Will Jagmeet Singh’s campaign in Burnaby South save the NDP?

by Gary Porter

Jagmeet Singh, elected Federal Leader of the NDP on October 1, 2017, will run in the anticipated Burnaby South by-election for a seat in Parliament. This could be a tremendous opportunity for Singh, the NDP and the working class across Canada. The election will focus, in part, on the critical shortage of affordable housing and on the Trans Mountain pipeline extension.

After much hesitation, Singh now opposes the twinning of the Trans Mountain pipeline from Alberta to the Pacific coast through Greater Vancouver. The line would threaten ocean species with the inevitable leakages and spills of heavy, filthy bitumen. Bitumen sinks to the ocean floor; it cannot be cleaned up and leeches out toxins for years.
Singh publicly advocates free universal pharma care, dental care, eye-care and free post-secondary education. Such provisions are already common in the state medicare services of nations much poorer than Canada.

To finance it, Singh says: “One of the massive ways we can afford that is tackling the offshore tax havens that exist. Our current government doesn’t have the will, the conviction or the courage to do anything about it.”

He is correct of course, but the real problem isn’t merely finding where capitalists hide their profits. It is the profit system itself, a system that must be replaced by social ownership and workers’ democratic control.

Singh states that he is not necessarily opposed to government deficits. That is a step past Tom Mulcair’s dogged loyalty to a balanced budget in the 2015 federal election – when the NDP lost over half its seats.

But Singh does not challenge capitalism, nor the imperialist foreign policy that flows from it. He does not mention, let alone advocate socialism. In that respect he is even more timid than Democratic Party loyalist Bernie Sanders in the USA.
Singh, to many, seems more style and less policy. Since the leadership race, party support has fallen. The NDP has had difficulty raising funds and has failed terribly in by-elections. Not a single NDP federal candidate has been elected. Why? It is simply because Singh has advocated modest reforms to a system based on capitalist profit, not human need.

If Singh took a clear stand against the austerity policies of the capitalist parties, if he advocated a policy of building tens of thousands of publicly owned, affordable homes for workers and the poor, if he made a strong defense of workers’ and union rights, and pushed unambiguously to expand medicare to include pharma care and dental care, and campaigned to enact free post secondary education in his first term as Prime Minister, millions of Canadians would listen.

If he mobilized workers and the poor in Canada and demanded much steeper progressive income taxes, including a maximum income above which taxes would be 100%, in addition to shutting down tax shelters and imposing harsh sentences for tax evasion by the rich, millions of would cheer.

It is time for the NDP leadership to break with Canadian imperialism and start fighting for the exploited and oppressed of the world. If Singh began a massive social media campaign to expose the lies of the Israeli state and its imperialist allies in Ottawa and Washington, if he explained clearly why he supported the rights of Palestinians against apartheid Israel and stood up for the people of Venezuela and Syria under attack, millions would begin to grasp the nature of Canadian imperialism.
If he advocated getting Canada out of NATO, and ending the sale of arms to the Saudis and the Israeli state and to the Ukrainian far-right government he could distinguish himself indelibly from Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.

To be credible on the environment, he must distance himself from British Columbia NDP Premier John Horgan on the massive Site C power dam. It is being built to support a fracking industry. Singh should advocate nationalization of the oil and gas business in order to wind it down and to build in its place a massive, publicly-owned green energy industry.

He has said little in defense of workers in Canada, the United States and Mexico as the ruling classes heat up their trade war. When he has spoken, it has been to support the interests of Canadian capitalists in the fight with American capitalists. The NDP should be defending the interests of workers across the continent.

He has said virtually nothing in defense of workers and the poor in Ontario faced with the barrage of cutbacks and attacks on their living standards by the savagely right-wing Doug Ford provincial Tory government.

Burnaby South is currently an NDP seat. It is the scene of one of the major environment battles in Canada. It is a seat with many resident unionized workers. The NDP will not get a better chance to prove its worth.

Now is the time for Singh and the party leadership to face up to reality. Their utter failure to deal with most of the real problems facing workers and the poor in Canada is leading to a stunning, demoralizing decline in party fortunes.

This is a golden opportunity to take up the Socialist Caucus program and move sharply to the left. Now is the time for rank and file NDP members to demand a sharp left turn. In Burnaby, Vote NDP, and fight for a socialist policies.