Canada: Election 2021:  Results and Prospects

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[We print below material on the recent Canadian elections from our sister party, Socialist Action/Canada. Editor] 

by Barry Weisleder

To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s deja-vu all over again.”

The 2021 federal election, which Justin Trudeau called just to gain a majority of seats, looks much like the 2019 election result.  The same parties are in place, each with nearly the same number of MPs as before.*  But something has changed.  All the leaders are skating on thin ice.  One has resigned; another will soon be forced to do so.  And Justin Trudeau is considerably weakened as Prime Minister.  With zero appetite for another election, the Liberal minority government will have to lean heavily on the labour-based New Democratic Party to pass legislation.  That means working class organizations have a great opportunity to extract concessions from the ruling class.

The reason that big business hates minority government rule is precisely that:  it hates to concede anything to labour and the working class.  That’s why Trudeau abandoned proportional representation in 2015.  Bay Street doesn’t want PR, and Justin prefers not to share power, even if it is with a bunch of pro-capitalist labour fakers.  So, that’s the first point – the prospect of a labour offensive to make gains.  The offensive should start with childcare, pharma care, long term care, Indigenous restitution, green energy, social housing and a break with imperialism, the arms industry and military intervention.

The second point is leadership, that is, the need for a radical change of leadership if labour is to go forward.  So, what went wrong, Jagmeet?  How is it that, with more than twice the election budget ($24 million), and a collapsing Green Party, and polls showing Singh is the most-liked political leader, the NDP gained only one per cent more votes and just one extra seat in this election?  Singh blames the low turnout, and the lack of polling stations at universities, during a snap election, in the midst of a pandemic. It’s true. Overall, voter turnout was 59 per cent – some eight per cent lower than in 2019 and the lowest it’s been since 2008.  But another big factor was at work: There was nothing to inspire a large turnout.  No major party offered an alternative to a system in crisis.

Across Canada, up to mid-September, 1.6 million fell ill with COVID-19 and 27,500 died.  Thousands perished at for-profit Long Term Care sites.  Vaccines, very slow to be administered, had to be imported because a past Tory government sold the publicly owned Connaught Labs, and no domestic pharmaceutical firm produces the needed vaccines.  The fourth wave of COVID is now surging continentally and globally.

Bourgeois media coverage of the election campaign focussed on the major party leaders.  Personality politics always detract from issues, and completely obscure the context of a failed system.  Half of North America was on fire.  Floods and flames ravaged Europe and other continents.  Workers in their millions face rising inflation, curtailed benefits and the threat of homelessness.

The situation cries out for systemic solutions.  Sadly, all the major parties are committed to the preservation of capitalism.  All favour a carbon tax on consumers, rather than expropriation and re-tooling of the big producers, especially Big Oil and Gas.  All would tinker with assistance to home buyers, rather than take control of land development and the construction industry to build millions of homes, and to seize empty units for those in desperate need.  Some decry big bank and telecom super-profits, but none demand ‘Expropriate the expropriators!’  All of them talk about reconciliation with Indigenous people, pledge a pittance to discover more unmarked graves, but stop short of demanding the churches pay for their crimes, much less insist on seizing the assets of giant resource corporations so that First Nations can gain clean water, quality healthcare and education, and exercise self-determination. 

The result is a biosphere teetering on the brink of disaster.  Pre-existing austerity conditions are worsened by unemployment, underemployment, and precarious part-time work at minimum wage and no benefits.  Public medicare is debilitated by long wait times, no dental care, no vision care, no pharma care, no emotional and mental health care.  Indigenous Canadians are subjected to shameful levels of unemployment, poor housing, healthcare, addiction support, and child support.  Meanwhile, giant corporations plunder their resources and operate roads and pipelines through their lands, with heavily armed police at the ready. Cuts to benefits paid to the most vulnerable and victimized people under Canadian capitalism are the norm.

In Canada, the Conservatives ape the U.S. Republicans, trying to limit women’s reproductive rights, tolerating racist and Islamophobic attacks on immigration, and brazen attacks on workers rights, jobs, wages and benefits, even the right to organize a union. The Tories openly encourage and subsidize carbon polluters.  They pledged to punish pipeline protesters more severely.  When Erin O’Toole said he would balance the budget, we know on whose backs he would do it.  While the racist Peoples Party of Canada won no seats, it increased its vote to 6 per cent by becoming the voice of the anti-vax minority.

Liberals profess to be more progressive than the Tories. But the Liberal Party ordered the postal workers back to work, broke their strike in November 2018, broke the strike of the Montreal dock workers in May 2021, spent $4.5 billion of workers’ tax money to buy the Trans Mountain pipeline, and shipped armoured vehicles to the disgusting Saudi regime to be used to commit genocide in Yemen and to repress the Saudi people.  The Liberal Prime Minister was caught promoting “deferred prosecution” for corrupt SNC-Lavalin.  He spent over $100 billion in the form of the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, much of it going into the pockets of wealthy business owners. His appointment of Inuk leader Mary Simon as Canada’s 30th Governor General changed nothing. Most of the 94 Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls-to-action remain ignored by Ottawa.

Trudeau got the House of Commons to approve a resolution to prop up Israeli apartheid against the oppressed Palestinian people by falsely conflating criticism of the state of Israel with anti-Semitism. His then-Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland played a leading role in the failed effort to install, by force, a puppet of the United States as president of Venezuela. The illegal and brutal sanctions imposed on the Venezuelan people caused great hardship and 40,000 deaths up to 2020.  Now Lima has quit the Lima Group.  And the U.S. is defeated and retreated from Afghanistan.

On a per capita basis, Canada is tied with the United States for third-worst polluter in the world, behind only Saudi Arabia and Australia. 

Canadian imperialism is heavily concentrated in mining, including the massive tar sands in Alberta. Canadian mine owners like Barrick Gold, Suncor, PotashCorp, Gold Corp, Teck Resources, and Cameco exploit resources for the sole benefit of their wealthy shareholders, subsidized heavily by our tax dollars, and leaving heavy pollution behind them. They operate all over the third world, reaping huge profits by paying low wages, denying basic rights and safety to the workers, violating the rights of indigenous peoples everywhere and using mercenaries to beat and even kill small miners who were trying to eke out an existence with hand held tools. Justin Trudeau has done nothing but support the Canadian corporate mining giants.

The Green Party program is entirely within the framework of the capitalist system. Founded by prominent former Tories and Liberals, the Green Party is a diversion for the millions of Canadians awakening to the unfolding climate catastrophe. Destructive climate change cannot be uprooted by the market. Capitalism generates profit by any means necessary. The greatest causes of carbon pollution, the burning of fossil fuel and the waging of wars to plunder resources, are core elements of capitalism. By accepting the horrific exigencies of private enterprise, the Green Party renders itself irrelevant.  Its erstwhile Leader, Annamie Paul, is anti-choice, pro-big business, and pro-NATO.  She surrounded her autocratic self with arch-Zionist ‘advisers’ who falsely accused two of her MPs of being anti-Semitic.  Crisis ensued, crippling the Greens.  Its vote sank from 6 to 2 per cent, with Ms. Paul running a distant fourth in Toronto Centre.  She resigned on September 27.  As for the Green win in Kitchener, it was a fluke, resulting from the late removal of the local Liberal candidate.

The NDP, a party based on working class institutions, with trade unions represented directly at NDP conventions, is the only mass working class party.  For this reason, Socialist Action gives the NDP critical support in elections.  

At the same time, we oppose its right wing, pro-capitalist, undemocratic leadership.  More undemocratic than ever, the NDP brass increasingly hand-picks candidates without holding a local nomination meeting, often to exclude socialist contenders, and spends campaign money mostly on the Leader’s tour and tv ads.  The Leader failed to draw the lessons of Canadian imperialist crimes in Afghanistan, Libya and Haiti.  He is loyal to NATO, silent on Venezuela, condones the Zionist Apartheid state, and seeks a more rabidly anti-China policy.**  Jagmeet Singh spars with Justin Trudeau over housing prices, but has no effective plan to spur housing supply.  Singh’s demand for a 1 per cent tax on the super-rich wouldn’t fund national childcare, let alone generate mass social housing, free post-secondary education, or an all-service medicare system, including free medical drugs.  He would cut subsidies to the oil industry, but not the military budget.  Singh’s vain attempt to turn his personal ‘likeability’ into votes clearly didn’t work.  In any case, a popularity contest, such as the one Trudeau won six years ago, provides no basis for meaningful change.  Sadly, the NDP leadership is dogmatically devoted to petty reform of a system in its death throes.  Sad also is the fact that some workers, misled by labour leaders like the president of Unifor, are still fooled by the old siren song that urges a vote for the Liberals in order to stop the Tories.  Both the Liberal and the Conservative parties are tools of Bay Street, equally culpable for leading Canada and the world to more wars, greater inequality and environmental disaster.

We propose a socialist program to mobilize working people and our natural allies in a series of mass struggles aimed at challenging the capitalist system and ultimately overthrowing the polluters, exploiters and oppressors and their racist, sexist system in favour of a Workers’ Government. A Workers’ Government could expropriate the great resources and productive apparatus now owned privately by a few wealthy families.

A Workers’ Government, in alliance with workers worldwide, could build a new state, a workers’ state with a socially owned and democratically planned economy. A workers’ state can open the road to socialism. That is our goal.  Today there is no mass socialist party that can pose as a mass alternative to the NDP, and it is counter-productive to support tiny reformist, nationalist parties on the Canadian left.  So, our transitional slogan remains “Vote NDP and Fight for Socialist Policies”.  Inseparable from this slogan is the effort to build the NDP Socialist Caucus, and to grow the Workers’ Action Movement inside the unions.  A class struggle left wing in the unions and in the NDP paves the way to a Workers’ Government.  On that journey, we invite you to join us.

*Election results, in terms of seats: 

LIB 160   CON 119   BQ 32   NDP 25   GRN 2   PP 0   Other 0

170 seats, out of 338, needed for a parliamentary majority.

** Foreign policy:  Singh’s demand for a more rabid anti-China stance looks even more ridiculous in the wake of Washington’s decision to end its demand for extradition of Meng Wanzhou.  That prompted her release from house arrest in Vancouver, and triggered the release of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor by Beijing.  Sadly, still remaining is the reactionary demand that Ottawa seek membership in the cold war Aukus military alliance.

Addenda:

Norway turns Left  On Monday, September 13, the Left bloc, spearheaded by the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet), won an important victory in Norway’s parliamentary elections. The eight-year-long right-wing government, headed by conservative Prime Minister, Erna Solberg, was finally defeated.  Flanked by the Socialist Left (SV) and Centre Party (SP), Labour won 89 (52%) parliamentary seats in a house of 169.Rødt (The Red Party) – the Marxists – may be considered the biggest winner, however. They not only crossed the 4% minimum vote threshold to enter the parliament, but their tally of seats went from one in the outgoing parliament to eight in the incoming house. Formed in 2007, the Red party is a new political project. In the previous parliament, they had only one member – 39-year-old Bjornar Eide Moxnes, the party leader. Red has a radical program. It wants Norway out of NATO, a classless society and a democratic revolution. Red is also anti-imperialist.

Canada — still in a recession Trudeau may be back in office, but like the other G7 economies, things are not rosy economically, according to Marxist economist Michael Roberts. Canada’s 2021 economic outlook is similar to that of other developed countries. After the largest economic contraction since 1945 (a dip of 5.5% of GDP in 2020), Canada is still in recession, according to the latest figures, although forecasters (Oxford Economics) are still expecting a sharp recovery.

Even if the above forecast turns out to be correct (and that is uncertain), the long-term economic trends for the Canadian economy are not great. A recent Macdonald-Laurier Institute report, wrote that Canadian “real GDP growth over the past decade has been as lethargic as the decade after the onset of the Great Depression in 1929” (Cross 2020). Thus, Canadian capitalism had already been experiencing problems for over a decade when the COVID-19 lockdown started.

A survey of 3,010 Canadians by Mental Health Research Canada found that despite some positive signs around COVID-19 this summer, our heightened pandemic anxiety is staying put.  In the cross-Canada survey conducted between Aug. 17 and 21, MHRC found that levels of self-reported anxiety and depression have not decreased.

NDP Socialist Caucus:  WHAT A SOCIALIST NDP ELECTION PLATFORM WOULD LOOK LIKE

The federal election should not be about the personality of Trudeau, O’Toole, Singh and Paul. It should focus on the calamity facing working people, and the prime cause of it — the capitalist system.  Capitalism is based on private ownership and exploitation of resources and the means of production for private gain and personal enrichment. Capitalists should be expropriated and the economy subject to democratic planning by workers to meet human needs, in harmony with nature.

Socialists support NDP candidates because the party is organically linked to unions, making it a labour party. All the others are boss parties, including the Greens.  The current NDP leadership seeks only to reform capitalism marginally, leaving the exploiters in charge and refusing to fight for workers’ power and socialism. 

Socialists propose the NDP should advocate the following in this election:

COVID  Nationalize big pharma and order big labs to produce needed medicines. Allow time off work for vaccination. Transfer all long-term care facilities into public ownership. Explain vaccines fully and counter the conspiracy theories. Acknowledge legitimate fears of government and big pharma by racialized groups, but don’t let anti-vaxxers undermine public health. Ship vaccines to less developed countries.

HOUSING  Build public, high quality, eco-sustainable housing for all, with rent geared-to-income. Get profiteers out of housing.  Seize dwellings left empty by speculators.

CLIMATE DISRUPTION  Expropriate the heavily subsidized oil and gas cartel, and the mining giants.  Apply their plundered wealth to build a green energy grid with union labour.  Reduce energy use. Break up monoculture agribusiness and implement healthy, natural farming practices. Impose climate-friendly regulations.  Make polluters pay the cost of cleanup.  Imprison violators of climate safety. Manage forests and all resources in the interest of future generations and other species, not for profiteers.

INDIGENOUS RECONCILIATION AND RESTITUTION  Land back, self-determination, no dictate by settler courts or police. Full restitution for land and resource theft, impoverishment and genocide, perpetrated by colonial settler rulers, from first arrival to the present. 

DE-FUND, DISARM AND DISBAND THE POLICE AND THE MILITARY  These armed forces do not exist for workers’ protection. They protect the rich and enforce acceptance of exploitation and oppression. Divert cop funds to meet basic human needs. With the elimination of poverty in terms of housing, food, transit, and other scarcities, crime will diminish radically. Focus on community peace programs, and enhanced outreach to help those with mental health issues.

WORKERS’ RIGHTS Support organizing the unorganized. Outlaw strikebreaking. Improve benefits, pensions and provide sick pay on the basis of need. Uphold the right to refuse unsafe conditions. Full rights and landed status for migrant and undocumented workers.

STOP CANADIAN IMPERIALIST EXPLOITATION  Force Canadian corporations to return the properties they exploit in the third world to Indigenous people, and pay restitution for labour exploitation, brutality and pollution.  Canada Out of NATO, NORAD, the Lima group and all imperialist military alliances and trade agreements. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israeli Apartheid.  Hands Off Venezuela. Shut down the arms industry.  No money for fighter jets.  Welcome refugees of war, climate change, oppression and hunger.

ABOLISH the BILLIONARES Tax 100 per cent of assets over 1 billion dollars.

ABOLISH THE SENATE AND THE MONARCHY 

FREE Post-Secondary EDUCATION AND TRAINING. ABOLISH STUDENT DEBT

REPLACE SHAREHOLDER RIGHTS WITH WORKERS’ RIGHTS  Set goals and operating methods for goods and services production to meet human needs, not shareholder profit.

ESTABLISH A WELL FUNDED and fully EQUIPPED “WORKERS’ CLIMATE AND EMERGENCY CORPS”  Battle emergencies, many of which are caused by global warming.  Perform search and rescue operations, seize control of unsafe operations, and provide emergency food, water, medical care and housing. The Corps should include members of all oppressed groups, but no former police or military. Abolish all private mercenary, security and similar armed groups.

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[The following is the July 27, 2021 presentation by Michael Steven Smith at a book party in New York City’s Lower East Side sponsored by