Friday January 11, 2008 will go down as the day Prime Minister Harper was forced to meet with 13 First Ministers in a long overdue meeting where action to halt job loss in the manufacturing and forestry sectors will finally get a hearing. Harper has been evading the meeting for two years. It takes place after 250,000 manufacturing workers and 6000 forestry workers have lost their jobs and whole communities are reeling from the impact.
The anger of the people in those communities expressed in street demonstrations in Windsor last June and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) campaign, “Manufacturing Matters” and hundreds of complaints and resolutions from union locals, mayors and communities has forced Harper to take notice. Federal MP’s are also feeling the heat. One Bloc, 26 NDP and 44 Liberals have endorsed the CAW Manufacturing Matters Campaign. Ken Georgetti President of the 3.4 million Canadian Labour Congress (CLC-CTC) issued a statement calling for a National Task Force to address job loss in manufacturing before Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s budget expected when Parliament reconvenes Monday January 28th.
Premier Dalton McGuinty of Ontario and Premier Jean Charest of Quebec representing provinces hard hit by job loss have been lobbied by labour and manufacturing and resource communities to stiffen their demands on Harper. The Premiers of Canada’s largest provinces gave faint praise to the Prime Minister’s announcement of a $1.15 billion one time aid package that provincial governments can draw on to help municipalities heavily reliant on one industry contingent on Parliamentary approval of a new Flaherty budget. The Premier’s are demanding an immediate session of Parliament to approve the outlay and not allow Harper to link it to the Conservative Party’s re-election plans.

The plan is reminiscent of the Martin Liberal 2005 multi-million Softwood Industry Community Economic Adjustment Initiative (SICEAI) in response to the Bush Administrations US soft wood lumber attack on the Canadian forestry sector that went in the final analysis 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 in job loss.

McGuinty and Charest are also under pressure from the Canadian Manufacturing Exporters (CME) that in addition to tax concessions demands support for research and development and accelerated depreciation allowance for new equipment and in particular relief from high energy costs. McGuinty also demanded that the Prime Minister change the federal Employment Insurance program, which requires that Ontarians work longer to qualify for benefits than Canadians in other provinces. McGuinty charged that the average benefit paid in Ontario last year was almost $4,000 less than the average benefit paid to residents of other provinces.

Jack Layton of the NDP in an open letter to Harper said on January 9th. that some sectors particularly oil and gas producers (our italics DC) have benefited while many Canadian communities are being left further behind and are not benefiting from this new found prosperity. Layton said that good quality long-term jobs that support working families were being replaced with lower-paying jobs with less security and fewer benefits. He also charged that federal governments had made it more difficult for workers to qualify for employment insurance.
Layton charged, “Many of the challenges stem from the sharp and accelerated rise in the value of the Canadian dollar, driven in large part by the unsustainable boom in the oil and gas sector. (our italics DC) Recent federal actions, like the October mini-budget’s corporate tax breaks, have exacerbated this situation by further stimulating the profitable oil and gas sector (our italics DC) (and, in turn, the value of the dollar), while struggling companies in the manufacturing and forestry sectors see no benefit. This reckless and short-sighted approach to corporate tax cutting must end.”

And what of the Communist Party of Canada (CPC) in the light of these developments in the fight back by organized labour against the Harper Government? CPC leader Miguel Figueroa described Canadian organized labour to an international gathering of Communist Parties as, “…afraid to struggle and therefore refuse to mobilize the workers and other people’s forces and lead them into battle against this business/state offensive.”
One thing those of us who track such utterances are getting used to is Comrade Figueroa’s propensity for overstatement. The Communist leader might want to reflect on the CPC response to the imbalances occurring in the Canadian economy and in particular the destabilizing affect of massive energy exports to the USA while eastern Canadian manufacturing is hurt by high energy prices.
Reporting to the Party’s CC meeting last December 9-10, Figueroa opined, “…the phenomenal growth of the energy sector in western Canada will have “a highly significant long term impact” on the regions affected, the economy and the country, and on the natural environment.” This subject will be the focus of a special report for the next CC meeting likely in the spring of 2008. (our italics DC) What next, a CC meeting in the fall to discuss the significance of long term impact of the earth is round?

Comrade Figueroa failed to utter a single self-critical remark of his leadership’s failure to keep apace with the impact of energy developments on the lives of Canadian workers nor his party’s failure to include one word in the Main Resolution of the Party’s 35th Central Convention in February 2006 about the biggest economic development of the decade, the dominant role of the energy sector on the Canadian economy and the fact that the Harper Government is the Government of big oil in Canada. The CPC will discuss next spring what the whole country and in particular the labour movement of western Canada has been discussing for ten years. This incredible omission in the Communist analysis of Canadian economic reality is why CPC labour experts stand on the sidelines of events, along with the hyper-left and right wing social democracy sniping at the Magna/CAW agreement when the whole country is beginning to confront the Harper Government’s foreign policy of war and domestic policy of energy sellout.
If the Communists want to avoid ridicule and worse outright irrelevance they will dissociate themselves from the hyper-left and right wing social democrats and get back to the real class struggle and hard work of strengthening the fight back of organized labour to prevent finance capital from imposing the affects of a gathering economic downturn on the working people of Canada.
That requires working for a centre-left alliance, led by labour and a sharp turn to the left by all of the democratic forces of the country. That is best done by not only articulating but campaigning for an economic program for the country that includes proposals to defend the working people from the affects of falling purchasing power resulting from rising energy and housing and transportation costs and job loss.
The Communist Party needs to restudy its own history and the vision it held out for nine decades to all Canadians of the benefits of an independent economic program of development based on the nationalization and public ownership of our rich natural resources, putting monopoly under control and confronting the sell out of the country to domestic and foreign capital.
That is where the Communists need to be putting their energies as the working class confronts another federal election.