Canada: A big opportunity for the Socialist Left

Jagmeet Singh’s election as federal party leader is, at least in part, the revenge of the NDP top brass and the liberal media establishment. They never forgave the party and labour union ranks for forcing the leadership review that ultimately deposed Tom Mulcair following his disastrous 2015 election campaign. Enormous resources were marshaled to portray Brampton, Ontario, MPP Singh as “an outsider” and a “fresh face” with a cool, hipster image who can challenge Justin Trudeau for “middle-class” allegiances.

But what’s in it, concretely, for the working class? What does it mean for the vast majority of Canadians who are the victims of capitalist austerity, growing inequality, and environmental chaos?

While barely over half of the eligible party members voted, Singh’s first ballot victory inclines many to think that he embodies meaningful racial and generational change. So, it will be crucial to hold him accountable, to insist that he not retreat even from his sparse “progressive” policies, and furthermore, to demand a bold socialist alternative to Trudeau’s Harper-lite regimen. This should include public ownership of the energy sector, and attention to the much-ignored issues of foreign policy: BDS and justice for Palestine, getting Canada out of NATO, and reducing the military budget, which Trudeau just increased by a whopping 70 per cent.

Illusions in Singh may soon be dashed. This is a time of social upheaval, from indigenous Caledonia, to Catalonia in the Spanish state. Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders showed that the open road is to the left, not the centre. Thus, now is the time to fight for a Workers’ Agenda, for socialism, inside the only mass, labour-based political party in North America.

The NDP Socialist Caucus recognizes the huge opportunity and the heavy responsibility to unite all anti-capitalists and social justice fighters inside and outside the NDP. We invite Niki Ashton MP, her supporters, and all leftist backers of the other candidates, to come together now. With conservative forces dominating at the summit of the NDP and labour unions, the space is open for an insurgent, militant left wing in the major working-class institutions, organizing from the bottom-up.

The Socialist Caucus national conference—to be held Saturday, Dec. 2 at the University of Toronto’s Woodsworth College Residence—may be a turning point.

Together, we can unite the left and build on the momentum that caused the NDP leadership candidates to tack to the left. The working class needs socialist solutions to the crisis of capitalism and to counteract the rise of the alt-right.

We can, and we will, advance socialist policies. More democratic debate. Socialist candidates for federal NDP executive. Direct action against capitalist austerity.

Get ready for the NDP Federal Convention, Feb. 16-18, 2018, in Ottawa. Stoke your ideas and your energy. Register now for the NDP Socialist Caucus conference in Toronto on Saturday, Dec. 2. Please visit: http://www.ndpsocialists.ca. E-mail: info@ndpsocialists.ca. Phone: 647-986-1917.

Who is Jagmeet Singh?

By BARRY WEISLEDER

The 38-year-old turbaned Sikh lawyer from Brampton is the first person of colour to head a major Canadian political party—in itself a significant development. Oct. 2017 Jagmeet SinghAs the target of racist attacks, he must be defended, although not in the way he did when confronted by a racist woman in Peel who absurdly berated him for being a Muslim. Singh simply repeated the words, “We love you. We support you.” Racism and incipient fascism must be countered by stressing the need for working-class unity against the system that breeds racism, and by initiating mass actions to crush the racists.

Singh handily defeated his opponents for the NDP leadership by skillfully recruiting from his social network. His election represents a doubling down on the shift to the centre, to glamour politics, to trying to beat the Liberals at their game. All this occurs at a time when the right wing, including the Liberal government, are moving ever more stridently against democratic rights, to shore up and extend the grip of imperialism on the world, to put profit before the environment.

Sadly, the most left-wing candidate for leader, Niki Ashton MP, squandered the opportunity to present a bold socialist policy platform, to integrate grassroots socialist activists into her campaign, and to turn it into a vehicle for mass action against capitalist austerity, environmental plunder and war. She steered away from the path of Jeremy Corbyn.

Jagmeet Singh, an Ontario MPP who lacks a seat in the federal Parliament, appointed leadership opponent and Quebec MP Guy Caron to be NDP House Leader until the 2019 election. Charlie Angus, who has what the Toronto Star calls “the most nuanced position on pipelines and energy projects,” is left out in the cold. Does this mean Singh will oppose pipelines, and fight for public ownership and a rapid Green energy transition away from carbon dependency?

Given his overall record, it would take enormous pressure from below to move him in that direction. Recall that Singh initially opposed LGBTQI-positive sex education in Brampton schools. As Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP he fully backed Leader Andrea Horwath’s failed 2014 Ontario election campaign opposing tax increases on corporations and the rich (a policy not unlike Tom Mulcair’s “Balanced budget, No matter what” stance). As her Consumer Affairs Critics, Singh did nothing to advocate public auto insurance, a longstanding ONDP policy championed by beloved, deceased MPPs Mel Swart and Peter Kormos.

During the 2017 federal leadership race Singh stunned members when he came out against universality in seniors’ benefits. He infamously toured Israel hosted by Zionist organizations, and he was backed by the openly pro-imperialist NDP Foreign Affairs Critic Helene Laverdiere. Singh initially favoured the Energy East pipeline, then backed down under pressure from Niki Ashton and others. On post-secondary school fees and student debt he has been vague.

On the positive side, Singh wants to de-criminalize all drugs and invest in the treatment of substance abuse as a health issue. At the same time, he never uses the word “socialist” to describe himself; he proposes only minimal changes to tax law; and offers not a word about striving for democratic control of the economy.

That means party and labour leftists should press Singh sharply on pharma-care, dental care, free post-secondary education, steep taxation of corporations and the super-rich, for BDS and Canada Out of NATO, and for public ownership, particularly in the areas of energy, banking, telecommunications and transportation. Instead of offering a care-free honeymoon to the new leader, working-class militants need to set the tone at the 2018 NDP federal convention. This should be done by advancing socialist policies and demanding that Singh lead the fight for a Workers’ Agenda.