After simmering for over a year now, the sponsorship scandal has finally enraged the opinion of Canadian voters. In response to the near victory of the vote on Quebec separation, the Canadian State launched a program to fund sporting and cultural events to shore up support for federalism in Quebec. It seems as though the second aim of the program was to “support federalism” by funneling money to Liberal-friendly advertising firms who would then return it in hefty donations to the party – or they employed Liberal staffers on their payrolls who did no work for the Ad company.
While the trappings of bourgeois democracy, the buildings, the robes and ceremonies, the pageantry, are made to make us revere their system; this inquiry has effectively lifted the rock obscuring the insects wriggling underneath. Liberal support has plummeted from 37% in the last election to 27% in the latest poll. But Conservative support has only increased from 30% to 33%. The biggest gainers are the NDP, which has gone from 16% to 24%, and the separatist Bloq Quebecois with a dominating 51% support in Quebec. What is clear is that the population is split and cynical about the present system. A poll by the CBC revealed that 68% of people believe that all parties are equally corrupt. For the first time in a generation there is a real opportunity for a complete re-writing of the Canadian political landscape.
To put the political crisis in perspective we must look at the economic developments over the last period. The Vanier Institute of the Family (www.vifamily.ca) each year releases a report on family finances that tends to be grim reading. The overriding message is that there is no future for Canadian youth. Over the last 25 years the poverty rate for families under 25 went from 31% to 43%. Net worth for the same age group plummeted 95%. Savings are now at zero percent of earnings and debt has ballooned to 121% of income. The only “good” news is that average family earnings have increased slightly. But when you look at the data more closely you realize that total intake has increased only due to increased hours worked by women and children – hourly wages have in fact stayed flat or declined. There is literally no financial room to maneuver for working class families, people are stressed out and working as hard as they can just to stay still. This is the economic backdrop that turns political instability into a crisis of confidence.
The Canadian working class and middle class are upset with the status quo – but they are also upset with the choices on offer to them. The last election saw the lowest turnout since confederation (when most of the fur-trapping population didn’t realize that Canada had become a country). This mass abstentionism is strongest amongst the youth – precisely those voters who we have shown are the most economically marginalized and who have the most to gain from Socialism. Despite the opinions of the comfortable Labour and NDP bureaucracies, a radical platform would be immensely popular.
Lately, a poll conducted by the right-wing National Post newspaper came up with an interesting result. Just prior to the March 2005 Conservative Convention they conducted a poll with a series of questions skewed to portray the new Tory party in a favourable light. Sneaked in among the rightward-leading questions was, “Canada’s problems are such that we need more socialism and more socialist policies.” They were aiming for a front-page headline along the lines of, “Canadians love Tory polices, reject socialism.” However, just as many respondents agreed with socialism as disagreed with it – an amazing result given that not one of the major political parties defends socialism in words. The right wing, the left wing, and even many self-proclaimed socialists in the NDP have all fallen for the idea that the working class does not support socialism. The opposite is true and there are huge reserves of support for a radical policy if only a solid lead were given. Unfortunately given the current state of the leadership of the movement, the likelihood of such a lead is not great.
The main barrier to increased NDP support is that the workers do not take the party seriously. The leadership aids this conception by tail ending the Liberals and refusing to solidly propose even modest reforms. It was sickening in the early days of the minority government to see the NDP essentially propping up the Liberals in return for absolutely nothing, not even the much sought after ministerial posts that the NDP careerists hunger for. After having the door slammed in their face repeatedly Layton and co. have adopted a more confrontational tone, however the Liberals would not be able to sell their “we are all progressives” message if the NDP MPs did not appear so eager to jump into bed with them. The perspective of the NDP leadership is to hold the balance of power in parliament – such a proposal erodes support before an election and if successful will lead to the NDP being complicit in the Liberals’ attacks on workers.
Marxists demand much more from Canada’s party of labour and so do the working class. The next election, whether it be in June or in the fall, will lead to an even more fractured parliament. If the Liberals remain at their current 15% in Quebec Prime Minister Paul Martin may even lose his seat. If the NDP is going to increase support it must inspire the millions of workers who are looking for an answer to the crisis of the system. This cannot be done unless the NDP explains that it is not just this or that politician who is corrupt but it is capitalism and the capitalist parties that are corrupt. The NDP must adopt a radical program that is aimed to win power (if not in this election then the next). If the party bureaucrats only aim to be the left wing of Liberalism, while workers and youth are fighting back against Liberal attacks, then all hell will break loose in the party. Fightback will be at the forefront of the push for an independent working class policy for the NDP.