Chapter 4: THE CANADIAN STATE, THE NATIONS AND PEOPLES OF CANADA, AND THE CRISIS OF DEMOCRACY

 

The central fact of political life in Canada is that state power is in the hands of Canadian finance capital. In capitalist society, the owners of the large-scale means of production, trade and finance control the state machinery: the armed forces, police, judiciary, and civil service. The capitalist state is thus an instrument of class rule. A small minority – the exploiting class – rules in fact over the great majority of the people who create all the wealth and provide all the services.

The Canadian people in the past waged a revolutionary struggle for democracy: for representative institutions, universal suffrage, and popular liberties. In 1837, popular anti-colonial uprisings led by the democratic forces of French and English Canada revolted against colonial officialdom and the reactionary and privileged strata (the Family Compact in Upper Canada and the Chateau Clique in Lower Canada). The revolutionary uprising of the Metis and Aboriginal peoples followed in the West. But these struggles took place before and during the period of the birth of industrial capitalism in Canada; they opened the way to the development of industry and the political rule of the Canadian capitalist class.

The Canadian state bears the imprint of its colonial origin: the retention of a monarch of another country as the head of state, and still in possession of the ill-defined “royal prerogative.” The Senate is still appointed from the privileged class.

At Confederation, the British government confirmed the claim of the Canadian capitalists to legislative sovereignty within Canada, while they in return undertook to keep the Dominion within the Empire. The result was commitment to British foreign policy and wars, and acceptance of the role of Canada as a raw materials supplier.

With the growth of capitalist monopoly, Canadian bourgeois nationalism asserted itself. The Statute of Westminster (1931) declared the “equality of status” of members of the Commonwealth. But this was also the period of the rise of the United States to world dominance; and the Canadian bourgeoisie, ever more closely linked with U.S. monopoly interests, proceeded to make this country dependent on U.S. imperialism. Since the Second World War, this process has led to far-reaching measures of economic, political and military integration with the U.S.

By offering a “free choice” between the political parties representing capitalist interests, and by its control of the agencies that mould public opinion, the capitalist class has been able to maintain its class rule. This includes the state financing of election expenses for the biggest political parties, parties which are increasingly similar on the main questions of concern to the people. At the same time, the smaller, progressive and revolutionary parties are being squeezed onto the electoral margins, or off the electoral platform altogether. More and more, important policy and state affairs are removed from the parliamentary arena, and instead decided by Cabinet or its non-elected officials in the state apparatus, by appointed judges and courts, or in conformity with the terms of bilateral and multilateral agreements imposed on the Canadian people. A similar anti-democratic trend exists at the provincial and municipal levels of government. The already-restricted democratic decision-making afforded by bourgeois “parliamentary democracy” is eroding quickly. A growing alienation from bourgeois politics is developing among working people for all of these reasons.

As economic crisis deepens, finance capital increasingly wields the coercive arm of the state to thwart the legitimate struggles of the people, stripping away the mask of state neutrality. The state and its institutions do not stand above social conflict – the state is a partisan, active, and increasingly authoritarian force on the side of finance capital.

More and more the state intervenes directly to attack and undermine free collective bargaining, and the right to strike, picket, and organize. There is a steady increase in the use of the police and the courts, of strikebreaking and scab herding, against picket lines and demonstrations. Vital democratic reforms to protect and extend the rights of labour, women and immigrants, and to combat racism and discrimination, are systematically blocked and dismantled. Deregulation, privatization, and the dismantling of decades-old labour laws and benefits, are a central part of the assault.

Part of the attack on democracy is seen in the increasing monopolization of the mass media, and in the decreasing state support for a democratic Canadian culture. This is combined with a massive infusion, mainly from the U.S., of mass, corporate culture that is also often violent. The mainstream press and media act as the voice of finance capital and the right-wing forces. The corporate media are becoming an ever-more sophisticated and powerful instrument to manipulate public opinion, by parroting pro-monopoly propaganda, filtering out conflicting news and analysis, and silencing expressions of anti-capitalist dissent. The development of new information technologies such as the Internet, creates the conditions for an unprecedented flow of information. A free flow of information is a threat to state monopoly capitalism however, and as a result useful information is often hidden in a glut of commercial advertising. Finance capital is attempting to strengthen its domination and effective control of the Internet.

The spokespersons of the bourgeoisie praise “the rule of law’. They maintain that Canada is an exemplary democracy, in which all citizens are equal before the law, protected by the Charter of Rights and Liberties. Capitalist “equality” does not guarantee even minimal economic rights let alone a more equal division of society’s production.

However, they do not mention that this so-called “democratic” bourgeoisie rules the vast majority of the population through an economic dictatorship. The Canadian bourgeoisie claims with pride that the judicial branch of government is independent of the legislative and executive branches. Yet, the judiciary is appointed by the executive and reflects its class character.

Unionists are arrested and imprisoned for putting the collective rights of their members above the rights of the boss. Less and less tolerance is seen from the police at peaceful demonstrations. Exceptional measures are becoming less and less exceptional, and more and more repressive.

There is a class approach to crime and punishment – a two-tier justice system. Laws and penalties are very severe for criminals who commit petty offences, but powerful offenders get off with light penalties, if any. Large companies and the rich who pollute the environment or violate worker health and safety regulations are treated as having committed minor offences and are rarely jailed or deprived of their property.

Corruption, bribery, and organized crime are part of capitalist development. Many of the great wealthy families acquired their wealth through illegal activities in earlier generations; they and their descendents have later morphed into honourable ladies and gentlemen. Theft by the rich becomes legalized and exploitation valued.

The Canadian Security Intelligence Service is a particularly dangerous part of the state apparatus. Working in tandem with the CIA and other imperialist security agencies, CSIS constitutes an attack on the democratic and civil rights of Canadians. This agency, which operates outside the law and beyond the reach of Parliament, exists to suppress political dissent, and has the potential to serve as a vehicle to transform Canada into a police state.

The Canadian Armed Forces are an instrument of imperialist aggression under U.S./NATO command. The Armed Forces also exist to intervene to suppress the democratic, class and national struggles of the Canadian people.

Racist and neo-fascist organizations are permitted to operate with relative freedom by the state, and in fact receive support from the most reactionary elements within the ruling class. Preying on the fear, insecurity, economic conditions and low level of class consciousness among certain sections of the Canadian people, especially the youth and the petty bourgeoisie, these groups promote prejudice, race hatred, and fascist ideology in order to divide the working class.

In short, the repressive role of the Canadian state as an instrument of class rule is becoming steadily more exposed, as the most powerful corporate interests expand at the expense of the labour and democratic rights of the people. The already limited avenues for democratic expression and participation are being continuously and deeply eroded. The struggle to unite the labour and people’s forces in defence of democracy has thus become an urgent and central task.

Canada: A Multi-National Country

Canada includes small and large nations, each of which is an historically-constituted community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and national consciousness manifested in a common culture. Nations come into existence and pass out of existence, by forcible and peaceful historical processes, or a combination of both. It is a dynamic process in which, in each case, the path of development into nationhood is specific and different. As a result, the struggle for a democratic solution to the national question requires an understanding and respect for these objective differences.

Amongst the smaller nations in Canada are groups of Aboriginal peoples who are exercising their right to sovereignty with the demand for autonomy and self-government. Amongst these are the Northern Cree in Quebec, and the newly created territory of Nunavut, the Nisga’a on the west coast, and others. The Acadians in the Maritimes also constitute a smaller nation in Canada. The two largest nations are English-speaking Canada and Quebec.

At the heart of the crisis of confederation is the refusal to recognize the right of every nation to self-determination up to and including the right to separation; that is, the right to choose the form of sovereignty which the majority of the people of that nation desire.

Sovereignty may be expressed in a free national choice of one of three following forms: a separate state, a confederation of equal nation or states, or autonomy.

For many years, the Communist Party has put forward the proposal for a new constitution based on the equal and voluntary partnership of Quebec and English-speaking Canada. Such a new constitutional arrangement must also guarantee the full participation of Aboriginal peoples and protect and extend their inherent national rights, including the right to genuine self-government, the right to consent over any change in their Constitutional status, and the right to accelerated economic, social and national development.

The Communist Party proposes a confederal republic with a government consisting of two chambers; one, such as the House of Commons today, would be based on representation by population, elected through a new system of proportional representation. The other chamber – a House of Nationalities – which would replace the present Senate, would be composed of an equal number of elected representatives from Quebec and from English-speaking Canada, with guaranteed and significant representation from the Aboriginal peoples, Acadians and the Metis. Each chamber should have the right to initiate legislation, but both would have to adopt the legislation for it to become law. Furthermore the Aboriginal peoples must have the right to veto, on all matters pertaining to their national development. This structure will protect both fundamental democratic principles: equality of the rights of nations whatever their size, and majority rule. Structural changes reflecting this confederal arrangement would need to be made throughout the legal system and state apparatus.

A genuinely democratic constitution should correct the historic injustices suffered by the Aboriginal peoples by recognizing their full economic, social, national and political equality, and the just settlement of their land claims based on treaty rights, Aboriginal claims and scrip. This includes the rights and demands of Aboriginal women. The right of nations to self-determination must be entrenched in the Canadian constitution.

This fight for constitutional change is crucial to the overall struggle for democracy, social advance and for socialism. Uniting the working class across the country will not be possible without combating national oppression and fighting to achieve a new, equal and voluntary partnership of Canada’s nations.

The sharpest expression of the constitutional crisis relates to Quebec’s national status and the failure of the Canadian state to recognize Quebec’s right to national self-determination, up to and including secession. This non-recognition of Quebec’s rights is itself an expression of the historic national oppression of Quebec – its political, economic and social oppression – since the British conquest of New France in 1763. This national oppression has in turn aroused national indignation among the Quebec people, and spawned bourgeois and petty-bourgeois-led nationalist and separatist movements there.

The fight to defend Quebec’s national rights and sovereignty is a pivotal social and democratic struggle. However, the separatist solution as expressed by the petty-bourgeois nationalist parties would not solve the crisis in the interests of working people. Quebec has reached the advanced stage of monopoly capitalism; its economic relations with English-speaking Canada are no longer those of a colonial character. The separatist solution would bring severe additional economic hardship to the working people of both nations and would weaken their political unity against the common enemy – finance capital, both domestic and international – and weaken the common struggle for fundamental change.

Recent changes to Canada’s constitution have perpetuated the structural flaws and built-in inequalities of the original British North America Act (BNA Act) of 1867. The adoption of a new Canadian constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982, while formally a step forward from a colonial Act of another country, nevertheless failed to address the underlying source of the crisis of Confederation. The current constitution perpetuates the injustices and inequities of the old BNA Act. “Provincial rights” were substituted for genuine national rights, thus accentuating the trend to decentralization, while doing nothing to uphold Canadian independence or to recognize the national rights of Quebec and the Aboriginal peoples.

The Acadians, who today live mostly in the Maritimes, are also a nation. Originally 16th century settlers from France, the Acadians were driven out of Nova Scotia by the British who seized their lands after the defeat of the French in 1755. While significant numbers of the Acadian people remain geographically dispersed, substantial numbers constitute a stable community within the Maritimes, and maintain their unique language, culture, history, and collective national consciousness.

The rights of the Acadians to protect and maintain their national identity with full state support, including the right to self-government, must be guaranteed.

The Metis nation emerged in the period of merchant capitalism in the 18th century based on the fur trade and was mainly situated along the rivers flowing into Hudson Bay. The assertion of national rights by the Metis in the rebellions of 1869-70 and 1885 was brutally crushed by the dominant English-speaking ruling class, who were backed by the expansionary industrial capitalism of Ontario and Quebec. Nevertheless, the resistance of the Metis led to the establishment of the province of Manitoba and helped keep alive the spirit of resistance against all national privileges in Canada today.

The Aboriginal peoples had been in Canada for thousands of years when the first white settlers arrived. Prior to European settlement, the social organization of many Aboriginal communities was progressing – depending on the development of the productive capacities of each community – from smaller, dispersed and relatively isolated tribes into more complex, organized and technologically advanced societies. But European colonization and subjugation of the Aboriginal peoples interrupted and arrested this nation-building process.

Colonization and capitalist industrialization in Canada developed at the expense of its original inhabitants. The resistance of the Aboriginal peoples to colonial encroachment was brutally crushed. A policy of genocide was adopted by the state, which continues today in economic, social and cultural forms. There was the extermination of the Beothuk in Newfoundland, the scalp bounty on the Mi’kmaq in the Maritimes, the enslavement of some and the deliberate starvation and infection of others with deadly diseases, their forced relocation onto remote and impoverished reserves, the abduction of their children and consignment to residential schools where many were sexually assaulted, and brutalized for speaking their own language, and the organized suppression of their culture, including the banning of the communal Potlatch. Such is the record of Canadian history.

Presently, Aboriginal peoples have the highest rates of suicide, infant mortality, impoverishment, and incarceration in Canada, with a life expectancy of less than 50 years. Deprived of their human rights, their equality rights, and their inherent rights to land and self-government, Aboriginal peoples continue to be victims of state sponsored policies of genocide.

Even today, the state, acting on behalf of finance capital, refuses to recognize the status and national rights of Aboriginal peoples. This has produced acute poverty and oppression on the reserves and other areas inhabited by the Aboriginal peoples. Denied an adequate land base, acceptable living standards, the ability to live in their traditional manner, or the opportunity to mount successful cooperative commercial operations where they live, Aboriginal people for many years have migrated to urban areas where they face high unemployment, discrimination and the further destruction of their cultural identity.

The Communist Party struggles for immediate redress of historic injustices to Aboriginal peoples. This must include preferential treatment in the provision of housing, health care, education, and job creation, as a priority. Furthermore, immediate achievement of national rights, just and early settlement of land claims and self-government will help to improve the prospect for the fuller development of several Aboriginal peoples as nations, a process that the Communist Party fully supports.

The CPC also supports the struggle of those nations such as the Cree in Northern Quebec who are seeking full recognition of their right of self-determination.

Today, there is a renewed spirit of insurgency among the Aboriginal peoples. There is increasing unity between various Aboriginal peoples in their individual and particular struggles against the capitalist state. The Communist Party supports the increasing unity of the Aboriginal peoples in their just struggle.

Within each nation, there are national minorities whose national homeland is within the borders of another nation within Canada. Francophone minorities living in English-speaking Canada, Anglophone minorities living in Quebec, and Aboriginal peoples and Acadians living away from their national homes are all national minorities with the right to educate their children and receive state supported services in their own languages, wherever numbers warrant.

With the exception of the Aboriginal peoples, Canada is a country of immigrants, old and new. Comprised of hundreds of diverse ethnic groups, who will eventually merge with French-speaking Quebec or English-speaking Canada, these ethnic groups have the right to preserve their language and heritage and to pass it on to succeeding generations through state-supported language and cultural programs, and through state-supported cultural and community activities. The Communist Party recognizes that this two-sided process of merging and preserving language, culture and heritage, is of long duration, influencing and enriching Canadian culture as a whole.

Immigrant workers from many lands have played a vital part in building Canada’s industries, railways and agriculture. New immigrants form a considerable portion of Canada’s labour force. Immigrant workers continue to suffer from acute discrimination, arising in the main from capitalist exploitation and attitudes of national chauvinism. From its foundation the Communist Party has struggled to end discrimination against immigrant workers, working to expose how capitalism generates racism and national chauvinism, profits from low wage areas, and divides the working class to hold back the overall struggle.

Most immigration to Canada has been structured to support colonialist expansion and capitalist exploitation. In the colonial period, the English and French ruling classes not only directed white settlement that oppressed and displaced Aboriginal peoples; they also exploited most immigrants as a source of cheap labour and primary production. Later patterns of immigration under the Canadian state continued racist, chauvinist, and anti-labour policies in expanding settlement and building capitalist industry. The notorious treatment of Chinese labour in the building of the CPR and of immigrant labour in the textile industry and agriculture are characteristic of how Canadian capitalists have tended to segregate and super-exploit groups of immigrant workers.

Canadian state immigration policy is also class-oriented. Working class immigration is used as a reserve of ready labour to undercut average wages and conditions. Capitalist investors are privileged while victims of imperialist aggression, labour activists and political progressives are turned away.

There is a massive uprooting of millions of people as a result of the growing impoverishment of less developed countries, destabilizing imperialist-inspired wars and environmental disasters, and the growth of criminal trafficking in immigrants. To reduce these international movements of dispossessed people and political refugees requires progressive policies for world economic development and peace – not more repression of immigrants or elimination of their democratic rights. The communists demand priority in immigration to refugees, elimination of privileged entry to capitalist investors, phasing out of guest-worker provisions except for genuine educational, scientific or cultural exchange, and the full protection of immigrants through an immigrant bill of rights.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is also seriously flawed. While formally recognizing certain fundamental rights – freedom of association, assembly, religion, and of the press, and the rights to liberty and security, and equality without discrimination based on race, gender, religion or national origin, etc.- it also permits the federal and provincial legislatures to simply use the “notwithstanding” clause to deny these basic human rights in practice. A Bill of Rights for Labour was denied the working people of Canada, leaving the trade union movement with no constitutionally guaranteed rights.

Municipalities continue to be denied status in the repatriated Constitution. Though the majority of Canadians live within urban municipalities, these bodies can be created and dissolved at will by provincial governments.

A new constitution would prohibit the violation of the civil liberties of immigrants. It would outlaw racism and discrimination. It would assure the democratic, cultural and language rights of the non-French, non-English ethnic groups in Canada. A new constitution must embody a Bill of Rights, and a Bill of Rights for Labour, to provide guarantees of trade union and democratic rights which apply to the people of all nations within the Canadian state. These guarantees must ensure economic, social, cultural and linguistic equality, the right of assembly, the right to organize and strike, the habeas corpus right not to be arbitrarily deprived of one’s liberty, the right to a job, to freedom of movement, to health, to education, to housing. The rights of women, youth and children must be guaranteed.

A genuinely democratic constitution must be accompanied by basic structural reform. To overcome regional inequality, these reforms must be based on the necessity for all-sided economic development in all parts of Canada, combined with nationalization of all natural resources, above all energy. Through publicly-owned corporations, benefits from the development of natural and energy resources must serve the people of Canada as a whole as well as industrial and social development in the provinces where the resources are found.

The erosion of local democracy has its roots in the absence of constitutional status, jurisdiction and rights for municipalities. A democratic constitution would recognize municipalities, guarantee local municipal autonomy, and create the most favourable conditions for local democratic control.

A new constitution should unify social legislation to provide equal opportunity and high standards in all of Canada while respecting the sovereignty of Quebec, and the right to self-government of the Aboriginal peoples. It must ensure that the corporations will not be able to escape responsibility for the contribution they owe to public education, living standards, and the health and social welfare of all Canadians.

Most important, a new constitution will help to remove the causes of the long-standing disunity, friction and resentment between English-speaking Canada and Quebec, and the Aboriginal peoples’ inequality and national oppression.

The Communist Party sees the struggle for a democratic solution of the constitutional crisis as an integral part of the struggle against capitalist rule. The Communist Party stands for the unity of the working class in the struggle against this common enemy – domestic and international finance capital. Victory in the struggle for democracy and against political reaction, for Canadian independence and for socialism requires a powerful alliance of the working class of English-speaking Canada and Quebec, together with the progressive forces in Aboriginal and Metis communities and among national and ethnic minorities.

The historic direction of these struggles is toward the achievement of a higher form of democracy through the establishment of a socialist state and the rule of the vast majority of the Canadian people.

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