Below is a copy of “Concessions No More! Fight to Defeat Austerity”, a collection of talks presented at Socialism 2013, the annual international educational conference hosted by Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste, held May 10-12, 2013 at the University of Toronto.
“We definitely need higher taxes on the rich,” she said. “First of all, we need the revenue to do what we want to do and, second of all, we need a better distribution of income in the country. We’ve developed too big a gap between the rich and the poor.”
McQuaig co-authored a book with Neil Brooks, “The Trouble with Billionaires,” calling for steep marginal tax rate increases of 60 per cent for the rich — those earning above $500,000 a year — and 70 per cent for the super-rich — those earning $2.5 million a year — in order to address income inequality in Canada. The problem right now, McQuaig said, is that the top marginal rate kicks in at about $135,000 at the federal level but stays flat after that.
“So, whether you are earning $135,000 or $1.5 million or $3 million, you pay the same top marginal tax rate,” she said.
McQuaig rejects the claim that advocating higher taxes on the rich is political suicide for a party. She says right-wing arguments against tax increases — that the rich will flee and the use of tax havens would increase — have not proved true, and have only limited the capacity of the state to provide public services.
But Mulcair has categorically ruled out taxing the very rich.
“If you look at the combined federal and provincial rate in several provinces, it’s over 50 per cent,” Mulcair said. “With regards to personal income taxes, it’s not on the table to increase them. That is a consistently held position.”
Harper used prorogation in 2007, but subsequent moves to prorogue in 2008 and 2010 drew the most fire. In 2008, Harper’s minority government used the tactic to prevent the combined opposition from removing him and forming a coalition government. He prorogued again in 2010 in the midst of a controversy over the Canadian Force’s mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan, and just prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics hosted by Vancouver.
Before the summer break this year, Harper faced daily criticism in the House of Commons over the ongoing scandal involving the expenses of senators, including three Conservatives he had appointed.
Opposition Leader Tom Mulcair accused Harper of shutting down Parliament to evade accountability and to avoid questions on the Senate.
“People aren’t going to be fooled. This is clearly a desperate government worn out by ethical scandals and mismanagement. Stephen Harper refuses to answer legitimate questions from the public,” the NDP leader said.
Senate reform legislation is just one of several bills that will die on the order paper with prorogation. The government is awaiting a Supreme Court opinion on Senate reform that could come in Fall 2013. The NDP is presently conducting a commendable cross-country campaign to abolish the Senate.
Prorogation would not affect the Auditor General’s review of Senate expenses. However, the recommendations of a Senate report concerning Senator Pamela Wallin’s expense claims would be on hold until they are adopted by the full Senate. That can’t happen while Parliament is prorogued.
Other affected legislation includes changes to the Canada Elections Act to establish new rules for political loans, and a bill to change parole rules for offenders found not criminally responsible for their actions.
However, these bills can be reintroduced at their most recent stage in the House of Commons.
A private member’s bill that would require labour unions to publish detailed financial information, known as Bill C-377, would be restored to third reading, the last stage completed by the House of Commons.
The bill, strongly opposed by the Canadian Labour Congress and its union affiliates, had been the subject of heated debate in the Senate, where it was amended and sent back to the House of Commons. But prorogation would wipe the slate clean as far as the Senate deliberations are concerned, according to the Library of Parliament.
“Thus, the bill would be sent back to the Senate in the same state it had been when it was passed at third reading by the House in December 2012, prior to the Senate amendment,” the library said in an email to The Canadian Press.
“The Senate would then begin the process of considering the bill anew; the Senate may vote to pass the bill unamended, amend the bill in precisely the same way it had been amended before, or introduce entirely new amendments.”
Harper’s frequent use of prorogation does more than add an arcane word to everyday political jargon; it shrinks and withers bourgeois democracy so its henchmen can serve more ruthlessly the capitalist austerity agenda. This is what some call the new authoritarianism – replete with increasing state surveillance of the population, curtailment of the right to strike, arbitrary police beatings and detentions, expulsion of refugees, and strident promotion of the military. It must be stopped – not just the P word, not just Harper, but the system that drives this descent into a living hell for working people.
– BW, with notes compiled from Wikipedia.
The obvious lesson from the May 27 British Columbia provincial election is ‘don’t trust opinion polls’. But what can we learn from the NDP campaign, besides the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs is not the only team capable of blowing a huge lead late in the game? *
Consider the observation of Tara Ehrcke, president of the Victoria Teachers’ Association (affiliate of the B.C. Teachers’ Federation). “My greatest disappointment about this election was not the outcome, but the fact that not a single party stood up and spoke out for a radical re-evaluation of the massive inequity in our society. No political party really spoke to the need to tax the wealthy and to reinvest that money in services that benefit everyone, collectively. Like every election in my adult memory (back to the Premier Bill Vander Zalm days of the eighties), the debate was between a neo-liberal party of the right, and an NDP trying to be a Blairite party of the centre who speaks left to a left audience, right to a right audience, and promises nothing to anyone for fear someone might not like it.”
Reporter Justine Hunter wrote in the May 16 Globe and Mail (BC Edition): “Over his two years as leader, Mr. Dix developed an agenda that was designed not to spook voters. The slogan was change, “one practical step at a time.” He courted the business community with the promise that he would not try to move too fast.
“It was a bad campaign,” said Innovative Research pollster Greg Lyle, a former Liberal campaign manager. The New Democrats were offering incremental change that was hard for voters to get excited about, he said. “He could have built a movement for a compassionate revolution.” Instead, he mounted a defensive campaign aimed at holding a perceived lead in the polls.
“It was a fundamental error, believing that their vote was solid.”
Thomas Walkom, Toronto Star columnist, put it best on May 16. He wrote:
“British Columbia’s election was many things….it was also a test run for the new, moderate, incrementalist NDP — the NDP that, in its federal form, Jack Layton refashioned and Tom Mulcair inherited. Indeed, three members of Layton’s brain trust — Brian Topp, Brad Lavigne and Anne McGrath — held key positions in the campaign.
“So the fact that this new, moderate NDP managed to lose badly in B.C. — in spite of its early and overwhelming lead in the polls, in spite of voter fatigue with Clark’s Liberals — casts a long shadow.
“The NDP was determined to portray itself as bland. Dix may have been Glen Clark’s chief of staff during the tumultuous ’90s. But his campaign motto this time was minimalist: “one practical step at a time.”
“His promises — such as one to ensure that nursing home residents receive two rather than just one bath a week — were underwhelming. It was at its core a strangely defensive campaign, as if the NDP were saying to voters: “We know you’re sick of the Liberals and wary of us. But don’t be frightened. You can vote for us without fear of our doing much.”
“To that end, Dix presented himself in his stump speeches as softspoken, amiable and cautious. His message was: under the NDP, things will change but marginally. The strategy didn’t work.
“First, the NDP can’t escape its own past. By any reasonable standard, it ceased to be a socialist party long ago. But no matter how many times it tries to purge its constitution of anti-capitalist language, a good many voters still view it as a party of the left.
“Christy Clark’s Liberals seized on this… My guess is that the New Democrats nationally will run into the same problem during the 2015 federal election campaign. It will be difficult to convince those who mistrust left-wing parties that the new, moderate NDP has changed its spots.
“Second, by focusing on incrementalism, Dix gave B.C. voters few positive reasons to vote NDP. The centrepiece of the party platform was the worthy issue of skills training. But Clark’s Liberals offered education goodies, too.
“Andrea Horwath’s Ontario New Democrats, who prefer equally bite-size pieces of practical policy to broad vision might want to reflect on Dix’s failure here.”
That brings us to the budget of the Ontario Liberal minority government, which Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath decided to support in the third week of May.
Let’s be clear. Premier Kathryn Wynne’s budget is a capitalist austerity budget. There is a 1% cap in annual programme spending; a 3% allowable annual rise in tuition fees; zero growth in hospital base funding; 2% growth in annual health care spending; $100 increase in the monthly Ontario Child Benefit (instead of the $200 promised in the Liberal poverty reduction plan), and income testing of seniors’ drug costs. A 1% hike in social assistance rates; 0% increase in the minimum wage. And, of course, all of this is built on a 2 year wage freeze across the public service, and on the imposition of unjust terms and conditions forced on Ontario education workers, including suspension of collective bargaining and the right to strike. A working class party that supports such an agenda ends up paying a big political price. Just ask Bob Rae.
For what they’re worth, the latest opinion polls, following NDP endorsement of the buget, show the Liberals up, and the NDP dropping into third place, well behind the Tories. The NDP Socialist Caucus slogan sums it up best: To survive, the NDP must turn left.
* If the judicial recount confirms the NDP win in Coquitlam-Maillardville, the B.C. Liberals will end up with 49 seats in the legislature, the NDP 34, and the Greens and independent Vicki Huntington one each.
The result would be almost identical to 2009, when the B.C. Liberals won 49 seats, the NDP 35, and Huntington won in Delta South. The final popular vote breakdown was: B.C. Liberals 44.14 per cent; NDP 39.71 per cent; Greens 8.13 per cent and Conservatives 4.76 per cent.
By BARRY WEISLEDER
MONTREAL—Despite the move to water down the reference to socialism in the Federal New Democratic Party Constitution, the word remains, as does the working-class nature of the party. Indeed, socialism is still both a very lively topic and an active movement within the NDP.
The party leadership certainly pushed hard to limit debate and to re-shape the party in its own image. But socialists had a higher profile at the NDP convention in Montreal, April 12-14, than in recent years.
To be sure, the convention was a kind of love-in for NDP chief and Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Tom Mulcair. The appetite for the perks of government office fueled a wave of opportunism and attracted an array of party boosters and young career-seekers.
It was the biggest-ever NDP federal convention. Over 2000 delegates registered. Typically, about 1200 were on the convention floor to vote on motions. Despite media hype about the inevitability of the NDP choosing to “moderate” its message, and the high cost of a delegate’s credential (up to $400), it was surprising to see the extent of the support for the radical left.
Twenty-eight per cent of the delegates present for the election of NDP Treasurer voted for Socialist Caucus candidate John Orrett. Sixteen per cent voted to retain the constitution preamble, with its call for social ownership of the economy, with its insistence that “production and distribution of goods and services be directed to meeting social and individual needs” and “not to the making of profit.”
The Socialist Caucus received massive mainstream media coverage for its initiatives and policies. SC spokespersons were frequently interviewed by CBC, Global, CTV, CPAC, Sun Media, Huffington Post, La Presse, Toronto Star, National Post, Globe and Mail, Rabble.ca and others.
SC floor interventions, firstly to amend the convention agenda in favour of providing more time for policy debate, and later, to alter a resolution on ‘pipeline safety’ to include opposition to any new pipeline construction, failed to get much traction. But another SC referral motion produced a high point for the left.
Etobicoke Centre youth delegate and Youth for Socialist Action chairperson Tyler MacKinnon argued for a party campaign to abolish all post-secondary tuition fees. He called for solidarity with movements demanding an end to fees and a halt to the police repression they faced in the streets of Quebec in 2012. Tyler’s motion carried, but only after a delegate demanded a “standing count,” which showed over 60 per cent in favour. While the referred (amended) resolution did not come back to the floor for approval, the vote registered a stinging rebuke of the party establishment.
Delegates and observers showed a keen interest in socialist ideas. They snapped up over 1100 copies of the glossy, full-colour SC magazine Turn Left, and donated over $200 to support it. They spent another $200 on individual copies of Socialist Action newspaper, as well as associated radical buttons and booklets.
A bright orange banner proved to be a lightening rod for protest against the pro-capitalist party tops. The Socialist Caucus displayed a wide cloth antiwar slogan on the concourse Saturday morning, and again at lunchtime. It galvanized opposition to the appearance of invited guest speaker Jeremy Bird, National Field Director for the U.S. Democratic Party, who headed President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012.
The banner proclaimed, in English and French, “Stop Obama’s Drone Wars.” Scores of supporters, notably South Asian and visible minority delegates, defended it in the face of persistent efforts by officials to remove it. SC comrades and other delegates held their ground against threats of all kinds, including that security personnel and police would be asked to intervene. The three-hour standoff backfired on the party brass, who were seen as petty control freaks by the bemused national media.
It wasn’t the only example of undemocratic measures deployed by party controllers. They allowed no display booths on site, except for the social democratic Broadbent Institute, and a group of party authors promoting a book. Participants witnessed the stacking of the Persons With Disabilities Caucus, one of many equity-seeking group meetings, with non-disabled voters who arrived just moments prior to its election of reps to the federal party executive and council. Was this just to defeat an SC candidate?
A top party bureaucrat temporarily “lifted” this writer’s delegate credential for being one of dozens booing Jeremy Bird when the latter was introduced on stage. National Director Nathan Rotman reversed himself when MP Niki Ashton, who had addressed the SC forum on Friday evening, protested his punitive move, and after the mass media got hold of the issue. Rotman did not apologize for exceeding his authority, so more nonsense in this vein can be expected.
Most of the resolutions adopted at convention were strictly non-controversial. Indeed, many passed unanimously. These included: putting a halt to tax havens, promoting farm commodity supply management, reversing cuts to employment insurance, enshrining a pro-active pay equity regime in law, and providing more predictable funding for VIA Rail.
SC resolutions (on pipelines, corporate trade deals, Iran, Palestine, public ownership of banks and industry, Quebec self-determination, etc.), some submitted by multiple district associations, were ranked so low they would not be debated. Even the issue re-prioritization panels on the Friday morning were stacked deep by pro-establishment delegates.
Tellingly, a resolution on the rights of sex workers, submitted by a Vancouver district body, made it to the floor, but was referred to federal council for more study by MP Libby Davies, ostensibly to avoid “a divisive debate,” a move that disgusted many progressive activists.
The Socialist Caucus held three public forums at the Convention Centre during meal breaks. The topics were “Quebec and the NDP, and Why Quebec Students are in the streets again,” “The Fight to keep Socialism in the NDP Constitution,” and “Canadian Military intervention in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean—Where does the NDP stand?” The meetings attracted 30 to 70 delegates. Thirty-six people signed up to join the socialists at the convention. A similar number applied to join the leftist caucus via the internet.
With a general election expected in 2015, delegates gave Mulcair a 92 per cent approval vote. The 8 per cent who nonetheless voted for a leadership review can be considered the hardcore base of the SC, with support for the organized left reaching 20 to 30 per cent for certain initiatives and candidates. This is not inconsiderable, if projected across an NDP membership of 120,000 countrywide.
Overall, the NDP continues on its liberal policy course. Justin Trudeau, who was crowned Liberal Party Leader in Ottawa that same weekend, mocked the direction of the NDP towards his own Bay Street-backed party when he referred to it as a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”
To be sure, the new pro-market preamble is a setback to labour and the left. But the NDP, which was never socialist, has not changed its stripes. It remains a labour-based reformist party to which millions of workers look—still the only game in town for independent working-class electoral/political action. And within that game, socialism is very much a player, looking for reinforcements from the social protest movements and from the leftist political sidelines.
Opposing the attack on Socialism in the NDP
The floor debate on the amendment to the NDP Constitution was terminated on Sunday morning after only four speakers, two pro and two con. This farcical exercise meant that most of the arguments against the change were not heard, including the following one:
The amendment must be rejected for three reasons. It is undemocratic. It is unprincipled. And it obscures our roots.
Nearly two years ago, in Vancouver, where convention delegates spurned the attempt to remove socialism, party officials promised extensive consultation and debate. What happened? Nine days before convention this amendment was foisted upon us. Apparently, the consultations did not extend beyond the backrooms.
Principles belong in a constitution. But it’s hard to find any principles in this text. Oh, it says we are for “a society that shares its benefits more fairly”. It says we “believe in freedom and democracy”. Could it be any more vague? Is this the party of Tommy Douglas or Justin Trudeau?
The new text doesn’t talk about the real world. It doesn’t mention the widening gap between the super-rich and the 99%. It doesn’t relate to a world still reeling from economic depression, at risk of environmental disaster, and on the brink of nuclear war.
The amendment offers platitudes in place of solutions. It calls for “a rules based economy.” But what about the rule of big business? What about empowering the majority to run the economy so that production can be democratically planned to serve human need rather than private greed?
The closest this feeble statement comes to proposing a strategy is its promise “to address the limitations of the market.”
Well, sisters and brothers, I ask you this. When Barrick Gold poisons the lands of indigenous peoples in Canada or Peru, is that just a limitation of the market? When luxury condo towers crowd the waterfront while thousands are homeless, is that just a market glitch? When Big Pharma robs medicare, when RBC outsources work to depress wages, when the right to strike exists—except when workers try to use it, is that just a market error? When banksters and bosses stash their cash, and replace factories with casinos, is that just a flaw in an otherwise benevolent system? Or do all those things, in fact, reveal the very essence of capitalism?
One of the most popular NDP MPPs ever, Peter Kormos, never shied away from naming the enemy, and he never hesitated to call himself a socialist. The same was true for Dan and Alice Heap. Svend Robinson famously called capitalism a rabid dog that should be put down. Tommy Douglas said our goal is “public ownership and development of our basic resources in the interest of all.”
New Democrats want a constitution that has goals that inspire us to rise above ourselves. The motion before us is a sham. Let’s defeat it. Let’s keep the principle of social ownership at the heart of the NDP.
An attempt to amend the Convention Agenda in favour of more time for policy debate, not for a pro-war regime
Sisters and brothers, from across this huge country we have come to set a course for the NDP, to discuss and adopt policies in the interests of working people, and to continue the struggle for social justice. Sadly, less than half of the plenary time of convention is devoted to policy debate by our grassroots delegates.
It would be a shame to squander precious convention time by hosting an election strategist for the American political party responsible for delivering trillions of dollars to Wall Street and the Pentagon, and filling America’s jails with Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims.
Party officials made this mistake in Halifax in 2009, and they’ve done it again. It is an insult to the founders of the party, and to all of its activists, to import and feature an apologist for the pro-war, pro-corporate bailout Obama administration in Washington.
Saying Mit Romney was worse than Obama does not make Obama a friend of the working class or oppressed minorities. Obama’s “gift” to workers and the poor is austerity, and an “economic draft” that perpetuates U.S. military occupation and drone wars around the world. In 2000, the Pentagon had less than 50 drones. In 2010 that number was 7500—an increase of 15,000 per cent.
We don’t need Jeremy Bird, Obama’s National Field Director and re-election strategist, to lecture NDPers on the virtues of the American bi-partisan political system. If delegates want to hear Bird, they can tweet him.
The NDP and labour are not here to take instruction from the political hacks of the White House. But we do have some good advice for our American sisters and brothers, for our dear American fellow workers. Follow the example of the NDP. Form an independent political party based on your unions. Break with the Democratic Party, the graveyard of every progressive social movement since the days of Lincoln.
Fight for a Workers’ Agenda. Join us in the effort to put an end to capitalist recession, to wars and environmental destruction. Together, let’s create a global cooperative commonwealth.