play footsie (or cohabit) with Liberals. Instead of deepening workers’ democracy, the brass clamp down on the left, and treat the NDP membership like a milch cow rather than as a source of new ideas and energy.
    This helps to explain the public cynicism that surrounds labour and its political arm in English Canada. It reveals why the party cannot translate its opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and its resistence to the attack on pensions, welfare and public services, into significant growth at the polls.
    Prospects for a federal election in Spring 2011 should be good news for the NDP. Party debts are paid and many of its candidates are already in the field. But the NDP vote in three federal by-elections on November 29 sank like a stone; it even lost its long-held seat in Winnipeg North.
    More inauspicious was the municipal election disaster in Toronto where a voter revolt against the lethal combination of service cuts and tax hikes turfed the Liberal/NDP regime at City Hall in favour of a right wing populist mayor and allied anti-labour councillors.
    As in west coast British Columbia, the Ontario NDP failed to channel popular opposition to a heightened Harmonized Sales Tax by demanding its abolition and its replacement by major tax hikes on the rich. Proposing paltry exceptions to the regressive tax, and steering clear of a radical class critique of the bourgeois tax system, has allowed right wing populists to run wild with the issue, especially in B.C.
    Dissatisfaction with BC NDP Leader Carol James within her own provincial legislative caucus forced her to resign from the top job. Her anemic response to the sales tax hike, which was a broken promise that forced Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell to quit in November, was only the tip of the political iceberg. James’ refusal to campaign in 2009 for reversal of Liberal provincial cutbacks, and her ongoing attempts to distance the NDP from its traditional labour base, while appealing to the business elite, which remains firmly aligned with the Liberals, proved to be her undoing as NDP leader.
    This turn of events shows the potential to win the party ranks to the fight for a pro-labour, socialist agenda – a fight that can succeed only if it is actively waged.
    In the meantime, the NDP is flailing away, still identified with the late-2008 aborted federal coalition with the Liberal Party, and still smarting from the split in the NDP parliamentary caucus over the federal gun registry. The social democratic leadership is so perplexed that Leader Jack Layton may even summon his MPs to vote for the next Conservative federal budget just to avoid precipitating a Spring election.
    Internally, morale is low, reflected in stagnant membership figures. The undemocratic move last March by the Ontario NDP executive to postpone the party’s provincial convention by nearly two years likewise does not inspire confidence. Neither does the decision by the senior party executive to imposed a “re-vote” to overturn the win by leftists at the Ontario New Democratic Youth Convention (see article in Dec. 2010 S.A.)
    The disorientation, confusion, even crisis in sections of the NDP reflect also the state of the labour movement, and vice-versa. At the BC Federation of Labour Convention, held Nov. 29 – Dec. 3, there was little word about the schism among the NDP tops. But division within the labour brass was evident when most of the CUPE delegation walked away for an entire session. This left the BC Government Employees’ Union in the hall even though the latter will be outside the Fed in January due to the imminent expulsion of the federal public service umbrella National Union of Public and General Employees over non-payment of dues to the CLC. That is NUPGE’s response to a dispute over raiding of its affiliates by other unions in three western provinces.
    On the positive side of the ledger, the BC Fed adopted a sharp critique of the global corporate agenda. But it did so without mapping out a mass action response to it. At the same time it voted to end its practice of hosting annual Fed conventions in favour of holding them only once every two years — a prescription for a less responsive, less accountable, and less democratic union federation. It is the last thing workers want, highlighting the urgent need for a class struggle opposition in the unions and the NDP to mine the deep reserves of working class solidarity, to sweep aside the mis-leaders of our class, and to fight for a Workers’ Agenda against the employers’ relentless austerity drive.

  7. Tim K on 30 Dec 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    I agree with Roger that there is a need for a party of the left to emerge in BC, and that the NDP cannot be this party. There is a need for like minded individuals to get together to discuss what steps can be taken in this direction. Such a meeting will need to be sufficiently focused such that those in attendance understand that we are trying to create a political organization, and not a forum/discussion group (though there is certainly a need for forums and political discussions on the left).

    I also agree with Roger that we need to avoid a slide into provincialism. As Roger correctly stated at the end of the article, our main enemy is the government in Ottawa and the capitalist system it upholds. To this end, any new left party that forms in BC will need to make a priority of hooking up with like minded individuals in other provinces. To this end, it is imperative that members of a new left party in BC not hold all sorts of reactionary positions on matters of federal and international politics.

    I agree with Roger that the situation in Quebec has a distinct dynamic due to national and linguistic oppression. How the left in the rest of Canada approaches this question will be a matter of importance for any new party of the left.

  8. John Riddell on 01 Jan 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    Comment on BC NDP crisis

    Roger is right that working people need a political party consistently defending their interests, instead of an NDP committed to support of the Canadian capitalist state. That’s been the case for 75 years now, since the formation of the NDP’s predecessor, the CCF. It’s a timeless statement about a strategic direction, which in itself does not indicate what we should do now.

    Regarding the present situation, we must start with Roger’s observation that we see little motion in the direction of a left alternative to the NDP. Indeed, forces inside and outside the NDP offering a left alternative to the party leadership seem weaker than at any time in the 75 years of NDP-CCF history.

    The federal and Ontario NDP had a near-death experience in the mid-1990s, but since then they have stabilized; the BC NDP went through a recovery over the last decade. Meanwhile, other components of the left and the labour movement have been in decline. This phenomenon is too universal to be blamed on subjective failings; it is surely rooted in the overall retreat of the working class during this period.

    Today, we are probably not able to take immediate steps in English Canada to constitute a broad left party similar to Quebec Solidaire. But every campaign that strengthens the unity and striking power of anti-capitalist forces will move us closer to the goal of effective anti-capitalist political action.

    The main challenge to the NDP at present is the unrelenting rightward shift of capitalist politics – and particularly, the rise of new rightist forces in B.C., Alberta, and especially Toronto, where this has resulted in a devastating defeat to the NDP’s municipal political arm. In this context, the NDP does indeed look vulnerable. Comments (above) by Steve, Kim, and Barry note many danger signs.

    Still, the news is not all bad. The federal NDP seems to have shaken itself free, for now, of its fixation on a coalition with the Liberals (see http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=1393). And the ousting of the B.C. NDP leader, at a time when the NDP is running even with the ruling Liberals in opinion polls, looks more like a sign of vigour than a prelude to disintegration.

    We will now see how the B.C. party fares during the process of selecting a new leader.

    The NDP, while a pro-capitalist party, is a social-democratic formation, differentiated from other major parties by its roots in the working class and labour movement. We cannot be indifferent to its fate. If the NDP is smashed and brushed aside by the rise of rightist forces, this will be a defeat for the working class.

    I therefore agree with the approach of Roger’s article on the B.C. NDP (http://www.socialistvoice.ca/?p=1408). It was not dismissive, but rather posed a road forward for the party in the form of a “fighting alternative.”

    John

  9. Ken Hiebert on 03 Jan 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Benoit Renaud asks if we can hope for a development like Quebec solidaire. Most of the ingredients are not there, but the poor prospects for the NDP in the next provincial election do remove one obstacle, at least in part.
    Over and over again we are told that we must rally behind the NDP because there is no other party that can oust the Liberals (or Social Credit before them). Given that the NDP seems to have already lost the next election, this argument will carry less weight. A larger number of people may be open to starting work on an alternative to the NDP.
    What we lack are the smaller formations such as the PDS and the other groups that came together to launch Quebec solidaire.

  10. John Orrett on 07 Jan 2011 at 10:31 am #

    Brother and sister socialists in BC. Here are a few comments on some activities that are going on in Toronto in relation to the NDP.

    In the early 1970,s I became radicalized and joined the Young Socialists the youth branch of the LSA League for Socailist Action. I was only a member for two years. For the next 28 years I was an active member of the NDP while I raised a family and built a career in the Toronto Fire Services. I have had the opportunity to become more active in the last 4 years and after a few years in the Socialist Caucus I joined Socialist Action because I believed the two objectives or the two organizations were practically the same.

    I want to build a left alternative in the NDP. One that believes with me in full blown real socialism. A planned economy with the major sources of production , finance and governance controlled by the vast majority of working people, building organs of ecomonic planning and production, owned by all the people.
    I respect, help, and totally sympathize with other community, environtmental, anti war , and progressive public movement activites.

    I truly believe that until an organic, organized and coherent alternative to the NDP is formed through some type of internal struggle or fragmentation of the Canadian working class within its unions and its supposed party, we should continue to have a voice and proclaim the socialist alternative within the NDP. To fight for positions on riding executives, to fight to be delegates to Provincial Council and go to conventions, to pose a real socialist alternative to the welfare state capitalism that the present leadership espouses.
    I have been elected Federal President of Thornhill Riding and have been a delegate to the last provincial Ontario and Federal conventions. I will be at Vancouver fighting to make sure our troops exit Afghanistan, to fight for the nationalization of the banks, steel industry, auto industry, potash industry, oil industry among many others. We will fight for the most progressive tax system policy and raise our voices for a greatly expanded pension plan. A pension plan that starts to invest in publically owned companies, rather than use our own pension savings in a system that actually works against us.
    We need to find contacts and sympathizers in BC that will make contact with us at the beginning of the convention so we can work in unison to put the Layton leadership on the spot. We should demand no coalition government with the Liberals and forward socialist policies and actions. We need to build a unified socialist caucus within the NDP.
    I hope to convince other socialists to try to be delegates to the convention. Join the NDP now. Keep your membership current . Go to a riding association meeting and get yourselves elected. I hope to see some of you in Vancouver.
    In Solidarity. John Orrett

  11. John Riddell on 08 Jan 2011 at 2:15 pm #

    Dear John Orrett,

    It is good to know that socialist activists are planning a vigorous intervention in the coming NDP convention. I am not active in the NDP myself, and so I will not comment on how a socialist intervention in the party can best be carried out. (However, your comment that the objectives of the Socialist Caucus and Socialist Action are “practically the same” is certainly thought-provoking.)

    The main challenge at present within the NDP is to carry campaigns around specific issues and, where possible, to win some victories. Two such triumphs jump to mind: the Federal NDP’s adoption of a stand for Canadian military withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the successful defense of NDP MP Libbie Davies from attacks by anti-Palestinian bigots and racists.

    Both these experiences were marked by collaboration of broad forces within the NDP and activists outside the party who are alert to these issues. These efforts overcame the division between NDP activists and leftists outside the party, which otherwise looms so large.

    Efforts of this type can have great influence, even if the numbers involved are modest. For example, the NDP is lined up in the camp of Harper and other ruling-class Zionists who want to restrict the right of free speech on Palestine. An broadly based initiative group of NDP members opposed to this policy and sympathetic to Palestinian solidarity would have great moral weight.

    This would provide a basis for common action on this issue between NDP activists and the broad pro-Palestinian social movement outside the party.

  12. Roger Annis on 08 Jan 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    This thoughTful article is published on Rabble.ca. The affirmative action rule concerning BC NDP leaders to which the author refers has become a subject of debate within the rather lifeless NDP leadership contest. One candidate, MLA Harry Lali, is calling for the rule to be eliminated. In announcing his candidacy, he appealed (tongue in cheek?) to “older white guys” to join him in his leadership bid.

    THE BC NDP’S TROUBLE WITH WOMEN

    By Jim Quail

    My prediction: Christy Clark will be anointed in February by the provincial Liberal Party as B.C.’s Next Premier. This will highlight some serious weaknesses in the NDP.

    The public will not punish Christy Clark for alleged misdeeds by her brother and her ex-husband, so give it up. Stick to attacking her politics instead.

    Clark is looking like a shoo-in, despite any baggage she may carry, unless she blunders badly during the leadership campaign. She has astutely recruited a high-profile woman as her campaign chair — Pamela Martin [3], who recently moved on from a long career as a television reporter and suppertime news anchor.

    This will underscore the weaknesses of the NDP, and particularly its inability to attract any female contenders in its own leadership race.

    Like any party, the Libs will go with the candidate who appears most able to win the next election for them and she has a huge edge over the rest of the pack. Internal rivalries between the federal Conservatives and Liberals in the organization will not determine the outcome.

    NDP commentators like Bill Tielman [4] are trying hard to argue that her candidacy is fatally undermined by connections with the corruption scandal surrounding the privatization of B.C. Rail that contributed to Premier Gordon Campbell’s demise.

    It will hardly assist the NDP, which appears to be losing support among women voters [5], to try to bring down a female Liberal leader by saddling her with the blame for alleged activities of male relations. It is difficult to imagine a more foolish (not so say unprincipled) strategy for the NDP than to launch an overtly sexist attack on a female Liberal candidate.

    Here’s a hot tip for Tielman: the public will not punish Clark for alleged misdeeds by her brother and her ex-husband, so give it up. Stick to attacking her politics instead.

    There has been a great deal of internal furor in the provincial NDP about the gender-parity rules for leadership in the party’s constitution. The problem that another NDP commentator, former MLA David Schreck [6], has brought to the fore is that the rules require at least one of the three top positions (leader, president and treasurer) be occupied for a woman. The president and treasurer are both men, so unless the party somehow recruits another female leader to replace Carole James, one of the other two must go.

    While this might present a useful opportunity to unload party president Moe Sihota (who is a serious liability to the NDP, displaying consistently poor political judgement) the real question New Democrats should be asking themselves is why no women want to lead them. They should look across the fence at the Liberal leadership race, where there are two female contenders — including the front-runner — and ask themselves where they have gone wrong.

    I suspect the answer goes far beyond the recent turmoil over Carole James’ leadership. I suspect it is closely related to the inability of the party to attract activist youth. Until the NDP re-learns the politics of social transformation it will continue to see its base erode. Activists will continue to look at the NDP and wonder, why bother?


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