Keynote address delivered by Elizabeth Rowley, leader of the Communist Party of Canada at the occasion of the Parties 38th Central Convention in Toronto.
Comrade Chair and Comrades:
We open this convention with a warm welcome to all of the Delegates and Alternates who have traveled from all over Canada to attend this 38th Convention of our Party, which takes place just one week short of the 95th anniversary of our Party’s birth on May 28, 1921.
We also warmly welcome our guests to this convention: Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendía Peña, who will address the convention tomorrow morning, and the Cuban Consul in Toronto, Javier Domokos. We also warmly welcome the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s Ambassador to Canada, Wilmer Barrientos, who will address the convention this afternoon.
We also warmly welcome our comrades from Marxism Leninism Today, Greg Godels and Ed Grystar who have driven up from Pensylvania to address the convention this afternoon. Coming from the belly of the beast, we look forward to hearing more about the US elections and the struggle against the far right.
And we warmly welcome Dr. Noor Zaheer, Presiddent of the Delhi Branch of the National Federation of Indian Women, who is on a speaking tour of Canada, and will also address delegates later today.
We are very pleased to have received greetings and messages from Communist and Workers parties around the world, all of them struggling against imperialism, reaction and war and for peace, social progress, and socialism. We are proud to be an integral part of such an important and historically irresistible movement for revolutionary working class transformation and for human social progress.
Over the next three days we will also warmly welcome Natalie Mehra, Exec Director of the Ontario Health Coalition who will be speaking about the fight to save and expand Medicare in Canada, to stop the privatization of public hospitals and clinics, and to force the government to enforce the Canada Health Act and reject the TPP – a deal that will make Big Pharma super-profits even bigger.
Finally, we welcome all of the comrades and friends who have come to the Convention from near and far to observe the work of this convention, and the deliberations and decisions that will be made here this weekend. And we take this opportunity to thank all of the comrades who have worked hard these past weeks to prepare for this convention, whether translating documents and amendments, organizing transportation and sleeping arrangements, organizing tonight’s Banquet, or making sure there’s coffee and food at hand throughout the convention: Thank you comrades for smoothing the way for our convention this weekend.
The International Situation
Since our convention documents were issued three months ago, imperialism has launched new strikes against progressive governments in Latin America and elsewhere. In Brazil, corrupt politicians representing both international and domestic corporate interests succeeded to impeach Workers’ Party leader and Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff May 12th on trumped up charges of corruption.
The Workers’ Party and the Communist Party of Brazil have called the impeachment a coup d’etat by reactionary forces seeking to overturn the social and economic reforms put in place since 2003 when the Workers’ Party first took office under President Lula da Silva.
The coup is Brazil is part of a larger conspiracy by US imperialism to destabilize and overthrow progressive governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, Peru, and elsewhere, by tightening the economic screws, fanning popular discontent, and financing the opposition parties and movements with funds and material support, along with promises of future riches in re-privatized public and resource sectors.
Following the December 2015 elections in which the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) suffered serious setbacks, the US government has publicly stated its intention to intervene militarily – a clear threat to President Maduro and the PSUV, and a heads-up to US allies in the region.
Efforts are underway to destabilize the MAS (Movement for Socialism) government of Evo Morales in Bolivia, and the Correa government in Ecuador, among others. This is on top of the electoral setbacks in Argentina last year.
In South Africa, imperialism has made major efforts to split the African National Congress and isolate the SACP and the trade unions, and destabilize the ANC government. At stake are billions of dollars in natural resources and mining company profits, and imperialism’s strategic interests in Africa.
In Syria, where the Al Bashar government has got the upper hand over the Islamic State (Daesh), imperialism is working feverishly to take control of peace talks and to block Bashar al- Assad from participating in both the talks and any new national government. The Canadian government is US imperialism’s silent partner in this, supporting US policy by expanding Canada’s direct participation in the ground war. Further, Canada continues its unconditional support for Israel and its goal of ‘disappearing’ the Palestinean occupied territories and peoples.
Covertly supported by the US, NATO and the EU, the fascist government in Ukraine is continuing its attacks in the eastern regions, and continues its efforts to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine.
Likewise the Modi government in India continue to pursue the BJP’s racist policies, threatening and murdering opponents at will. In the state of Kerala, a Left Front government has been recently elected, though the Left Front government in West Bengal has been out of office for some time now.
In the Korean Peninsula, the US continues to threaten the DPRK with regime change and economic blockade.
We say: Hands off Syria! Hands off Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, South Africa and all those states and peoples struggling for national liberation, sovereignty and democracy, and for working class and people’s power – for socialism.
We say: Canada out of NATO! Bring the troops home! Cut the arms budget – build homes, not bombs. Enact an independent Canadian foreign policy of peace and disarmament and a trade policy based on mutual benefit that also extends long-term credits to developing countries.
We reaffirm our support and solidarity with all those struggling against imperialism, fascism, neo-colonialism and war, and for democracy, sovereignty, and socialism.
We also reaffirm our support and solidarity with Cuba, still battling with the US government to end its 50 year old blockade. Many people think the blockade has been lifted, as a result of President Obama’s visit to Cuba in March and the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, but this is not so. We demand the US government lift the blockade now, repatriate the Guantanamo naval base and deep sea port, and demand the Canadian government also exert pressure on the US government to lift the blockade.
We also use the occasion of our convention to salute the Five Cuban heros, finally home, and free, in Cuba.
The last three months have confirmed our estimation that imperialism is on a very dangerous course to re-divide the world as spoils among the main imperialist centres, particularly the US and Europe; to become ever more aggressive and reactionary at home and abroad in domestic and foreign policies, and to eliminate governments, states, peoples, and struggles that stand in their way. In every respect, imperialism – objectively – is in its over-ripe and dying stage, vicious in its end of life convulsions, deadly in its default to fascism.
In the US, the Republican Party has a fascist as its candidate for President, and the Democrats have an establishment candidate more likely to keep voters at home than to pull the women’s vote, the Black and Hispanic votes, in the numbers needed to defeat Trump in the November election.
The support generated for Bernie Sanders – the social democratic candidate in the Democratic Party race for President – has exposed the cleavage in the Democratic Party between liberals and social democrats, and the fault lines more generally in the US two-party system. Sanders is no socialist in the way we understand that term, but he is regarded as a socialist in the US in the same way that Canadian Medicare is ‘evidence’ of socialism in Canada. That doesn’t mean it’s so. What is most important is that the Sanders campaign has pushed politics in the Democratic Party campaign in a more progressive direction, and forced the Clinton campaign to moderate its policies and shift more to the centre. This includes opposing the TPP which if ratified, will further decimate the jobs, wages and conditions of the US working class. Further, the Sanders campaign has become a pole of struggle in the US elections around which many progressives and democrats and various people’s movements including Black Lives Matter, Occupy and others, have mobilized. At this crucial moment in US and world affairs, the Sanders campaign is an important and a positive development.
Rising unemployment and falling living standards have fueled deep public anger in the US – as in Canada, forcing some left liberals and social democrats to try to alleviate the pressure with Keynsian pump priming, and protectionist trade policies, that focus on job creation and some small redistribution of income from the off-shore vaults of the multi-nationals to the pockets of the ever-more impoverished, and angry, working class.
It could be said that the Trump campaign is a barometer for US imperialism, aimed to measure popular support for fascism in the US.
By the same measure, the Sanders campaign is a barometer of popular support for social democracy in the US.
This is directly connected to austerity and the economic and social conditions in the US, just as the rise of fascist parties in Europe and the rise of the right in Canada is the result of austerity and neo-liberalism in Canada.
Conservatism in Canada
The imposition of anti-people, anti-democratic, and anti-labour austerity measures in Europe, is exactly the prescription that has led to the rise of fascist and anti-immigrant parties with significant representation in parliaments across the continent. This prescription, imposed in large doses by the Harper Tories over the last decade, is generating a similar response in Canada with the rise of right-wing, reactionary and fascist movements, which have coalesced around the Conservative Party during federal and provincial elections, and Conservatives like the Ford Family in Toronto during municipal elections.
It was the Brad Wall Tories in Saskatchewan and the Tim Hudak Tories in Ontario that campaigned 2 years ago for right-to-work laws in Canada. It was Hudak who campaigned to lay-off 100,000 public sector workers – all of whom were said to be “on the gravy train” (a phrase now being used by Trump). Unsaid by Hudak was that the services delivered by those 100,000 public sector workers would be privatized – or eliminated altogether.
Our observation that the defeat of the Harper Conservative government was a victory for the working class was not wrong in this respect (though perhaps the wording could have been better smithed). The election of a Liberal majority was certainly no victory for the working class. The observations of several comrades at various Nominating Conventions, that the Tories retain a formidable political base of about 30% of voters, is also hard evidence of the danger that the Tories continue to pose to working people now. This is evidence, if any is needed, that the election was not the final conflict, but it was a significant electoral defeat that has stopped them from implementing more of their reactionary agenda because they are no longer in government. Now the struggle is to force the Liberals to roll back a decade of Tory policies, as promised during the election.
The Tory defeat at the polls put pressure on the governing Liberals to abandon the worst of the Tories’ anti-democratic, anti-labour, and austerity policies in favour of some job creation, some protection of social programs, and restoration of some labour and democratic rights, and expanded social rights. The Liberals moved quickly to set up a Public Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, after years of stone-walling by the Tories. They are moving forward on LGTBIQ and trans rights, which the Tories also strenuously opposed. They are moving away from the ‘war on drugs’ and the mass incarcerations of youth that antiquated marijuana laws have led to. They have introduced changes to the Child Benefit that have eased the depth of poverty that single parent families, and those on social assistance are facing. They have also repealed labour laws passed by the Tories that the CLC has been campaigning on for time. They will restore the Census, restore the Charter challenge program, take the muzzles off scientists and others in the public service. They have stopped the vicious government attacks on Muslims and immigrants and have opened the doors to refugees that had been barred by the Tories. They have also increased family reunification to immigration that the Tories had eliminated. They are also proposing electoral reform.
Last February’s federal budget also exposed differences between them: deficit financing and spending on infrastructure and job creation by the Liberals, versus massive cuts to the public sector and the elimination of public services
The budget also exposed similarities: no corporate tax increases, no changes to security state laws, no reductions in the military budget, support for TPP and CETA. And, we’re about to find out what their position will be on the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipelines which the National Energy Board has just approved.
It’s not true to say there are no differences between the Liberals and Tories; there are, and they’re particularly important to Indigenous Peoples, women, the unemployed, scientists, the trade unions, etc.
But the shift away from far right capitalist government to more progressive capitalist governments doesn’t achieve the fundamental changes that are also urgent and that get at the big questions of curbing corporate power in Canada and moving the struggle forward towards socialism. To do this, the struggle has to move from the defensive to the offensive, and it is about building up the strength, the unity, and the power of the labour and people’s movements, and of the Communist Party itself. This is the job now.
We have described the left and right bower of state monopoly capitalist rule variously as the velvet glove and the iron fist. Both are the means by which capitalism enforces its class rule, relying on the one or the other according to the conditions and specifics of the class struggle.
The Velvet Glove and the Iron Fist
The Liberals have the support of the main sectors of capital today because of the need to turn down the heat and reduce the economic, social and political polarization that has developed and that is a potential threat to profits and to the capitalist system as a whole. The Liberals have been tasked with defusing the situation, without interfering with profits to be made today, or profits to be had tomorrow from new trade deals like the TPP.
Of course this isn’t possible, and already the Liberals are finding themselves in conflict with labour over the TPP, with the environmental movement and Indigenous movements over pipelines, with youth and the unemployed over EI and minimum wage laws, etc.
Our job is not to make these governments work better for capital, but to expose the fact that they are both bowers of capitalist rule aimed to maintain and enhance capitalist profit-making; one of which employs the usual tools of bourgeois democracy, the other which leads to fascism and “the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist and most imperialist elements of finance capital” as Georgi Dmitrov described it.
Over the last 100 years, it is the Tories and their Social Credit and Creditiste cousins who have flirted with fascism in Canada, including with mass deportations in the 1920s, Iron Heel Bennett in the 1930s who rounded up and jailed Communist Party leaders and then tried to assassinate Tim Buck in Kingston Penitentiary, fascist party leaders Dennis Arcand in Quebec and Chuck Crate and the Canadian Union of Fascists in Winnipeg. It was Duplessis and the Padlock laws in Quebec, Ernst Zundel and the Heritage Front in Toronto, the KKK in Alberta, Aryan Nations, etc.
Today we have the New Constitution Party which is backed according to its leader, by some in the Canadian military. And there are other groups and forces about in English speaking Canada and Quebec, which have close contacts -visible and invisible – with the official and unofficial conservative right in Canada.
It would be easier to easier in some ways to lump the Liberals and Tories together as Big Business parties, with identical interests and equally dangerous to working people and to the movements for social progress and socialism in Canada. But such a conclusion would seriously under-estimate the far right character of the Conservative party and its alliance with social conservatives, racists and fundamentalists federally and provincially. This party is also very well financed by the corporations and the super rich.
The NDP and the Leap Manifesto
It must be noted that one of reasons that the Liberals and Tories that are the main political choices in Canada today is a reflection of the weakness of Canada’s social democratic party – the NDP, and its relentless shift to the right under Broadbent, McDonough, Layton, and Mulcair. It is the NDP’s policies and orientation to Big Business that has cost them one election after another, including the October 2015 federal election and provincial elections in BC, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Manitoba. In the April election in Manitoba, even the capitalist media reported that the big story in the election was the Tory sweep, but the massive repudiation of the NDP’s right wing policies and the Sellinger government’s role as step ’n fetchit for Big Business. In Alberta, the NDP was elected because of the split on the right and widespread public anger at both the Tories and Wild Rose parties, combined with some progressive social policies.
The NDP Convention in Edmonton that followed illustrated this situation precisely, with the one remaining NDP Premier, Rachel Notely defending the oil companies and oil pipelines, while the left-wing in the NDP coalesced around the Leap Manifesto. But the Leap Manifesto is a general statement of progressive objectives, which falls short on policy specifics and which underestimates the powerful forces opposed to these objectives. It does not, for example, mention public ownership which is a central question in the resource and energy sector. It is described by its authors as “A Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another” – a utopian view of the world which rejects the notion of the sharp class and peoples’ struggle needed to achieve any one of these goals, all of which are actively opposed by reactionary governments and the trans-nationals that back them. The Convention vote to allow riding associations to discuss the Leap Manifesto until the next NDP convention won’t hurt anybody, won’t challenge the NDP’s current right wing direction, and won’t change much. Progressive people will appreciate the sentiment of those supporting the Manifesto, but there are no solutions here.
In Newfoundland the Tories were swept out of power, replaced by a Liberal government that has just introduced its first budget – one that rivals the previous government for its attacks on public services, assets, wages, and living standards. The Liberals are justifying their budget cuts and tax hikes on fallen oil prices and oil revenues. This includes proposals to close 54 public libraries, and impose a “deficit reduction levy” of between $300 and $900 on every adult, hiking income taxes and the HST, and introducing new across the board fees and charges. The campaign to defeat the budget – and the government – is widespread, with huge protests and a common front forming across the province. The return home of thousands of unemployed Alberta oilpatch workers – looking for work that doesn’t exist in Newfoundland – had added fuel to the fire.
Quebec Solidaire, the National Question, and the PQ
In Quebec, the Parti Quebecois has been shaken with the unexpected departure of Pierre Karl Peladeau, one of the most right wing corporate leaders of the PQ ever. The departure opens the door for the party to shift course towards more centrist and more progressive-sounding policies and leadership. However this does not change the class character of the PQ, which remains a bourgeois nationalist party which tacks left or right according to prevailing political winds. A left tack by the new PQ leadership could exert pressure on Quebec Solidaire to join forces with the PQ on the issue of independence in the next election.
Quebec Solidaire is gearing up for an important debate next weekend on its call for a Constituent Assembly to write a new Constitution for Quebec. The Constituent Assembly would lay the social, civil, labour and democratic rights that would be part of the new Constitution. This is an important part of laying out QS policy regarding these issues and also about Quebec’s relationship with the rest of the Canada: the national question in short.
Currently QS has left the question of Quebec’s future relationship with Canada as a matter to be determined by the Constituent Assembly when it actually convenes, sometime in the future.
At issue this weekend, is whether QS should maintain that open-ended position or should unilaterally pre-determine that the role of the Constituent Assembly will be to secure Quebec independence.
Those forces including the PCQ, which stand for a democratic solution to the national question, have argued that QS should leave this question up to the participants in the Constituent Assembly to decide at the time, and not to unilaterally pre-determine the outcome of a discussion that should involve all of the participants in a Constituent Assembly, including the Indigenous Peoples and nations in Quebec who also have national rights that include their right to secession, This is a just and democratic solution that takes into account the rights of all nations and peoples, and that ensures that all will have a voice – and a vote – at the table.
For labour and the progressive forces in the rest of Canada who recognize that a democratic solution to the national question requires recognition of the right of national self-determination, including the right to secession, this is also an important discussion. Unity of the working class across the country in the successful struggle against austerity and neo-liberalism, and for social advance hinges on recognition of the right to national self-determination and on the fight for national equality. This is part of the struggle.
For Communists, a multi-national state in a confederal republic, remains the best option for the working class today, because it guarantees the equality of all nations and protects the national rights and interests of all nations, including the right to secession. It also creates the best conditions for the working class to resist the attacks by US imperialism which regards Canada as a source of natural and energy resources for US consumption, and a market for value added goods produced by cheap labour from around the world.
Labour, the Economy, the TPP
In its relief that the Tories were defeated last October, the labour movement in English speaking Canada has swung to the centre, with the CLC leadership literally embracing the Liberals in December when Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland came calling to sell the TPP. By the spring, the CLC and Unifor had both softened their opposition to the TPP, conditional on amendments to the chapters in the deal negatively affecting labour. This is the same position the CLC took on previous Free Trade deals, at a very high cost to workers’ jobs and incomes. However, both the government and the CLC are fully aware that the TPP has ‘docked’ and cannot be amended. Canada – and all of the 12 countries in the TPP – can either ratify, or not. That’s the only choice to be made – by the government, and by labour.
Labour makes a serious error embracing the Liberals. Why do they do it? Because some think a return to the welfare state is possible with the Liberals through tri-partism and class collaboration. Because the popular struggle at the last CLC convention which turfed out Georghetti has not been sustained since the convention. Because the real alternative to the Liberals is mass, independent political action by labour and its allies, which right-wing labour leaders are unwilling to undertake, fearful of the consequences of mass action which is not framed by an election campaign or under the control of the NDP or the Liberals.
But this is exactly what is needed to block the TPP and other right wing policies, while forcing the Liberals to deliver the progressive policies promised during the election campaign, but not delivered in their March budget – and not intended to be delivered in this term of office.
Indigenous Peoples were the first to respond to the completely inadequate funding proposed in the budget to address the appalling economic and social conditions on and off reserves which have contributed to spate of suicides among Indigenous youth this spring, and which left residents of Attawapiskat living in tents at -50 degree weather two years ago. It was the suicides that spurred the occupation of Indigenous and Northern Affairs offices across the country for more than 10 days in April by Indigenous people and their supporters, which include our Party. But the meeting with Ministers to discuss the crisis will not resolve the conditions which led to the suicides, as the government’s budget priorities make clear. We continue to express our solidarity and support with Indigenous Peoples, and will continue to provide political and other support for these struggles going forward.
And urgent action is sorely needed, as real growth in the economy continues to stagnate and a second quarter contraction is expected as a result of the catastrophic wildfires in the Fort McMurray this month, combined with a low Canadian dollar, a trade deficit, and continuing high unemployment. The loss of 31,800 manufacturing jobs in March, combined with layoffs in housing construction, and in the oilpatch where layoffs will continue according to the Association of Petroleum Producers. The retail sector has increased jobs marginally, however these are all low-paid, non-union, and precarious jobs. One of the few other growth areas was in social assistance, undoubtedly the result of growing mass unemployment, particularly among youth under 35, exhaustion of inadequate or inaccessible EI benefits, and absolute impoverishment.
With more than 2 million unemployed and under-employed across the country we are facing an enormous social and economic crisis. This is the feeding ground for right-wing populist movements and demagogues across Canada, who prey on the unemployed and the poor, and seek to organize them as a battering ram against unionized workers and organized labour.
This is the time for organized labour to organize the unemployed and the unorganized, and to build a common front of labour and its social allies to move labour from the defensive to the offensive to curb unbridled corporate power. The fight to build the left caucuses and to win the left and centre forces in the trade union movement for a fighting labour movement and for independent labour political action is decisive, and so must our efforts be to increase the activity of our cadres in the trade union movement, including our newest and youngest. The fight to raise the minimum wage is another important way for our Party to contribute and to build the fight and the trade union movement among youth and low-paid precarious workers of all ages, genders, and national groups. This must be a vital and central part of our work going forward from this convention.
The fight against the TPP and the fight to fully engage organized labour in this struggle is another part of this work. The TPP will have enormous ramifications for workers in Canada, with the loss of between 58,000 and 64,000 jobs in auto and manufacturing in quick succession, and the permanent loss of even more jobs as Canada shifts away from value-added manufacturing and secondary industry to resource and energy extraction, and market for finished goods imported from other countries in the TPP with a low waged workforce. The consequences of this trade deal will also be to drive down wages in Canada, and import right-to-work laws which already exist in more than 25 US states, including all those south of the Great Lakes. The TPP is also intended to create mass unemployment among Chinese workers, and is part of the pivot to Asia. The TPP means declining living standards, low or no minimum wage laws, poorer pensions and poorer labour standards, more dangerous worksites and unorganized (or decertified) work places, and fewer legal protections for more precariously employed workers. Women will also be hard-hit by massive privatizations and closures in the female dominated public sector. The Investor State Dispute Settlement panels will make sure of that, when corporations can sue governments over the loss of future profits in the healthcare, education and public services sectors. It will enshrine the race to the bottom. It will facilitate a lethal attack on Medicare in Canada.
The TPP will also put small and medium farmers out of business as it levels the supply management system of marketing boards, and eliminates regulations on dairy, poultry and other food production. It will allow the use of Monsanto’s Bovine Growth Hormone in milk imported into Canada, and will force Canadian producers (as it has Mexican producers) to also use BGH to remain competitive. It will compromise Canada’s food safety and food sovereignty.
It will extend Big Pharma’s patents on vital drugs, and massively increase drug costs for government and individuals. It will make life-saving drugs unaffordable for people on fixed incomes, and will result in deaths and avoidable medical crises in Canada and abroad where drug costs have already made some drugs inaccessible to those who need them.
The TPP will also hurt Indigenous Peoples as it will demand the right to extract minerals and extend pipelines over Indigenous lands, including those that are the subject of land claims. The TPP and the ISDS will be cited to justify running roughshod over land claims and land rights.
The TPP will likewise roll over environmental impacts and concerns, and public opposition to fracking and bitumen pipelines that threaten the Great Lakes and the water supply across Canada, as well as the environment and that contribute to climate change.
The TPP threatens Canada’s sovereignty and independence and will involve Canada more deeply in the US military machine and its dirty wars around the world, diverting more and more of the public treasury to military spending on arms and on fighting dirty wars around the world.
This deal is not about trade, with 97% of trade with the countries in the TPP already duty free, and a .28% increase in trade the paltry result. This is a global corporate constitution that will supplant national governments and the sovereignty of states, with supra-national corporate bodies that will make all the real decisions about the future of Canada in backroom trade dispute settlement tribunals comprised solely of corporate representatives, supported by fleets of private lawyers and law firms that will make their living on ISDS trade disputes and settlements.
This is a terrible deal for Canada, that can and must be defeated by an aroused trade union movement and an aroused public. Our campaign on the TPP this spring has helped to educate working people on the real contents of the deal, and helped move people into action across the country. Now we must follow up with more action flowing from the convention to build the coalitions and mass public resistance that can stop the Liberals from ratifying. Mass public mobilizations stopped the MAI and the FTAA. An aroused public can stop this deal too. But time is precious and we must not delay. The Liberals could decide to move quickly after the US elections, so as to put ratification of the deal behind them well ahead of the 2019 federal election. We have to step up our campaign accordingly.
The cross border initiative proposed by WFTU which would unite trade unionists in Canada and the US to jointly campaign against this deal, and for the rights and standards for workers, is a good initiative that we can support, and that should reach into the labour movement on both sides of the border in short order.
Resolutions in the trade union movement calling on labour to take a strong and unqualified position against the deal and to organize joint actions in conjunction with the Council of Canadians, Lead Now, the Greens, NDP, CPC and others, to stop the deal, will help to educate and organize workers in unions and labour councils across the country. Similar motions can be raised in other mass organizations, providing the opportunity to speak about the TPP and generate action.
The People’s Voice has done a good job exposing the TPP with articles and editorials in almost every issue this spring. The Voice is also the sponsor of a petition against the TPP that should be widely supported. Tabling with the petition has afforded lots of opportunities to talk to working people and youth about the deal, and about the alternatives to the deal: fair trade and mutually beneficial trade with all countries, with long term credits for developing countries. Quite a different package from the crisis inducing demands of the IMF, WTO, World Bank, or the European Union and European banks.
The Party has been very quick to respond to the government’s sham ‘public hearings’ organized across the country. In the big cities the hearings lasted for about 5 hours each, with 4 hours devoted to expert panels, and less than an hour open to the public for 2 minute presentations after big protests organized by the Council of Canadians and others. In Montreal and Toronto Party members were able to speak and represented our Party very well. Almost everywhere the public comments were unanimously opposed to ratification of the TPP, while the expert panels were mixed with representatives of Big Business unanimously supporting the deal, and academics were generally opposed. Most important were the highly visible rallies held outside the hearings mostly organized by the Council of Canadians. Notable everywhere was the lack of media in attendance covering these hearings and protest rallies. A media blackout on the TPP is clearly in effect. On the plus side, this is a clear indication that the government and Big Business know that public opinion is against them, and is afraid of the impact of widespread publicity on the real contents and impacts of the TPP and on the growing opposition and mobilizations against it. This is another reason to hurry our work to build the opposition to the deal, and to put forward a people’s alternative to free trade pacts, austerity, and war; to advance our policies to put people before profits, to meet peoples’ needs, to muzzle corporate greed and to curb corporate power.
The Arsonists in Fort MacMurray
In the last month we have witnessed the terrible devastation of the wildfires in Northern Alberta that nearly destroyed Fort MacMurray, and forced the largest population exodus in peacetime in Canadian history. The fire that covered 3500 square kilometers and has raged since the beginning of May, was caused by extreme heat stoked by years of inaction on climate change by successive Canadian and US governments. The Alberta tar sands have without any doubt contributed greatly to climate change, and particularly in Northen Alberta where tarsands workers live in Fort MacMurray. In their drive to increase bloated super profits, the biggest oil companies in the world are involved in the tarsands operation, including ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, Total, CNRL, and Chevron. These are the arsonists who, aided and abetted by successive Canadian and provincial governments, have caused the fire, and who will cause more fires if they are not stopped. These are the arsonist who have written off the damage to the city and community of Fort MacMurray, to the northern Boreal forests, and to the Indigenous Peoples who live on these lands, as collateral damage in the drive for greater and greater profits. The damage to property caused by the fire could top $10 billion. The cost to the environment, to the Indigenous People who depend on the water and the land to live, and the cost to the workers and their families who live in Fort MacMurray is incalculable.
“We have loaded the dice for more extreme wildfires,” says Mike Flannigan, a wildfire scientist at the University of Alberta, quoted recently in the Guardian. “We attribute the increase in wildfires and their severity and intensity to human-caused climate change. We’ve been saying it for years. Many of us saw a Fort McMurray-like situation coming, but none of us expected anything as horrific as what has happened.”
Today, twice as much land in Canada is being devoured by fires as in the 1970s—and that will double or quadruple again in the decades to come. Climate change is putting such pressure on the boreal, which covers most of northern Canada, that a study published last year in the journal Science issued a stark warning: “this forest will convert to a type of savannah.”
We take this opportunity to demand that the federal government:
• Make the big oil companies pay for the damage caused by the fire, including to the city and residents of Fort MacMurray, and to the government of Alberta and Canada for the devastation to the boreal forests, and for the climate change impacts to the forest and the land that they are responsible for. The polluters must pay.
• Close the Alberta tarsands and immediately reduce Canada’s high carbon emissions
• Guarantee tarsands workers equivalent jobs including retraining, in renewable energy industries or in other industries at equivalent wages
• Stop fracking and other dangerous practices to people and the environment
• Develop value added manufacturing and secondary industry across Canada, that is environmentally sustainable with low or no carbon emissions
• Nationalize Canada’s energy and natural resources and put them under public, democratic control
On our Party
This convention will mark some important changes in our leadership. After 23 years at the helm, comrade Miguel Figueroa, will be stepping down from the CEC and as the Party’s leader, though he will stand for the Central Committee and continue to help lead the Party and build it from that leadership place.
Comrade Miguel has led the Party since 1992, building and rebuilding the Party after the most serious crisis in its 95 year history. Comrade Miguel led the fight to re-establish the Party in Quebec after its collapse in the late 90s. He led the fight to maintain the Party’s registration and ability to participate in the political life of the country, through a 10 year court battle that eventually – at the Supreme Court – repealed the Mulroney’s government’s legislation to wipe the Communist Party and all parties outside Parliament, off the political map in Canada.
Comrade Miguel led the Party through 8 federal election campaigns and toured the country many times, campaigning on everything from free trade to taxation, and always campaigning for the Communist Party and its People’s Agenda and fight for a People’s Coalition.
Comrade Miguel also attended many international meetings of Communist and Workers’ parties over the years, representing our party’s views and fighting for the unity of international movement and for coordinated action wherever possible. The many messages sent to our Party from Communist and Workers’ Parties tor this Convention have mentioned Comrade Miguel’s contribution on our behalf are a testament to his work at this level.
Tonight, at the Convention Banquet there will be a special presentation to Comrade Miguel for his years of service to the Party and the working class, and we are looking forward to his response.
This convention will also mark the retirement of Comrade Sam Hammond from his post on the Central Executive as the Party’s Labour Secretary – a post that he filled with energy, distinction, and wit, using his years of trade union experience and his sharp pen to eviscerate employers, corporations, and business unionism in the trade union movement when the situation cried out for mass struggle and militant leadership. Sam will also be missed in the CEC where his pithy comments always fell on eager ears.
Sam also served for 5 years as leader of the Party in British Columbia, first agreeing to a short 6 month stint, which then extended to a full 5 years away from his family, friends and comrades in Hamilton. He is missed in BC, and also in Ontario where he served for many years as a member of the Ontario Committee and Executive.
After much discussion, Sam has also agreed to stand once more for the CC, which will help us in our labour work and in the TUC.
There will be a presentation to Sam later in the Convention, to also thank him for his work over more than 50 years.
Comrades, this Convention will also choose a new leader,and a new leadership, which is in the process of transition now, from our veterans to newer and younger leadership.
We want to recognize Comrade Dave McKee who has just been elected as the new leader of the Party in Ontario, and who, along with Comrades Johan Boyden and Drew Garvie and others, has worked very hard to make our convention a success. Congratulation and thank you Dave!
But while we are changing some of the faces in our leadership – renewing our leadership, renewing our cadres at every level, some things do not change: our Marxist Leninist world outlook and our fidelity to the working class and to scientific socialism. This will not change.
As we prepare for 95th birthday, and next year for the centenary celebrations of the Great October Socialist Revolution, and join with the International Communist and Workers’ Movement to assess our progress and chart the way forward, we will not be moved off our course. We are steadfast, we are Communists, we are here til the final conflict has been won and the working class takes power. And then we’ll be here to help build the new socialist society with scientific socialism as our guide!
Building the Party
Our pre-convention discussion has been very productive with suggestions, amendments, resolutions and contributions from members from coast to coast. At Nominating Conventions across the country, it’s clear that there was broad unity around the main line of our convention documents, and our Party has grown with many young new members including several women who have joined or applied to join during the last 3 months. Alberta was a high point where the Nominating Convention in Calgary began with the induction of a young couple who had driven down from Edmonton (a 4 hour trip) bringing with them their children and another family member to look after them during the 4 hour convention. The convention was preceded by a big dinner event in Edmonton where more applicants signed up, and a new YCL club announced its presence. The convention was followed with a public meeting in Calgary the next day on the TPP, where 2 more people indicated their wish to join.
In Vancouver, another woman applied to join after another meeting on the TPP, and the YCL club in Vancouver was in fine form in visits to Vancouver Island and the Interior it was clear that our Party clubs are well connected with the struggles and the activists in their communities and are well-regarded in these circles. In Kamloops, the fight is on to stop the Ajax Mine from opening, and in Kelowna it’s to stop the Site C dam on the Peace River.
In Winnipeg, the Party had just come out of the Manitoba elections after fielding 6 candidates, including all 3 Manitoba delegates to this convention. Congratulations comrades – a good job, well done.
In Quebec the PCQ is closely involved in QS, in the labour and solidarity struggles and in the production of Clarte, our French language press. A special meeting on TPP showed the PCQ’s good connections among progressive people, and the visit also showed the talents that many of the party’s young cadres in Quebec are equipped with. And 2 new members joined the Party there as well!
In Nova Scotia the Party has also grown with a new club in Halifax and new members in New Brunswick and NS as well, and good connections in the trade unions and the progressive movements.
In Newfoundland, a new club has also been founded, and the younger, newer, and older members make for a good collective. The club is fully engaged in the battle against the provincial Liberal budget, and at least two of the comrades have been speakers at the mass rallies and media organized for this purpose.
We have increased representation at this convention from the Atlantic and two of the Maritime provinces, and we can with say with great satisfaction – it’s about time!
In Ontario, the Party is also growing with new members in many clubs, including four new members who joined the party in Hamilton this spring, two new members in London, and new members in Toronto.
We are growing, and we are a going concern wherever we have clubs and a public presence across Canada. And our Party is younger than it was, with new energy and new opportunities for further growth, with a growing capacity to take on new areas of work, to provide more leadership in more sectors.
Some of this growth is undoubtedly connected to the Party Building Campaign we had in 2014-15, and the traveling and touring that was done by our Central Organizer Johan Boyden, then and since. It was a good decision to create a Central Organizer position and to bring Johan on staff to do the job.
Of course there are also problems – new and old – which we have to address and correct, and that we are working on. These include integrating our new members, retaining them, and helping them develop over time into leaders in the movements and in our Party.
We have to guard against left and right opportunism, adventurism, dogmatism, and sectarianism, and the best way to do it is make sure our links with the working class are strong, and our theoretical and education work in the clubs and in the Party overall, is also strong.
We know that there are particular problems in Winnipeg and on the prairies that need attention from the incoming leadership, and that a more mobile and hands on Central Committee would be a big assist in the areas where we have new organization and an influx of new members.
We also need a better division of labour and stronger Commissions. We can do this – these are solvable problems – more solvable with a bigger, stronger Communist party.
We need a stronger press, with a much bigger subscription list than at present. More and regulation attention to this in the clubs and in the office, is the way forward, and it’s urgent.
There have been lots of improvements to the press over the last year, new website, social media etc that add to public interest. The main point is its function as a collective organizer and educator. That’s what the draw is – information about developments and struggles that aren’t available anywhere else. That’s a press worth fighting for!
We also need a bigger, stronger Young Communist League. Since its reorganization, the YCL has proved its value to the youth and student movement, and to the Communist Party and progressive movements over and over again. Their magazines Rebel Youth and Jeunesse Militante have help to build the YCL in the movements, and have helped these movements to become stronger and more united as well. We’re very happy that there are so many YCL’ers here today! Welcome to all of you comrades!
Our growth is the result of changing conditions, more favourable conditions for a revolutionary party in some respects, more dangerous conditions for the working class and the unemployed and under-employed who have become fodder for government austerity and corporate extortion, and cannon fodder in Canada’s dirty wars around the world.
For many people, capitalism isn’t working any more, and so they are looking for real change and a genuine alternative to capitalism, that brings them to the Communist Party in greater numbers than we have seen for some time. Our new members are often involved in various struggles, and they are looking for support and help in these struggles, as well as to be part of a larger struggle for a different future – for socialism and for peace, equality and democracy.
This also means we have to pick up our game. Do a lot more work on Party education, on building collective leadership at every level, on developing cadre, on developing our mass work and work in the labour movement, and put more focus on our efforts to build the Party among workers, women, youth, and immigrants, among others. We need to strengthen our clubs, and help them sharpen their leadership in the communities, campuses, workplaces and areas of work where they are active.
In your kits you will see the proposed Plan of Work prepared by the out-going CEC that flows from the Political Resolution, and that addresses these tasks and others, which we’ll discuss on Monday. We ask the delegates to look over the Plan and come prepared to discuss them Monday.
In your kits you will also find Guidelines on Social Media which were also prepared by the out-going CEC in response to changes in the way working people – including Communists – communicate with one another. Because it’s 2016! We are asking our members to exercise some caution and some self-discipline here, – bearing in mind our Constitution and our Party’s policies and how they are determined – in what they post, since the moment a comment is ‘sent’ it is in the public realm forever. We are asking delegates to review the Guidelines, if you haven’t done so as yet, and come prepared to discuss them on Monday as well.
We should get underway Comrades. We have a world to win – and no time to lose!