The Economic Crisis and the Role of the Progressive Left as the Country Heads for the 41st Federal Election!
February 09, 2009
Don Currie, Chair, CPS

The full enormity of the economic depression unfolding across the country can no longer be denied. All politically aware Canadians now realize that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Flaherty were lying when they assured Parliament that Conservative Government economic policies had protected the country from the effects of the global economic crisis.
The political fallout from the Flaherty-Harper propaganda peaked in the dying days of the 39th Parliament. The economic crisis swept that fallout aside. Exposed and threatened with defeat, Prime Minister Harper was forced to resort to a sordid and cynical maneuver. He prorogued Parliament to avoid defeat by a 62% majority coalition of opposition MP’s.
The temporary coalition in the 40th Parliament of the Michael Ignatieff establishment Liberals and the minority Harper Conservatives in support of the January 27th Flaherty Budget has postponed but not ended the political crisis. The 41st federal election can occur at anytime.
The Parliamentary crisis reflects a divergence of tactics between the two main parties of the profit system the Liberals and the Conservatives about how to cope with a loss of public confidence in government as the capitalist economy slips into a long depression and deeper into a US NATO war in Afghanistan.
Canadian casualties in Afghanistan have reached 108 dead with hundreds more sent home wounded and psychologically damaged. The war costs the federal treasury $2 billion annually and rising. The aftermath will cost billions more. The depression has put 1.5 million Canadians out of work and more join the ranks of the unemployed each day.
The January 27th Conservative budget supported by the Ignatieff Liberals has been rejected by organized labour and the entire non-sectarian left as another big business budget designed to prop up banks and the stock market and saddle the people with long term deficit. The Conservative Liberal budget will do nothing of substance to employ the jobless, rebuild crumbling infrastructure, or provide seniors housing and low cost homes to young families.
By the time the next federal election takes place, the country will be deeper into the Liberal-Conservative quagmire of imperialist war and capitalist unemployment.
Public disaffection with government pervades discussions among workers, on the job, on the picket line, at the EI office, in food banks, in labour and farm union local meetings – everywhere except in the mass media where such disaffection is banned.
Public discussion on CTV, Can West Global and the CBC is filtered through the fog of pundits, jaded academics and party hacks. They are devoted to trivializing politics and covering up the growing anger of millions of Canadians over the ineffectiveness of senior levels of government to act for the vital needs of the people.
Canadians in their majority are fed up with the politics of wealth and privilege, abuse of political power, the pervasive parasitism, and cronyism and Parliamentary gamesmanship in Ottawa. There is a willingness to consider something new. Advocacy of a new type of progressive democratic government where organized labour is a partner and the guarantor of genuine economic reform is now the primary task of the progressive left.
There is a consensus that the minority Harper Conservatives can be defeated. A defeat for the Conservatives will demonstrate that it is possible to rid the country of reactionary big business government. Secondly it will demonstrate that a new type of popular government of peace and genuine economic renewal can arise and replace the outworn policies of the two old parties of the profit system.
While it is possible, it is not a certainty that Canadians will defeat the far right and elect a more progressive government. It will take a struggle to win. A successful outcome depends on whether the democratic mass movements of the Canadian people, in the first place organized labour, can find the path to electoral unity. That will require a campaign for a minimum program to beat the threat of depression and end Canadian involvement in a terrible imperialist war. The defeat of Harper will be the result of a convergence of trends among the Canadian people that are developing at various levels but with a common interest in a new progressive direction for the country.
What cannot be ignored by the left is the political experience gained by the working people, arising out of the attempts in Parliament by Liberals led by Stephane Dion, the centre-left social democratic NDP led by Jack Layton and the centre-left sovereignist Bloc Quebecois led by Gilles Duceppe to form a reform government. The Greens, organized labour, the peace and democratic movements of the people greeted the effort.
The coalition agreement captured some of the spirit of mass public disaffection with the reactionary far right policies of the minority Conservative Government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The coalition idea continues to be widely supported in Quebec. It is alive in the imagination of the Canadian people.
The coalition attempt was preceded by real struggles. It was more than a deal at the top. The Manufacturing Matters campaign of the CAW emboldened the NDP, the Dion Liberals and the Duceppe Bloc to challenge Harper. It was expressed in the Alberta Federation of Labour’s Black Gold campaign to halt the export of tar sands bitumen for processing in US refineries. It was expressed in the persistent efforts of the environmental movement for a polluter pay response to CO2 emissions.
The campaign by the Save Our Wheat Board Committee and the National Farmers Union dealt a partial defeat to Agriculture Minister Ritz’s attempt to rig Canadian Wheat Board elections. The pressure on the Harper Government by the Canadian Association of Mayors and Municipalities led by Mayor David Miller of Toronto demanding desperately needed federal aid to restore crumbling infrastructure, especially public transit and social housing gave powerful support to the idea of a coalition reform program.
The defeat of the right wing Non-Partisan Association (NPA) by a left of centre coalition of COPE and VISION in the November Vancouver civic elections demonstrated the power of electoral unity. The election of Amir Khadir a leader of Quebec Solidaire, a united front of socialist and activist groups in which the Parti Communiste du Quebec is active, demonstrated the possibility for a more advanced expression of left unity. Quebec electors also repudiated the far right Action Democratique of Quebec led by Mario Dumont who resigned after the election. The Parti Quebecois led by Pauline Marois, a popular and respected advocate of social reform and sovereignty became the official opposition.
The struggle of First Nations and Aboriginal and Indigenous people led by Grand Chief Phil Fontaine on a range of issues responding to the betrayal of the Kelowna Accord by the Harper Conservatives and his government’s refusal to sign the UN Declaration on Indigenous Peoples was a factor. The persistent efforts of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and women’s movements for pay equity and universal child care and the actions of pensioners demanding decent housing exposed the anti-people essence of the far right social conservatism.
The peace movement doggedly continues to mobilize and fight for an end to the war in Afghanistan. The Green Party led by politically astute and well spoken Elizabeth May who garnered significant electoral support for her party in the last federal election supported the coalition.
Also contributing to a Parliamentary challenge to the Conservative minority government was the schism between the Premier Danny Williams Conservative Government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Prime Minister Harper who reneged on resource sharing and federal transfer agreements. The ABC call of Premier Williams (Anybody but the Conservatives) in the October 14th Federal Election represented a form of defiant self-determination over energy resources and development. Premier Williams recent action to return to the province forestry lands exploited by US owned Abitibi Bowater has wide support among the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and across the country.
The election of the Barack Obama Government in the USA encouraged all Canadians who in their majority consistently opposed the collaboration of the Harper Government with the policies of the discredited George W. Bush regime of the USA was a factor in forming the coalition. The Council of Canadians led by Maude Barlow were particularly active and influential in mobilizing Canadian public opinion for a renegotiation of NAFTA and the Security and Prosperity Partnership that imposes restrictions on Canadian sovereignty and independent economic development.
It cannot be forgotten that the coalition idea was denounced and attacked by the Conservative far right and their media minions. Big business interests became alarmed. The threat of a change in government without a set piece election, in which organized labour might actually influence government policy through NDP cabinet ministers, set off alarm bells in the corporate board rooms.
Corporate CEO’s On Bay Street Toronto , at the Petroleum Club in Calgary, in the Desmarais Power Corporation in Montreal, in the Canacord offices and big forest monopolies and among the newly minted Olympic millionaire’s and Howe Street condo developers of Vancouver and the Irving Empire in New Brunswick hit the Blackberries. Can West Global, a far right media empire and its main newspaper the National Post and CTV another private television network lead the counter attack. Mike Duffy, CTV pundit subsequently elevated to the Senate and a cabal of far right radio talk show hosts sprung into action.
Securities regulators all across the country were alarmed as was the Bank of Canada. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney who promoted plans worked out at the G7 and the G20 to use 2% of GDP, funded out of the public treasury to replenish the banks and revive the Toronto Stock exchange and provincial stock exchanges was not pleased.
Wherever the corporate elites met and chattered they sent the same message to the Liberal party establishment; “Settle the leadership issue. Stop any move leftward. Get back to the work of saving the profit system.” Liberal establishment grandee John Manley, and Prime Minister Harper’s intellectual advisors at the University of Calgary began to pour scorn on the coalition proposal and declare it to be “undemocratic.”
Predictably the first act of the new Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff was to betray the coalition and unite with the Harper Conservatives in support of the January 27th budget. Mr. Ignatieff may have realized that to get the nod of big business and become Prime Minister in waiting, he would first have to demonstrate his support for the provisions in the Flaherty budget proposed by the Conservative appointed blue ribbon advisory committee.
The coalition concept is not dead as some have been quick to declare. The Parliamentary form it assumed in the 39th Parliament does not now exist. However, all of the issues and the movements of the people remain and in fact the crisis phenomena that enabled it to be considered are now more acute.
The coalition experiment was useful and is an indication of how events can take a dramatic turn when the conditions for change mature. That is what must now be considered by the responsible left , who must set to work on all of the tasks that will enable a new coalition to be built that will not only defeat the far right but open the path to a new type of progressive government that Canada so desperately needs.
Left Turn Canada!