Canadians for Peace and Socialism
Box 168 Slocan BC
V0G 2C0
Phone/fax: 1 250 355 2669
January 10th 2008
Jack Layton, Leader of the New Democratic Party (NDP)
Members of the Federal NDP Caucus
Dear Mr. Layton and Members of Caucus
The media has reported that your caucus and NDP leaders from across Canada will be meeting Monday January 14th to discuss NDP federal election strategy prior to the opening of Parliament on January 28th 2008. Workers and farmers, pensioners and students, aboriginal and first nationís peoples, Quebecers and all Canadians will be watching closely as you consider how to defeat the Harper Conservatives.
Your meeting will follow the First Ministers meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper tomorrow January 11th. The Prime Minister is hoping to walk away from the meeting with the support of the Provincial Premiers and Territorial Leaders to accept his terms to receive a $1 billion Community Development Trust fund ostensibly to aid one industry towns facing job loss. The Prime Minister has taken the money out of a reported $1.9 billion from the 2007-2008 budgetary surplus. ($10 billion went to deficit reduction. Imagine what that could have been done with that amount to halt job loss.)
The Prime Ministerís caveat is the fund, a one time event with a three-year lifespan, starts as soon as Parliament approves the required budgetary legislation. Opposition parties will have to approve the budget to receive the money. It is a thinly disguised attempt to use $1 billion to force the opposition to continue to prop up his minority government. I believe that is still called black mail.
The narrow focus given by the Prime Minister to dispensing the fund will do very little for the hundreds of thousands of workers in manufacturing and forestry communities that do not live in one industry towns. A base amount of $10 million will be allocated to each province and $3 million to each territory. The balance of the funding will be allocated on a per capita basis, a somewhat vague concept when one considers all of the diverse communities and regions it is supposed to cover.
Nonetheless the Premiers may find it difficult to turn their backs on the money. It will take all of the ingenuity and firmness of your caucus to prevent this fund from being used in the most cynical way by the Harper brain trust to promote his re-election. Premier Charest has said the fund should not be linked to the Prime Ministerís re-election plans. We believe the uncritical enthusiastic support given to the plan by Manitoba Premier Gary Doer was premature.
When considering what to do, allow me to remind you of another fund, the effectiveness of which you may want to examine. The residents of Slocan BC, where I live, a one industry forestry town remember it well. It was floated by the Liberal Government in 2004-2005 and called the Softwood Industry Community Economic Adjustment Initiative (SICEAI). It was adopted in response to the Bush Administrationís US soft wood lumber attack on the Canadian forestry sector that ultimately forced the mill in our town to close for a year. It is up and running again but with reduced staff and an uncertain future.
When you consider what to do about the Harper Community Development Trust Fund consider our experience. Slocan Village Council and the local Legion Branch attempted to get funding from the (SICEAI) fund for a seniors home, an urgent need in our town, arguing that our community was hard hit by the soft wood lumber fiasco and that a seniors home would create employment and answer an urgent social need. The Village was prepared to donate the land. We tried three times and were turned down. We didnít get penny.

The fund supposedly designed to assist forestry communities in the final analysis went to big cities and mega mills and very little ever found its way to small lumber mill communities. Many of the communities the Liberal Plan was supposed to help are still languishing. The money trickled to those constituencies where the Liberals were in tight races with the NDP and the Reform-Alliance-Conservative whatever iteration they were at, at the time.

Taking into account our experience I would propose that you consider the following:

  1. Demand Parliament be convened immediately to debate and amend and approve the fund.
  2. Refuse to allow the fund to be linked to the Flaherty Budget.
  3. Demand that strict rules and arms length dispensing of the fund be approved to ensure that it goes to the people and does not become a re-election pork barrel for Mr. Harper.
  4. Demand that a portion of the fund be allocated to public housing for low income families and put our lumber mills to work.
  5. Announce that the NDP will organize a genuine national conference along with organized labour, rural and urban communities, mayors and municipalities to frame a plan of action for a new economic policy and direction for the Canadian economy based on the development of our natural resources, controls on the profiteering of the energy sector and an end to the wasteful defense spending associated with the shameful US-NATO war in Afghanistan.

If you did that you would be well placed to launch your election campaign.

Sincerely,
Don Currie, Chair Canadians for Peace and Socialism