After Harper: confronting the Liberals

David Bush and Doug Nesbitt

So there we have it. Harper is gone. The Liberals surged from third place to win in this marathon election. The NDP, which was leading in the polls in August, slowly lost steam after they promised to prioritize balancing the budget and refusing to tax the rich. Ever the opportunists, the Liberals seized on this opening and ran a campaign that rode of a wave popular discontent with the Harper government, drilled home the message that they would tax the rich and spend money on infrastructure to pull the economy out of recession.

The Harper agenda has been dealt a severe blow this election. There is no question a majority of Canadians expressed their desire for change. But the election campaign and Liberal majority victory has proven pretty hopeless at clarifying what sort of change is needed. The airwaves are full of shallow analysis and shiny sales pitches. The media has been complicit in this ugly affair, rarely probing promises or pushing the parties, and generally letting the Tory and Liberal spin machines set the agenda. And while the election saw the Tories thrown out, so were a lot of good NDP MPs who expressed the interests of labour and the social movements in parliament. This election has been a damning indictment of the pro-Liberal logic of “strategic voting”, and the cautious centrism of the NDP’s campaign.

The NDP and Green Party had some political interventions of note from the leadership, but their national campaigns did not break the typical public relations approach to politics that was more about selling a product than channeling a widespread anti-austerity, stick-it-to-the-rich mood – like what has happened around Corbyn in the UK and Sanders in the United States. This is a major reason why the NDP has been unable to displace the Liberals as a vision for change.

We need to take a breath now that Harper is out of office, and commit to building a political project based in the labour movement and wider social movements that can throw its weight around against governments, corporations and the 1%. Rooted in unions, activist and research organizations, independent media, and issue-based activist campaigns, we have to organize and persuade with a patient, long-term approach.