Northern Lights

Ontario voters put Liberals on a short leash
by Barry Weisleder
In the lowest turn out in Ontario history, voters reduced the Liberal Party regime of Dalton McGuinty to a minority government in Canada’s most populous province on Oct. 6.

Broad social discontent with higher fees, tuitions and taxes put the Liberals on a short leash. So did anger over deteriorating public health services, transportation and prospects for youth employment. But the lack of inspiring alternatives led to a miserable participation rate of only 49 per cent of eligible voters and a ‘hung’ legislature.
Ironically, this is a better outcome for the working class than a majority of seats for any party committed to implementing the capitalist austerity drive. Minority governments are more vulnerable to protest.
While Premier McGuinty crowed about the election of the third consecutive Liberal government in Ontario, the electoral rebuke his party suffered was clear: a loss of 19 seats, and a drop in popular support from 42 per cent in 2007, to 37 per cent in 2011.
The labour-based New Democratic Party gained 7 seats and rose 6 per cent in the votes cast to reach 23 per cent. This was largely due to enduring sympathy for recently deceased federal NDP Leader Jack Layton, and a spunky campaign performance by Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. It was certainly despite an anaemic NDP platform that only modestly differentiated from that of the Liberal Party.
The Progressive Conservative Party led by Tim Hudack blew a 15 per cent lead reported by pollsters in June. The PCs gained 12 seats and 3 per cent more votes than previously, but fell far short of victory.
Hudack, a member of the former hard-right wing Mike Harris Ontario Tory government of 1995-2003, let a little too much of his agenda out of the bag. His openly desultory remarks about “foreign workers”, his call for more prisons and compulsory chain-gang-type inmate labour, his appeal to anti-choice-on-abortion groups, and his defence of homophobic Tory campaign literature showed his true colours.
The Green Party plunged from 6 per cent to 2 per cent. It has yet to win a seat in the Ontario Legislature, which is based on the undemocratic first-past-the-post electoral system.
In bourgeois circles, there was plenty of disappointment to go around. Federal Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s summertime bluster about a hat-trick of Conservatives ruling in Ottawa, at Queen’s Park, and at Toronto City Hall, clearly fell flat. The Ontario election results refuted claims by some union leaders that the only way to stop the Tim Hudack Tories was to vote Liberal in a majority of ridings. Actually, discontent with Liberal policies went more to the NDP than to the Tories, and to the major category of non-voters.
A united front of labour and social protest movements, committed to a Workers’ Agenda, could have motivated more Ontarions to vote for their own class interests. The idea that the masses hunger for more right-wing government also took a bruising in Manitoba, where the NDP, led by Greg Salinger, split the vote with the Conservatives, but emerged with the fourth consecutive NDP majority government in that province, just west of Ontario.
Recession with a vengeance
by Barry Weisleder
As voters troop to the polls in six provincial and territorial elections across Canada in October and November, they do so in the shadow of another global economic melt down.
Stocks are falling, markets are contracting and credit is seizing up. Many economists and politicians are already declaring the onset of a recession. Distractions from reality, like Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “law and order” parliamentary agenda (see article below), are coupled with elite demands for more sacrifice by the working class. But this begs a few questions.
Did the “Great Recession” of 2008 ever really end? When did the downturn that wiped out trillions in wealth, destroyed millions of jobs, and plunged millions of people into abject poverty, turn around? What happened during the so-called economic “recovery”? Well, the rich got bailed out. The income gap widened. Young people bore the brunt of rising unemployment.
In Canada, the banks (through the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation) and the auto giants got hundreds of millions of dollars in government relief. Big capital benefited from billions in corporate tax cuts, which contributed mightily to the public debt that is so often cited as the reason for cutbacks. This is the story, from the feds on down to each city hall.
In the USA, $2 trillion in tax money went to Wall Street bailouts. For their greed and malfeasance, the rich actually got rewarded. Business CEOs now pay themselves 325 times the compensation of their shop floor or office cubicle wage slaves. That ratio was closer to 25 to 1 in the 1960s—no thanks to Mad Men.
The gap between rich and poor in Canada has widened markedly. The top 1 per cent of income earners accounts for almost 40 per cent of total national income. In the 1950s and 1960s that figure was a mere 8 per cent. Today, up to 4.4 million Canadians live in poverty.
The official jobless rate, at 7.3 per cent, remains higher than the 6 per cent of October 2008 when the Great Recession began. According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate among people 24 and younger is 17.2 per cent. That’s up 0.3 per cent from the previous summer, and more than 3 per cent higher than it was in 2008.
Canadian household debt, which fueled the illusory “recovery,” is at near record levels, as the income of working people, including white-collar professionals, has continued its 30-year stagnation. In the downtown corporate towers, business profits have soared. But capital investment is down. That’s because billions of dollars are sitting in reserve, or moving to low-wage countries where the conditions for plunder are “more promising.”
Recession is a grim reminder of how capitalism operates, and a warning as well: If working people don’t take back the wealth created by our labour, the wealthy will only continue to take it out of our hides—to make us pay for the crisis of their system. Now that’s something to think about on the way to the polls.
Tory crime bill wants to lock ’em up
by Eric Kupca
Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked off his first Conservative-majority Parliament on Sept. 19 by introducing changes to the criminal justice system that seek to put more people in prison and keep them there longer.
The Tory crime bill imposes mandatory minimum sentences and restricts the availability of house arrest, thus depriving judges of discretion in such matters. These measures are not aimed only at serious offences; a person caught with as little as six marijuana plants would now face at least six months in jail.
The bill also downgrades almost all factors for consideration in the correctional and parole process, including the special needs of First Nations. This risks increasing the First Nations’ incarceration rate, which is already scandalous at 17 per cent of the overall prison population. Aboriginal peoples make up less than 3 per cent of adult Canadians.
Behind this regressive law-and-order crackdown by Harper is the uncontested fact that crime rates have been falling steadily in Canada for the past 20 years. This has led to much criticism of the reform bill, including by many in the mainstream media. The Globe and Mail mockingly called it the “Prison is the Answer to Everything” bill. The Toronto Star denigrated it as “a classic of misplaced priorities, a wholesale assault on a problem that doesn’t exist” that will cost billions. Star columnist Carol Goar warns that Harper’s adoption of U.S.-style crime policies will lead to a “disproportionate increase in the number of poor, non-white people behind bars.”
The Conservatives tried to pass many of the same provisions in previous parliamentary sessions, when they ruled as a minority government. However, they were blocked by the opposition parties, including the labour-based New Democratic Party. Now back with a majority, the Conservatives warn that this bill is “just the beginning.” As we witness the highly controversial execution of Troy Davis in Georgia, and the recent hunger strikes by prisoners in California, we shudder to think what else Stephen Harper has in mind.
Socialists demand that the Conservative crime bill be withdrawn, and that the government focus its efforts on crime prevention rather than fear-mongering and punishment. We demand that special attention be given to young persons, women, and aboriginals who are involved in the criminal justice system. Education and good jobs, not punishment for being poor, should be at the center of society’s agenda.
Will NDP Socialist Caucus run a candidate for Leader?
by Julius Arscott
NDP socialists are looking for a left-wing alternative to Brian Topp, the backroom strategist who announced his candidacy for the federal party leadership. In June, at the NDP federal convention in Vancouver, Topp expressed his support for the stillborn Liberal-NDP coalition that took shape two winters ago. NDP leftists strongly reject coalition or merger with the business-backed Liberal Party.
Romeo Saganash, the Cree leader and MP from northern Quebec, declared his candidacy in mid-September. He didn’t outline his platform, but his candidacy may already have had the salutory effect of crippling the leadership bid of Thomas Mulcair, a Montreal area MP who jumped from the Quebec Liberal Party cabinet to the NDP in 2006. Sadly, leftist Vancouver East MP Libby Davies has ruled out a run for the job.
The NDP Socialist Caucus, the cross-country, organized left wing of the labour-based New Democratic Party, will host a conference on Nov. 26 in Toronto to decide its position on the federal NDP leadership race.
The Socialist Caucus, which played a significant role in preventing removal of the term “socialist” from the party constitution at the June 2011 federal convention in Vancouver, is concerned that putative candidates for leader, like Winnipeg- MP Pat Martin, advocate a merger of the NDP with the big business-backed Liberal Party, and seek to steer the NDP on a policy course further to the right.
The SC opposes suggestions that the party weaken its ties to the union movement. Socialists seek to increase and strengthen the labour character of the party, and to win it to the fight for a Workers’ Agenda—counter to the corporate agenda, and against the mounting anti-worker “austerity” measures being imposed at all levels.
At the Nov. 26 SC conference, members may decide to run a candidate for Leader, or to support one of the candidates already running for the post. SC policy resolutions, publications, forums, and candidates for party executive positions at the Federal NDP convention (March 23-24 in Toronto) and at the Ontario NDP convention (April 12-15, 2012) will also be on the agenda at the Nov. 26 SC gathering.
For more information, please telephone: (416) 535-8779, e-mail: info@ndpsocialists.ca. Visit the website: www.ndpsocialists.ca.
Ontario NDP brass violate party democracy
by Elizabeth Byce
On Sept. 1, Barry Weisleder, chairperson of the NDP Socialist Caucus, won the nomination to be the NDP candidate in Thornhill constituency, just north of Toronto. Two days later Darlene Lawson, the Ontario NDP provincial secretary, “rescinded” the democratic nomination, which occurred at the best-attended meeting of that NDP riding association in decades.
What was the excuse for the punitive action? Lawson said it was an article by Weisleder mildly critical of the party platform and leadership written weeks before he sought the nomination. It was nearly a month before Lawson gave his bid for the candidacy her stamp of approval at a meeting held in her office on Aug. 10. The only thing that changed between Aug. 10 and Sept. 3 is that Weisleder won the Thornhill nomination.
Unfortunately, this attack on party democracy is not an isolated incident. It is being challenged. Heading up this effort is the Campaign to Restore Democracy in the Ontario NDP (CREDO NDP). There are many ways you can help.
How to respond to the attack on party democracy —
1) Vigorously oppose the multiple attacks on party democracy being waged by Ontario NDP officials. Urge all New Democrats to protest the removal of the democratically elected candidate in Thornhill, Ontario. NDP and union members, indeed everyone concerned about democracy in the workers’ movement, should send e-mail messages, letters, faxes, and make telephone calls of protest to Darlene Lawson at 101 Richmond St. E., and to the office of Ontario Leader Andrea Horwath at Queen’s Park. Telephone: (416) 591-5455, ext. 2245. Fax: (416) 599-4820. E-mail: dlawson@on.ndp.ca.
2) Endorse and join CREDO. The NDP Socialist Caucus, along with many friends and allies, is launching the Campaign to Restore Democracy in the Ontario NDP (CREDO NDP) as a broad, common front. The purpose of the Campaign is to hold Ontario NDP officials accountable for rescinding the democratic NDP nomination in Thornhill, and to expose and reverse the attack on party democracy occurring on all levels. After the Oct. 6 Ontario election, this effort will be launched publicly. It has already reached hundreds of New Democrats through direct personal and internet contact.
The party bureaucracy’s decision to rescind Barry Weisleder’s nomination follows the ugly incident in Toronto’s Etobicoke North constituency. There, on Aug. 17, NDP officials did not allow Diana Andrews (a Black, lesbian, elementary school teacher) to run for the NDP nomination, ostensibly because she is involved in a conflict with her union leadership.
It also follows the bureaucratic overturn of the elections held at the Ontario New Democratic Youth convention in Fall 2010 by party officials, and the cancellation of the constitutionally mandated ONDP convention that should have occurred in Spring 2011.
Before that, the Ontario party Leader ordered NDP MPP Michael Prue not to speak at an open hearing on the issue of public funding for Catholic schools. The hearing, attended by over 100 New Democrats on March 12, 2010 at OISE U of Toronto, was organized by the NDP Socialist Caucus and was held when the party was openly reviewing its position on the question and seeking public in-put.
Most recently, the Preamble to the federal NDP Constitution, which still includes the word “socialist” after a bitter, highly publicized struggle at the federal convention, has disappeared entirely from the federal party website.
3) CREDO invites New Democrats to spread the word about this campaign for accountability and party democracy via e-mail, phone calls, websites, and Facebook. It invites everyone to attend an open public meeting, at a time and place to be announced, featuring a panel of activists who will speak to the incidents mentioned above.
For the latest news, contact: info@ndpsocialists.ca.
4) NDP members will exercise the right to appeal the party brass decision to rescind the Thornhill nomination, and continue to seek accountability and justice in this matter at the next Ontario NDP Provincial Council meeting on Nov. 19,—indeed, all the way to the April 12-15, 2012, Ontario NDP Convention.