The following commentary is from the Political Report of the June Central Committee meeting. You can read the full report here.
After nine years of Tory rule, the coming federal elections on October 19th will provide a crucial opportunity to finally remove the reactionary government of PM Stephen Harper and the Conservatives from office, to reject their political agenda, and to create better conditions for democratic and progressive advance in the post-election period.
After finally securing a parliamentary majority in 2011, the most recent term of the Harper government has been particularly disastrous for the working class, for Canada’s indigenous peoples, for the cause of peace, and for our environment. As we predicted at the time, “The Harper Conservatives’ full-blown program will quickly [now] come to the fore: their ‘law and order’ agenda, the further imperialist drive to militarization and war, and a sharpened assault on labour, democratic and social rights and services.”
The Conservatives won that election because of overwhelming support they received from Canadian and international finance capital. The Tories had long been the preferred political vehicle of some circles of monopoly, especially in the oil and financial sectors. But they are now the ‘party of choice’ for virtually all sections of big business in Canada – the party upon which finance capital can rely to carry through its class offensive ruthlessly and without hesitation. As such, the Harper Conservatives remain the main enemy of the working class and its allies, and their defeat on October 19th must be the most immediate and pressing priority for all of the labour and democratic forces across the country.
But defeating the Conservatives implies much more than simply preventing their re-election; to be meaningful, it must also include rejecting their economic and political agenda and creating the best conditions for advancing the struggle after the election to win a new direction for the country and its peoples. For this reason, we reject the notion of ‘strategic voting’ because it is based entirely on the expedient of defeating what we are against, with virtually no consideration of what we are fighting for.
The Harper Tories enter this pre-election period once again flush with corporate money which they are already using to flood the airwaves with attack ads targeting the inexperience of Justin Trudeau. Once again, they are making extensive use of government funds to buy votes with large project grants, and with targeted tax breaks. Once again, they will present themselves as the best financial managers to deal with Canada’s fragile economy, and urge voters to ‘stay the course’. And once again, they will use various so-called wedge issues, appeal to their social conservative base around ‘family values’, and play to backward racist and homophobic views among sections of the populace.
But it is becoming increasingly apparent that the main weapon in Harper’s re-election bid will be the Conservatives’ willingness to “wage war on terrorism” and to defend Canada’s national security from threats, both foreign and domestic. Harper will play on people’s fear and insecurities, hype up the danger emanating from the “Russian menace”, ISIS and Islamic extremism, glorify the military, CSIS and C-51 as true guardians of freedom dedicated to “protecting Canadians”, and chastise the opposition parties for their vacillations and faintness of heart in the face of the ‘terrorist threat’. It will be a hawkish, cold war-style campaign theme which will be drummed out at every opportunity.
It is highly questionable however whether this strategy will succeed. The Harper government record is vulnerable on a large number of fronts, including, among others:
• on bread-and-butter issues such as its failure to create full-time, well-paying employment or prevent job losses and plant closures; growing poverty and widening social disparity;
• over Canada’s no-growth domestic economy, the weak dollar, and slide in investment;
• over its tax policies which benefit the corporations and the wealthy, but provide little relief to working people;
• over its actions to undermine universal healthcare, public pensions and other social programs and services;
• over its attacks on labour and democratic rights (the attack on the right to strike, C-51, internet spying);
• over its shameful treatment of Aboriginal Peoples, its refusal to launch an independent public inquiry into missing and murdered Aboriginal women, its muted response to the damning Truth & Reconciliation Report on residential schools, etc.;
• over its pro-war foreign policy, one-sided support for Zionist Israel, etc.;
• over its abysmal record on protecting the environment, fighting climate change, etc;.
• over its repeated attacks on culture and science;
• over the Duffy trial and related Senate scandals, and its involvement in cover-up operations.
As for the main opposition parties, the Liberal Party under Justin Trudeau – the other party of big business – is but a pale reflection of the Tories and constitutes no real alternative for working people. The full Liberal platform is still concealed from view, but from what is already public, it is clear that there is little to demarcate the two parties, except on the important issue of women’s reproductive rights, and the populist call to legalize marijuana. On most economic, security and foreign policy issues however, the Liberals have lent their support to the ruling Conservatives (e.g., Ukraine, C-51). That is why, after an initial jump in the polls following Trudeau’s election as party leader, electoral support for the Liberals has gradually receded. That is one of the reasons why our Party rejects appeals to support ‘strategic voting’ in the hope of defeating a Conservative in a given riding.
The electoral fortunes of the federal New Democrats, on the other hand, have improved markedly in recent months, especially after the stunning upset victory of Rachel Notley and the NDP in the Alberta provincial election. After decades of unbroken Tory hegemony at the provincial level, voters finally decided they had had enough, and turfed Jim Prentice from the premier’s office. Albertans were also attracted to NDP promises to increase the minimum wage, and to ‘review’ resource royalties on the oil and mining monopolies. In reality however, the NDP offered up a limited, tepid alternative, and positioned itself as the centrist choice. They avoided any mention of public ownership, reiterated over and over that the oil and gas sector are the engines of the Alberta economy, and that they wanted to cooperate with business.
Nevertheless, the Alberta victory has buoyed hopes across the country that the federal NDP led by Thomas Mulcair can carry off a similar upset in October. As a result, polling numbers for the federal NDP have climbed to the point that there is a virtual dead heat between the three main parties. While there are still several months to the actual vote, this shift could well result in another minority government after the October vote.
In our view, it is necessary to assess the Mulcair NDP on its own merits. It is abundantly clear that the right opportunist slide of the federal NDP, which dates back decades, has continued and even accelerated under the current leadership. Under Mulcair, the party expunged the “s” word from its constitution at the 2013 convention; it has shifted its Middle East policy in an overtly pro-Israeli position; it now supports increased defense spending; it no longer favours cancelling NAFTA, and has refused to clearly oppose the CETA pact; it has called for cuts to the small-business tax rate and juicy tax breaks for manufacturers; it no longer speaks of nationalization or public ownership, but rather worships at the altar of the ‘market’; and it has given its blessing to the “Monument to the Victims of Communism” monstrosity in Ottawa. The list could go on…
This rightward tilt of the Mulcair NDP toward the murky centre of the bourgeois political spectrum must be sharply criticized. The right opportunist reorientation of the NDP is hardly unique, but in fact tracts the further degeneration of the social democratic parties throughout most of the so-called advanced capitalist countries. For the most part, these social democratic parties have abandoned and betrayed the labour and mass democratic movements which had historically been their social and electoral base. Instead, they have adopted bourgeois ‘free market’ neoliberal policy, and given servile support to the imperialist drive for militarization, aggression and war. In ‘opposition’ these parties advocate tepid social reforms at best, but support the main pillars of the bourgeois system of values and government policy; when in office, they too often renege on prior commitments and instead dutifully implement neoliberal policies, maintaining the capitalist order of domination. This sharp swing to the right by social democracy has created anger and confusion even among its own rank-and-file supporters, and has sown divisions within the ranks in the labour and popular movements, weakening and often undermining the people’s fightback.
While reformism, narrow electoralism and class collaboration are hardly new features of social democracy, the deepening of the systemic crisis of capitalism today brings the abject failure of the social democratic ‘option’ into much sharper relief.
Historically, social democratic illusions about incremental change to ‘reform capitalism’, about the neutrality of the state, and so on, have been one of the main agents blunting the development of revolutionary class consciousness. Today, it is the main subjective factor holding back mass united, militant action needed to confront the capitalist offensive head-on, to move onto the counter-offensive against finance capital and its governments and to win socialism.
As for the Greens, they continue to be all over the map, depending on which candidate or spokesperson is speaking. Elizabeth May has taken some reasonably good positions on certain issues, and the party’s clear opposition to C-51 was welcome. That said, in the main the Greens continue to situate themselves between the Liberals and the NDP in the mainstream bourgeois political spectrum, and certainly do not constitute a viable alternative to prevailing neoliberal economic dogma.
Our Party plans to launch an ambitious electoral campaign in its own right, with a hard-hitting platform and message that targets the Harper Conservatives, and the ruling class interests they represent, as the main danger to working people and Canadian sovereignty, and to call for their defeat. We will also be putting forward a fighting program for a new, progressive direction for Canada, one that prioritises “people’s needs, not corporate greed!”, and will work to secure every possible vote for our candidates in the field, and to win wider influence and support among left- and progressive-minded people elsewhere across the country.