What options for ecosocialists in Canada’s federal election?

Richard Fidler

[Webpage editor's note: This short article by the author of the blog Life on the Left is part of a discussion in Quebec among socialists and nationalists about the Canadian election. It was submitted to a bulletin associated with the journal Nouveaux Cahiers du Socialisme.]

At stake in this election is the fate of the Harper government, the most reactionary government since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Only two opposition parties can realistically hope to replace the Conservatives: the New Democratic Party and the Liberals. Both are neoliberal, with no substantial programmatic differences.

The Liberals, with a long record of serving Canadian capitalism as the country’s traditional governing party, but sensing the public mood for “change,” are attempting to outflank the NDP on its left — proposing major public infrastructure projects and acknowledging the need for deficit budgets to confront the impending global recession.

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is attempting to prove his party’s reliability to a ruling class still distrustful of the NDP’s historic origins in and surviving links to a section of organized labour, mainly in English Canada. He is stressing his commitment to a balanced budget from the outset, an implicit acknowledgement that an NDP government would not implement major social reforms other than (possibly) its promise of a “national” childcare program.

There are differences between the Liberals and NDP in some other areas. For example, the NDP to its credit has opposed anti-democratic legislation like Bill C-51, which the Liberals supported.

However, beholden to the needs of finance capital, neither party can be trusted to implement any real program of progressive reform, still less challenge the hydrocarbon-based economic model underlying capitalist development in recent decades.

What, then, are the options for ecosocialists in Canada and Quebec?

The Harper government must be defeated. Although neither the NDP nor the Liberals offer a break with neoliberalism, there is a political rationale for calling for an NDP vote, both in Quebec and the ROC.

A Liberal government would simply replace one traditional capitalist party with another. The election of an NDP government, on the other hand, while not a paradigm shift, would disrupt the established order, politically destabilizing it at the level of government holding decisive powers in the Canadian state.

It could open space for popular movements to mobilize and open an improved perspective for exploring and possibly creating a new pan-Canadian left force.

The Bloc Québécois offers a false choice between Quebec independence and the defeat of Harper. The BQ cannot defeat Harper, and independence will be won in Quebec, not Ottawa. The success of the Quebec sovereigntist movement is a precondition to implementing a progressive anticapitalist agenda in Quebec and would pose the possibility of reconfiguring the Canadian state, either without Quebec or in a new, democratic and plurinational federation including not only Quebec but the First Nations.

The power of the Quebec independence movement has already forced the NDP to acknowledge formally Quebec’s right of self-determination, through its Sherbrooke Declaration and its draft bill in the last Parliament that would recognize as legitimate a 50% plus one vote for independence. That alone demarks it from the Liberals on a key fault line in the politics and structure of the Canadian capitalist state. If the NDP is elected to government, the left must hold it to that position.

Further reading:

The NDP, poised for power but to what effect? http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/2013_02_01_archive.html

Political crisis exposes Canada’s national, class divisions http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/2008/12/political-crisis-exposes-canadas.html

The federal NDP’s electoral breakthrough in Quebec: A challenge to progressives in Canada http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/2011/05/federal-ndps-electoral-breakthrough-in.html

Mulcair’s victory: A new direction for the NDP? http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/2012/03/mulcairs-victory-new-direction-for-ndp.html

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See Richard Fidler's summary of the other contributions to this discussion at http://lifeonleft.blogspot.ca/