Layton’s hypocrisy undermines NDP

Fear that a Fall Canadian federal election would decimate the ranks of New Democratic Party MPs drove Leader Jack Layton to a self-inflicted act of desperation – voting for a rotten Tory budget.

Months of failing to advance socialist policies to meet human needs and differentiate the NDP made Layton’s parliamentary caucus more vulnerable to a tactical shift by the Liberal Party. On September 18, Michael Ignatieff had his Liberal MPs vote non-confidence in the Conservative minority government of Stephen Harper. But it would take a vote by all three opposition parties in the House of Commons (Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecois) to defeat the government and force an election. Worried that NDP support would bleed towards the Liberals, and that voters would punish the NDP for precipitating a fourth federal election in only five and a half years, Layton and company opted to prop up the more rightist Tories.

According to opinion polls, 60 per cent of Canadians don’t want an election now. Many want employment insurance reform and the $6 Billion home renovation tax credit in the budget Harper tabled.

But 40 per cent do want a federal vote to dump the labour-hating, Tar Sands-loving, war mongering Tories. That segment of the electorate is much more likely to consider supporting the NDP than the anti-election crowd – provided the party gives them some good reasons to do so.

By selling out so cheaply (that is, for E.I. changes that won’t help most of the 1.5 million unemployed), and by propping up the Conservatives just to avoid an election, Layton comes off pretty badly. He looks like a hypocrite and alienates the NDP base (of 2.5 million voters) at one stroke.

The labour-linked NDP, the left and the workers’ movement as a whole are squandering a golden opportunity to put capitalism on trial, and to seize upon the global capitalist crisis as a tailor-made platform to fight for public ownership and green energy conversion through workers’ and community control of industry.

If Jack Layton isn’t up to the task, which was evident at the federal NDP convention in Halifax in August, he should step aside. The sooner, the better. -Barry Weisleder

Toronto Labour must replace Miller

The mayor of Canada’s biggest city, David Miller, betrayed labour, disappointed his business allies, and was so low in the polls that he announced on September 25 that he will not seek a third term in office. Although the next Toronto municipal election is more than a year away (November 10, 2010), the mega-city’s corporate elite has been busy auditioning potential candidates for the mayor’s chair.

The labour movement should get busy too. It’s time to replace Miller and find standard bearers who will fight for a Workers’ Agenda, rather than fight workers.

Miller began his electoral career as a labour-based, New Democratic Party-backed councillor for the west-end ward of High Park in 1994. Before his successful run for Toronto mayor in 2006 he hooked up with Liberal Party fund-raisers, got Conservative Party strategist John Laschinger to run his campaign, and subsequently let his NDP membership lapse.

Miller’s policies were implemented by an informal Liberal-NDP alliance that controlled the 44-member Toronto city council. Those policies included corporate subsidies, tax incentives and/or deferrals for costly environmental clean-ups, and tax rebates and minimal property taxes for major commercial developers. At the same time, City Hall imposed steeply rising taxes, rents and fees for small homeowners and tenants, and serious cuts to services like street cleaning, snow removal, public access to swimming pools, arenas, community centers and libraries. Welcome anti-corruption reforms were coupled with an economic assault against the majority of residents that still left the city short of operating funds.

The class collaborationist coalition hit a big bump in the road when city hall bosses tried to squeeze the wages, benefits and work place rights of Toronto civic workers. One hundred and twenty pages of management take-away demands precipitated a 39-day strike by 30,000 inside and outside employees, members of Canadian Union of Public Employees Locals 79 and 416, in June and July.

The workers won a partial victory by resisting most concession demands and making modest gains. (See SA, page 10, August 2009.) Then Toronto and York Region Labour Council served Miller and several other city politicians their just desserts by telling them they were not welcome at the 27,000-strong Toronto Labour Day Parade, September 7.

Meanwhile, some of Miller’s Liberal backers, including lawyer/bagman Ralph Lean, and fund-raising co-chair John Ronson, jumped ship. Prominent bourgeois politicians, led by Ontario’s Liberal Deputy Premier George Smitherman, former Ontario Conservative leader John Tory, and several right wing city councillors are testing the water for a mayoral run. The class forces they represent resent Miller for not punishing city workers enough, and for not privatizing services. In the game of municipal musical chairs, the ex-NDP sell-out realized that he would have no where to sit.

Labour Council should learn the bitter lesson from backing a gaggle of Liberals and NDPers in 2006 who went on to legislate in favour of rich developers, bankers and businessmen, at the expense of working people. It’s time to assemble a team of NDP and Labour activists who will fight for a socialist City Hall in 2010.

To make that team accountable, the NDP should convene a Toronto NDP municipal convention, open to all Toronto members. It should debate policies, adopt a programme and determine a method for the selection of candidates for all municipal offices – and find a way to hold them all accountable to that programme. This is how the NDP functioned officially in Toronto up to the 1970s, before a wave of liberal opportunism and populist reform sidelined open and honest labour party politics at the local level. Hard times demand that labour and the NDP head back to the future. -Barry Weisleder

Family says soldier’s death in Afghanistan “useless”

For once, the corporate media felt compelled to feature an opinion critical of the Canadian military intervention in Afghanistan. It is a view shared by over 60 per cent of the population, but it took the expressed grief of a slain soldier’s family to get it reported.

Jonathan Couturier, a 23-year-old private in the Canadian Forces, in mid-September became the 131st fatality of the Canadian intervention. As his body was being flown back to his home in Montreal (in Quebec, where opposition to the war is over 80 per cent), his brother and sister-in-law lambasted the mission.

“That war over there, he found it a bit useless – that they were wasting their time over there,” Nicolas Couturier told the Quebec City-based daily Le Soleil.

His wife agreed: “(Jonathan) didn’t want to know anything about going there,” said Valerie Boucher. “He didn’t want to talk about it, he stayed positive, but at some moments he said he was fed up.”

Military booster, retired Maj.-Gen. Lewis Mackenzie downplayed the family’s reaction; he insultingly portrayed it as marginal. But Bloc Quebecois defence critic Claude Bachand endorsed the comments of the soldier’s family.

The fact that such poignant criticism of the intervention is prominently reported, even though impugned by militarists, reflects the wavering resolve of Canada’s ruling business and media elite for the failed imperialist occupation of Afghanistan. -Barry Weisleder

Big Canadian banks set for buying spree

While the average person is coping with lost income, a vanishing pension, shrinking benefits, inaccessible unemployment insurance and double-digit joblessness, the Big Five Canadian banks are flush with capital, thank you very much.

And you know what? They’re preparing to go on an international shopping spree.

Canadian bank executives dropped strong hints in mid-September that, having weathered the global financial crisis, they are ready to make some “once in decades” acquisitions – especially in the United States, where more than 90 U.S. banks have been closed so far this year.

Gordon Nixon, chief executive of Royal Bank of Canada, told a bankers’ summit “Over the next few years, there will be significant aquisition opportunities in wealth and asset management.” The RBC has businesses in the U.S. and Caribbean, and global custody and investor services through 50 per cent ownership in RBC Dexia Investor Services.

Scotiabank has operations in about 50 countries, including the U.S., Caribbean and Central America, Europe, Middle East and Asia, with 5.5 million customers, 1,500 branches and 2,660 ABMs. It is eyeing expansion in Chile, Japan and Mexio.

Toronto-Dominion Bank has 1,100 retail locations from Maine to Florida, wholesale bank offices in the U.S., Mexico, U.K., Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and South Korea. Brokerage TD Waterhouse also operates in the U.K.

Bank of Montreal owns Harris Bank, a major U.S. Midwest financial services organization with a network of banks in the Chicago area. It also operates across the U.S. with BMO Capital Markets, its investment banking division. BMO highlighted buying troubled consumer banks to bolster its Midwest footprint.

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce is in 17 regional markets in the Caribbean through First Caribbean International Bank. CIBC’s wholesale banking division also operates worldwide.

The Big Five apparently didn’t need a government bail-out, but just in case, the feds did initiate a programme to aid them. Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in October said Ottawa would spend up to C$25 billion (US$19.6 billion) to buy mortgages from banks in an effort to keep them lending to homeowners. The size of the program has been increased twice, most recently to C$125 billion.

Workers’ tax money funded aid to banks, auto, forestry and other corporate giants. But we are still waiting to see the public works and job creation spending promised by the federal government last Fall and Winter. -Barry Weisleder

Economic crisis harms health

Health, as well as wealth, is taking a beating in the current economic crisis. A Canadian Medical Association survey, reported on August 17, shows that while 57 per cent of Canadians are worried about their financial security, nearly an equal number, 52 per cent, worried about their health.

The poll found many Canadians, especially those in lower income brackets, are cutting corners on health spending to make ends meet.

Specifically: 32 per cent said they are spending less money on food; 25 per cent said they cancelled or delayed a dental appointment; 23 per cent reported sleeping less than normal due to financial anxiety; 22 per cent said they had cut recreation or sporting activities to pinch pennies; 16 per cent admitted to skipping meals; 14 per cent said they had delayed or stopped buying their prescription medications for lack of funds; ten per cent indicated they cancelled or delayed a doctor’s appointment.

In every example, the less household income, the less education a person has, the harder hit s/he appears to be. For example, 28 per cent of those with annual income under $30,000 said they had skipped meals, compared to 8 per cent of those with family income above $90,000.

The poll, exposing the links between the economic depression and health, was conducted by Ipsos- Reid, which surveyed 3,223 adults online between June 25 and July 11.

While the Canadian Medicare system covers all citizens and permanent residents, it does not include prescription drugs, dental procedures, visual or hearing aids, and a growing list of treatments and services. Clearly, now is the time to expand medicare, not starve it through inadequate funding and cuts that promote the not-so-hidden corporate/capitalist government agenda of privatization. – Barry Weisleder

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