NDP breakthrough in Nova Scotia

Since the Atlantic coast province of Nova Scotia joined Canadian Confederation in 1867 only the Liberal and Progressive Conservative parties have held the reigns of government there. That changed on election night June 9 when the labour-based New Democratic Party emerged with 31 of 52 seats on the strength of 45.3 per cent of the votes cast.

Voters reduced the PC’s to 10 seats. The Liberals, with 11 seats, form the official Opposition. The turnout was at a record low of 58.8 per cent.

The first-ever NDP Premier in Atlantic Canada, Darrel Dexter, a lawyer and former journalist, pledged to balance the budget, despite the global economic crisis. He also promised action on rising gas prices, health-care wait times and emergency room closings.

Under Dexter, the party won 15 seats in 2003, and 20 seats in 2006. Prior to 1998, the NDP was mired in a distant third place.

The self-serving lesson NDP officials want everyone to draw from the breakthrough in Nova Scotia (population 940,000 in 2005) is that conservative, ‘good government’ promises and dogged electoral perseverance bring victory.

The truth is that working people in Nova Scotia, and across Canada, are looking for something better. Otherwise, they would have replaced Rodney MacDonald’s Tories with Stephen McNeil’s Liberals, as they have done so often in the past.

Keep in mind that the conservative policies of the British Columbia NDP helped to re-elect the right wing B.C. Liberal government of Gordon Campbell in mid-May.

The Nova Scotia election result challenges the claim that voters are turning to the right everywhere.

But the question remains: what will the NSNDP do with this victory? If it makes Capital pay for the crisis created by big business and the banks, the NDP will win the admiration and support of the working class and poor. If, like the treacherous Bob Rae-led NDP government in Ontario 1990-1995, it places the burden of ‘recovery’ on the shoulders of workers, women, youth and the unemployed, it will leave little behind other than wrecked public services and a very bad taste.

Another important lesson from the Ontario Rae-days is that labour and the social movements should not give the Dexter team a honeymoon of any duration. Now is the time to press Nova Scotia’s first NDP government to tax the rich and move quickly to provide jobs, housing and decent incomes for all who need them. -Barry Weisleder

Who’s calling the shots for Iggy and the Liberals?

What’s behind the ignominious retreat of Michael Ignatieff? The federal Liberal Leader backed off the threat to cause an election this summer over the lack of job creation and access to unemployment insurance. And he voted for the corporate bail-out budget of the federal Tory minority government in January.

We got a behind the scenes glimpse of how the Canadian elite exert their power thanks to the well-connected federal Conservative Minister of Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt. It comes from the secret recording by her aide in which Raitt famously describes the shortage of medical isotopes as “sexy” and as politically advantageous to her career.

According to Toronto Star columnist Linda McQuaig who quoted from the tape, Raitt describes how three major bank presidents stood up at a meeting of the Canadian Council of (Chief) Executives in January and said, “’Ignatieff, don’t you even think about bringing us to an election. We don’t need this. We have no interest in this. And we will never fund your party again.’”

While Raitt was not at the meeting, she suggested that she may have heard the account from CEOs who claimed that Ignatieff was forced to tow the line.

And what was that line? The bankers were keen to have Parliament pass the Conservative budget, which included a measure called the Extraordinary Financing Framework that provided banks with up to $200 billion in loans and asset swaps.

Once again, the discreet charm of the bourgeoisie prevails over …. bourgeois democracy. -Barry Weisleder

Household debt soars

Rising debt levels are putting Canadian households under growing financial strain while job losses mount, incomes stagnate and personal wealth declines.

The Bank of Canada’s bi-annual Financial System Review, released on June 15, said that households are increasingly vulnerable to “adverse shocks” such as an even bigger jump in the unemployment rate, which officially rose to 8.4 per cent in May and is expected to hit double digits this year. (Typically, these figures understate the situation because they do not count ‘discouraged workers’, those awaiting recall from a layoff, and the under-employed).

“Income growth has slowed, and personal wealth levels have been eroded by lower house prices in some regions; credit growth has continued to outpace income growth, contributing to higher debt levels”, stated the Bank’s report.

“At the same time, sharp increases in unemployment are raising the incidence of financial stress among households.”

Although the extent to which Canadians are in debt is less than that of Americans or the British, Canadians’ debt-to-income ratio hit a “new high” in the final quarter of 2008, meaning the average household has borrowed the equivalent of 1.38 years of disposable income.

Commercial banks, meanwhile, are setting aside more money to cover bad loans. Some analysts predict that loan losses are unlikely to peak before the industry’s 2010 financial year. -Barry Weisleder

The War comes Home

The foreign war of occupation in Afghanistan is coming home with a stunningly high incidence of spousal abuse, suicide attempts, assaults in bars and drunk driving by Canadian soldiers who survive one or more tours of duty.

From privates to warrant officers, light-armoured-vehicle drivers to snipers, those with physical injuries and those without, the proportion suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is skyrocketing.

According to a Toronto Star study, at the Phoenix Centre for Children and Families, near Canadian Forces Base Petawawa, 170 km north-west of Ottawa, the military family caseload has soared from 12 in 2005 to 85 today, with 20 on the waiting list. The Centre is grappling with issues from bed wetting and aggression, to domestic violence, depression and marital breakdown. Conflict and depression often lead to substance abuse, assault with a weapon, impaired driving and confinement.

“More deployments actually compound the stress on many of our soldiers,” says the Centre’s Director Greg Lubimiv.

Since 2006, the proportion of military family clients at Phoenix who have experienced the stress of multiple deployments has risen from 33 per cent to higher than 60 per cent.

In the seven years the Canadian state has been part of the imperialist occupation of the mineral-rich, oil and gas cross-roads of Afghanistan, 26,800 Canadians have been deployed and 120 have died. This is the most of any Canadian intervention since the Korean War. More than 400 have been injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines, rocket attacks and direct combat. At least 1000 have suffered severe psychological trauma.

More than one in five Canadian soldiers and police officers who spend time in Afghanistan leave the force with psychiatric problems, a number that has rapidly risen in the last 12 months.

And this is to say nothing about the devastation caused to Afghanistan and its people. Nearly eight thousand Afghan civilians have died from insurgent and foreign military action, 50 to 60 per cent killed directly by NATO forces. In addition, up to 20,000 Afghan civilians died as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war.

By all accounts, the situation is only getting worse. The time has come to demand: Canada Out of NATO. NATO Out of Afghanistan. Now! – Barry Weisleder

Rally Shows Need to Step Up Labour Action against the Crisis

While CBC-TV fatuously reported that only 500 demonstrated, in fact nearly 2000 people rallied and marched on June 13 in downtown Toronto at the call of the regional labour council to demand “Good Jobs For All” and to Fix E.I., Protect Pensions, Strengthen Public Services and Put People Before Banks. After a selection of labour activists addressed the crowd at Metro Hall, the assembly paraded through the financial district, rallied briefly at the corner midst the tallest bank towers, and continued up Bay Street for a concluding rally outside the Delta Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard Street, the scene of a bitter labour dispute with hotel management.

Participants carried the flags and banners of many different unions, that of the NDP, and those of a handful of small political organizations.

The only party banner that expressed political slogans directed specifically to the current economic crisis and which offered socialist solutions to it was that of Socialist Action. The SA banner read: “No Corporate Bail-out! Make Capital Pay for the Crisis. Nationalize Auto, Steel & Big Banks — Under Workers’ Control!”

A core of 14 comrades and supporters consistently walked with this banner, joined intermittently by scores of labour activists who identified with the message inscribed on it. Although quite modest, this was the largest SA demo contingent in a long time and is representative of the recent growth of the group locally. Members and supporters augmented the presence of the organization by selling 37 copies of SA newspaper, and distributing hundreds of copies of a leaflet for Socialism 101 (a weekly Toronto SA study group that began on June 23), along with free copies of Turn Left, the tabloid publication of the NDP Socialist Caucus.

Event organizers urged participants to continue to press politicians for E.I. reform and to punish the Conservatives at the next federal election.

Meanwhile, the local labour scene is heating up. OPSEU activists appealed for support to Ontario Liquor Control Board workers who faced a showdown with management over job security concessions and achieved a tentative agreement just days later. Toronto is presently seized by a major civic workers’ strike, which includes the suspension of garbage collection, over management concession demands. A similar strike has been underway four hours south-west of Toronto in Windsor, Ontario, now going into its third month. Workers barricaded entrances to an auto parts manufacturing plant slated to close in Ajax, just 40 minutes east of Toronto, demanding severance pay and salaries owed. CAW members at Ford Motor Co. face another round of demands for roll backs to match the horrendous set backs at GM and Chrysler — which hopefully the Ford workers will spurn.

Clearly, we cannot afford to wait for the next federal election, or to limit workers’ solidarity action to important battles with individual bosses. The need to step up the struggle against the employers’ offensive on a wide scale, and indeed, to put the failed system of global capitalism on trial is sharply posed.

That is precisely what the NDP Socialist Caucus endeavors to do at the federal NDP convention in Halifax in mid-August. Support for SC resolutions is increasingly evident amongst NDP riding associations, youth clubs and affiliated unions across the six time zones that span this huge country. An important debate about the ruling economic order, and the socialist alternative, is taking shape.

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