The breakthrough of the New Democratic Party in the recent federal election has reshaped the political landscape of Canada. Working class people across the country, and particularly in Quebec, rejected the status-quo parties of Canadian capitalism in a sweeping movement for change. And now the voices of the bosses are trying their best to come to terms with the new political reality.

Since the NDP won a historic breakthrough which crushed both the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois, the “professional commentators” of the corporate media have been falling over themselves to give the NDP a mix of “critical congratulations” and “friendly advice” for the party’s future.

Aside from the Toronto Star (who surprisingly endorsed the NDP despite its tradition of slavishly supporting the Liberals), every other major paper in the country endorsed the Conservatives.  All of these outlets went on about how the NDP would bring about an “economic disaster,” is “a recipe for stagnation,” and would be a “nightmare” for the country. Clearly the largest media corporations don’t want an NDP government. But that should hardly be a surprise to anyone. Now that the election is over, all of these commentators seem to have gotten over their nightmares and appear to be falling over themselves to give advice to the party.

On 9th May, the National Post published an article by Kevin Libin, “Pacifist NDP leans right on foreign policy,” which largely encouraged the NDP to moderate its anti-war positions on Afghanistan, endorse military increases, and take up steadfast support for the Israeli state. He ends his article by saying, “That can alienate the most radical, peacenik rump of the NDP base. But having so far won such political success while doing precisely that, its hard to see why Mr. Layton should care.” A better question is, having won success, especially in Quebec, through the outright rejection of the Tories’ war agenda, why should we care what Kevin Libin has to say?

But the new Conservative “friends” of the NDP continue to give us advice. Tom Flanagan, a former Tory campaign manager, wrote in the Globe and Mail, “To borrow a football metaphor, all the conflict will take place around the midfield stripe. The Conservatives will not privatize health care, and the New Democrats will not nationalize key industries. Maybe they should, but they won’t, because both initiatives would take their proponents too far from the median and leave their opponents room to move in and cut them off from a majority of voters.” (4 May 2011)

Tasha Kheiriddin, another National Post columnist, offered her article, “Free advice for Jack Layton,” which contains this helpful bit of advice from the paper known as the voice box of the Conservative Party: “Drop the crazy. Capping interest rates on credit cards might sound like a nice idea to the anarchosyndicalist [sic] crowd, but it is the kind of interventionism that sends centrists running for the hills — or to the Liberals and Tories. Anyone but the NDP, in other words.”

How remarkably selfless these right-wingers are in wanting to help the NDP out. If only they had given us their priceless advice before the election, in which the NDP nearly wiped out the Bloc and the Liberal Party, swept Quebec, became the official opposition, and changed the Canadian political landscape with our “crazy.”

The truth is these people have never, and will never be friends, to our party or to the working-class of Canada. They are the mouthpieces of the media moguls, Bay Street, and the rich. The NDP exists precisely because Canadians know what happens to them when they are subject to those who listen to this “advice.”

What the advocates of a merger are really after

The idea of an NDP-Liberal merger has been popping up since June of last year, when former NDP leader Ed Broadbent and former Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien engaged in secret talks (which did not remain secret for very long) around the idea of a merger. As the Toronto Sun reported at the time, “The Liberals were demanding the NDP renounce socialism, embrace a mixed-market economy and keep Ignatieff as leader of the new party.”

This would have been a disaster and a betrayal of everything the NDP stands for. The talks were eventually abandoned when rumblings began from the NDP rank-and-file against the idea of a merger and being left in the dark about it.

But now, the corporate press has not missed one opportunity to bring up the issue again, inventing a myriad of reasons (resting mainly on the spectre of vote-splitting) to justify a merger. Defeated Liberals were the most eager to raise the idea of a merger, hoping to save something for themselves. Ex-Liberal MP John Harvard was advocating for a merger of the “centre-left” (a term we will explore shortly) on the day after the election. Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star tells us, “Critics including lame-duck Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff point out, logically, that a union of the left makes no sense: The Liberals are not a left-wing party. But then neither is the NDP. In this campaign, Layton’s economic policy focused almost entirely on promoting small business. His platform said nothing about trade unions. The dreaded s-words — socialist and social democrat — were never mentioned.”

Well, at least Walkom is a little more clear in what he means. All the advice about a merger isn't meant to create a new “progressive force.” The Liberals are not a left-wing party, and are completely tied to Bay Street. The intention is to attach a Liberal anchor to the NDP's right-wing that would drag the party down into the “centrist” swamp in which the Liberals are already wallowing. This would ensure that Bay Street wouldn't have to worry about the NDP interrupting their agenda and could possibly give the Liberal Party a ladder with which to climb out of trouble. A merger with the Liberals would be hugely destructive for the NDP as an organization, and more importantly, squander the hopes and aspirations for change that have been entrusted to us by millions of ordinary Canadians.

The “centre-left” and other fairy tales

By far, the vast majority of the advice being doled out these days from the mainstream press is directed at the wounded Liberal Party. The Liberals were dealt a devastating blow during the election, being reduced to 34 seats, losing their leader and their place as Official Opposition. With Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in possession of a majority and the NDP propelled to over 100 seats for the first time in its history, the Liberals are leaderless, demoralized, and staring into the abyss.

As mentioned earlier, a lot of the advice has centred on merging the Liberals and NDP. To bolster their claims, these commentators have suggested that there are certain obstacles that the NDP can only overcome by joining with the Liberal Party. The biggest obstacle, they say, is splitting the “centre-left.” But, is there really a “centre-left”? It may come as a surprise to some that the Liberals and NDP are in the same political category all of a sudden. It certainly wasn’t true just a few weeks ago during the election; then Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had a very different opinion. On April 26 he said, “This country has been governed from the centre for 140 years. That’s why Canadians have given their confidence to the Liberal Party. They don’t want a government of the left.”

Immediately following the election, the Globe and Mail ran an article by Andrew Steele, which had some interesting assertions. Steele wrote, “Again we see the age old problem: a rising NDP splits the vote and allows the Tories to win seats that otherwise aren’t in their reach. Why do we get vote splits? One reason is simple math. The Conservative vote stays the same, but as the Liberal vote falls, the Conservative candidate can get elected with fewer votes. Another reason is that NDP member rhetoric about wealth redistribution, and a ‘working class party’ ending neo-liberalism seriously freaks out the middle class. It sounds to some ‘bourgeois’ ears like the NDP is going to come and take away their RRSP nest egg, tax the hell out of them, and blow up the economy.”

So, people are scared of the NDP rank-and-file’s left-wing rhetoric and instead would prefer the Liberals’ “centrism”? The fact that this working-class party took an historic 4.5-million votes seems to fly in the face of this. It was precisely a desire for change and to fight back against a crisis laden, inequitable and polarizing economic system that people voted for the NDP instead of the Liberals or Bloc.

Steele goes on to say, “So to get to a majority, the NDP will need to moderate their economic positions further. No rhetoric about class. No plan for soaking the rich. No talk of ending ‘neo-liberalism.’ And if they get to office, it will have to be in the mode of Tommy Douglas, with years of conservative fiscal management to eventually earn the trust to implement transformative social programs. The real losers in the move from third party, influencing the system from the outside, to alternate government may be the NDP left. The NDP has served as a vessel for the hopes of a lot of people with socialist dreams for tomorrow. The sad reality is that some of those dreams may be dashed in the years ahead.”

Commentators such as Andrew Steele want us to believe that the NDP surge, the rearranging of the Canadian political landscape, the historic defeat of two major parties and their leaders, does not represent a desire for change amongst the Canadian voter. What they simply want is for the Liberal Party to change colours; the NDP should simply take up the old, tired, and “safe” middle-ground that the Liberals once occupied and dump those pesky left-wingers who helped to build the party all these years.

Thank heaven for these pundits. Many people who voted for the NDP thought they were voting for change. They are certainly lucky that they have the corporate press to inform them that they were actually voting for the status quo in a different colour. We must remember that these are the same pundits who claimed that the NDP had a “ceiling of support” across this country, that the NDP could never attract more than 20% of the vote, that that NDP could never be a major player in Quebec, that the NDP would never be more than a third-party protest vote.

But, in reality, the surge of the NDP represents the exact opposite of what the commentators would like to be the case. Liberalism has been in crisis for years and is on the verge of dying off completely. The rejection of merger talks by Layton was a positive step, though certainly rank-and-file pressure to prevent this issue from being revived is still needed.

Even the “middle-class voter” is rapidly being exposed as the Bay Street myth that it truly is. Thanks to attacks on both public and private-sector workers (most of them unionized), there is an ever increasing income gap in this country, with a Tory government set to further polarize the classes with cuts and austerity measures that will attack working-class people. The foundations for Liberalism are virtually gone.

This is where the final myth about the NDP is shattered. Our “friends” in the corporate media want us to believe that while the party is stronger than it has ever been, it is, in fact, helpless in the face of a Tory majority government. To believe this would be to believe that the Canadian population only has a voice once every few years during an election, and that after that Parliament is the sole resting place of all politics.

Parliament is an important platform for the party to have its voice heard, but on the grand scale it is just that, a room to make speeches. The real fight against the Harper austerity agenda will be outside Parliament — in the streets, the workplaces, and on picket lines. And that is where the party must focus its energy most. The NDP must become a party of action, with the voice and assistance of the parliamentary caucus. We can grow our numbers and our strength by rejecting austerity and cuts. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with working-class people across the country and fight for a solution to the crisis of capitalism, that will bring employment, housing, social services, and security to millions of ordinary Canadians once and for all. By fighting and organizing around socialist polices, the NDP can become a mass party capable not only of leading the working-class to victory, but, to paraphrase the Regina Manifesto, of “eradicating capitalism” and establishing a just, democratic, and socialist society.

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