By Kimball Cariou
The 38th Central Convention of Canada’s second-oldest political party wrapped up in Toronto on May 23, after three days of intense debates, a lively Saturday night banquet, and the election of a new leadership.
Forty-three delegates were elected to the Communist Party’s convention, joined by a number of alternates, members of outgoing leadership bodies, and many interested members and friends of the CPC and the Young Communist League.
Opening the convention, Party leader Liz Rowley welcomed a number of international guest speakers, including Cuban Ambassador to Canada, Julio Garmendía Peña, and the Cuban Consul in Toronto,Javier Domokos; the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s Ambassador to Canada Wilmer Barrientos; representatives of the US-based Marxism Leninism Today, Greg Godels and Ed Grystar; and Dr. Noor Zaheer, President of the Delhi Branch of the National Federation of Indian Women and a member of the Communist Party of India. Over 55 greetings to the convention were received from Communist and Workers’ parties across the world.
Other guest speakers included Natalie Mehra, Executive Director of the Ontario Health Coalition, who spoke about the fight to save and expand Medicare in Canada, and a representative of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, who brought greetings from CUPW President Mike Palecek.
Speaking on behalf of the CPC’s outgoing Central Executive, Liz Rowley presented a keynote address, focuses on recent developments in the international and Canadian political scene.
Rowley noted that “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… The coup in 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.”
The keynote slammed ongoing imperialist interference in other regions, from Syria to Palestine, Ukraine and the Korean peninsula.
Rowley reaffirmed the Communist Party’s historic policy of support and solidarity with Cuba, still battling with the US government to end the blockade. “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,” said Rowley. “We also use the occasion of our convention to salute the Five Cuban heros, finally home, and free, in Cuba.”
Turning to the US elections, Rowley pointed out that “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.”
She went on to discuss the support generated for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party race.
“Sanders is no socialist in the way we understand that term,” said Rowley, “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.”
The CPC leader stressed that while the defeat of the Harper Conservative government was a victory, “the election of a Liberal majority was certainly no victory for the working class… Now the struggle is to force the Liberals to roll back a decade of Tory policies, as promised during the election.”
While the Liberals have taken action on some of those promises, Rowley noted, last February’s federal budget brought no corporate tax increases, no changes to security state laws, no reductions in the military budget, and support for TPP and CETA.
“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,” said Rowley. “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.”
Rowley went on to point out that “the NDP’s policies and orientation to Big Business 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 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.”
At the recent federal NDP Convention, she said, “the left-wing in the NDP coalesced around the Leap Manifesto… 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… 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. “
Her keynote discussed the struggle to block the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which must be ratified by the governments of the twelve signing countries by early 2018 before taking effect. As she noted, the Communist Party has been very active in the campaign against the TPP, but more work is needed to bring the labour and democratic movements into the fight to stop this corporate sellout. She went on to examine the recent growth in membership and activities of the Communist Party and the YCL in many parts of Canada. Several new party clubs have been formed since the 37th Convention three years ago, in locations from Kamloops to St. John’s, and a number of delegates were in Toronto from these clubs.
The 38th Convention marked important changes in the Party’s leadership, notably the retirement of Miguel Figueroa as party leader after 23 years. Rowley outlined some of the major contributions made by Figueroa, from the struggle to save the Party after a serious split in the early 1990s, to the fight against deregistration following Tory changes to the Canada Elections Act, and his cross-country speaking tours in eight federal elections. The recent growth of the party is in large part due to Figueroa’s efforts, and he was re-elected to the Central Committee on the final day of the connection.
“Our growth,” concluded Rowley, “is the result of changing, 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.”