On 1st September, at their caucus retreat, the Liberal Party pulled a 180 degree turn. From propping up the Conservative government 79 times since the last election, they promised to bring down Harper at the first opportunity. The NDP leadership’s recent noises, however, seem to imply they will vote to support a government that is willing to spend billions on corporate bailouts and the war in Afghanistan while unemployed workers have to wait two weeks to receive any support. Alternatively, the NDP leadership may be playing a very irresponsible game which will only breed confusion and cynicism amongst workers and youth. The NDP leadership needs to do away with these parliamentary tricks and return to fighting for Canadian workers and youth.

"Mr. Harper, your time is up," Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff told cheering MPs and senators at a Liberal caucus retreat in Sudbury.  "The Liberal party cannot support this government any further ... We will hold Stephen Harper to account and we will oppose his government."

Of course, alone, the Liberals are powerless to bring down the Conservatives. They need the support of both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. But the NDP has been hammering the Liberals for voting with the Conservatives all this time, surely Jack Layton and the NDP leadership wouldn’t take the suicidal route of saving the Conservatives now, would they?

"The prime minister has a responsibility to understand that he cannot govern alone," Layton said at the beginning of September. "If Mr. Harper wants to avoid an election he must reach out to other parties. If he fails to do so, then we have an election."

"We did not have confidence before, but if he shows leadership at this key time and says he will work with the other parties in order to improve the situation of Canadians and build the economy by looking at some of our key proposals … then that means that there is an opportunity to have discussions," Layton said.

So the NDP put forward a wish-list of proposals which would convince them the conservatives are “ready to make Parliament work”: protections for private pension plans, increased benefits for retirees, controls on credit card interest rates, protection for Canadians travelling outside the country, and emphasis on climate change.

And yet, after getting a cold shoulder, Layton told journalists that the NDP was the "least likely" of the parties to support the Conservatives in office "because we have very fundamental differences with the direction that they're taking the country."

That should have been the end of it. But the leadership continues to harp on the need to avoid an election and “make Parliament work”, regardless of the clear fact that the bosses’ parties were not interested in making any real concessions to working people in the midst of this crisis.

It seems that the NDP leadership is attempting to avoid an election at all costs. So when Human Resources Minister Diane Finley threw down some crumbs in the form of changes to Employment Insurance, far short of the list the NDP had previously demanded, the NDP leadership seemed to jump and lap it up.

"The announcement today appears to be a step in the right direction," Layton said in a statement. "There is much more that needs to be done as well. Our preference remains fighting for the unemployed rather than fighting for a second election."  He then walked away, without answering a single question. That seems quite out of character for a third party leader, particularly Layton, who has never been shy of a microphone.

The first stated reason to support the Conservatives is that the Tories have taken “a step in the right direction.” 500,000 unemployed in the last year, and a step is all we can win for them?

Then, there’s the letter NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis sent to Elections Canada on 11th September, expressing concerns that an election in the midst of swine flu outbreaks would be a threat to public health: “An election poses significant potential public health risks. Large public events, canvassing and other typical campaign activities, not to mention polling booths and long line-ups to vote on election day, all result in a great deal of contact between members of the public.”

If such reaching at straws wasn’t enough, there are the latest Ipsos-Reid poll numbers, which clearly show a trend towards disaster for the NDP. The NDP is now down to 12 per cent support, compared to the 18 per cent they gained in the last federal election in October 2008.

If this isn’t a naked attempt at avoiding an election, then it must be a dangerous trick, to look like the “reasonable” politicians that tried their hardest not to have an election, but were forced to by the unreasonable government. No one would buy this, and the NDP will now look as unprincipled as the other parties whether it votes with, or against, the government.

During the last election, the Liberals were at a historically low point and at one point, the two parties were neck and neck in the polls. Even though the NDP only offered mild reforms (namely, repealing $50 billion in corporate tax cuts, an immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, and increased social spending), these did set a real dividing line between the NDP and the bourgeois Liberals and Conservatives. If the NDP had not moved away from this message by the election's end, they could have very well become the Opposition and made the Liberals irrelevant for years to come. Even so, the NDP were able to make gains, including electing MPs in Quebec and Alberta.

In the space of under a year, the NDP leadership has wiped out all of the gains the party made in the last election. In December of last year, they essentially offered to give up their entire election platform for cabinet positions in a Liberal government under Stéphane Dion. All this accomplished was to revolt Canadians and resurrect the Liberal Party. Even after the coalition failed, the NDP leadership has continued their attempts at playing parliamentary games rather than putting forward a program that answers the needs of workers and youth.

With such unprincipled manoeuvres, is it any wonder that working class Canadians are sick and tired of all the parties, including the NDP? In the face of the worst capitalist crisis since the Great Depression and hundreds of thousands of job losses, workers turn to look and see what their politicians have to say. They see two parties that are committed to protecting the profits of Canadian capitalists, and one linked to the unions and is supposed to be defending theirs. And what has the NDP offered them?

First, an unprincipled coalition attempt with the Liberals. This was a complete sell-out where they joined hands with a bosses’ party without even the mildest of concessions as a cover.

Second, an unprincipled attempt at partnership with the Conservatives. Now we have the spectacle of the workers’ party propping up the same government that will be carrying out attacks against the workers in the form of cuts to social services. It is maneuvers such as these, and the drift to the right by the Layton leadership, which has caused workers to lose faith in the party.

Michael Ignatieff stood up during question period on Monday, 14th September and hammered the Conservatives’ cozying up with the NDP: “I find it curious that after weeks of berating the idea of a coalition, the prime minister seems to be hard at work forming one himself and with people that he referred to until this morning as socialists,” Ignatieff said. “I'm just wondering whether the prime minister could confirm his new-found love for socialism.”

Similarly, our question to Jack Layton is: “After months of berating the Liberals for propping up the Conservatives, could you please confirm your new-found love for Stephen Harper?”

The NDP needs to do away with these games entirely and go back to trying to make strides forward the old-fashioned way: win over the majority of workers and youth to the party by presenting a fighting program to protect their interests in the midst of this crisis. A socialist platform would mean proposing a liveable wage to win young workers, an elimination of the waiting period for EI and its extension to part time workers, and nationalization to save jobs – just as a start. This all seems old-fashioned to the leadership. But if to be “modern” means flailing around cynically at 12% in the polls, then it’s time to be old-fashioned again. We need an end to the “parliamentary cretinism” of tricks and maneuvers. Instead, the NDP needs to actively campaign as a mass movement against the conservative agenda, both inside and outside the House of Commons. Maintaining our principles is the only genuine realism which will gain the NDP support.

It’s time to propose socialism and reject partnerships with either of the bosses’ parties.