Manitoba NDP Chooses New Premier

According to the business media, Manitoba Finance Minister Greg Salinger, 58, became NDP provincial Leader and Premier-elect by defeating a challenger from the left, MLA Steve Ashton, 53. “Race for top job in Manitoba pits centre against left”, read a headline in the Toronto Star.

Not so, according to long-time socialist Harry Paine. He was one of the 2003 delegates who packed the Winnipeg Convention Centre on October 17 for the party leadership vote. The difference wasn’t left versus right. The issue was who is best able to keep the labour-based NDP in government in Manitoba, the prairie province (population 1.2 million) just north of Minnesota and North Dakota.

In a report to the NDP Socialist Caucus, Paine wrote:

“More significant for anyone attempting to gauge the level of consciousness of the NDP membership and consequently how that reflects the consciousness of Manitobans was the fact that the first candidate out of the gate, Andrew Swan (a younger Cabinet minister) chose to drop out of the race after a couple of weeks. There was some speculation that the Third Way (neo-liberal) machine that had been running the party for the last couple of decades had been grooming Swan to wear the mantle of Gary Doer (the 10-year Premier who left office to become Canada’s ambassador to the United States), but the first few NDP delegate selection meetings indicated a much stronger intervention by community activists and Swan was unable to get more than a handful of delegate supporters.

“In the few short weeks of the campaign leading up to the delegate selection meetings the membership more than doubled and therein was the first serious controversy. The Steve Ashton campaign was accused of signing up hundreds of new members from within ethnic communities, many of whom had little or no real loyalty to the NDP. This raised the whole question of voting process and the ugly head of ‘One Member, One Vote’ arose once again.

“Ashton tried to present as the more traditional left candidate, but surrounded himself with some questionable and opportunistic public face supporters. The Chair of his campaign committee was maverick City Councillor Russ Wyatt who has joined, and quit, the party depending on his need for assistance from the NDP electoral machine. Main union support came from the Firefighters Union, which is often just as comfortable supporting Tory candidates as it is backing the NDP.

“Greg Selinger was able to garner support from a much wider sector of the working-class organizations that included almost all of the MLAs, the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives staff and most of the constituencies’ traditional activists. He was seen as a leader who could bring the party together into the ‘Renewal’ mode.

“Before being elected to the Legislature, Selinger had a history of being a popular City Councillor and a key contributor to CHO!CES, a coalition of leftist independent community activists. As Finance Minister he has brought in ten fairly progressive and balanced budgets and was seen as largely responsible for Manitoba being relatively able to fend off the effects of the current global financial crisis. He also instituted an open community consultative process in the period leading up to budget production.

“’Renewal’ was the slogan adopted by the Provincial Executive going into this Leadership Campaign and that was probably an accurate choice as the departure of Doer marks a shift to a greater involvement of community based influences in the party and the government. How that will reflect itself in policy is hard to say at this time.

“Poverty is still a big issue in Manitoba especially in much of the rural farm areas, for those on a fixed income, and in almost all of the First Nations reserves and communities. At the same time there is a shortage of skilled labour and fairly dramatic population growth. While the effects of the latest crisis of Capitalism have not been felt as much in Manitoba as other provinces there is considerable nervousness and discussion among those looking for answers.

“Community activism that doesn’t pose a clear socialist alternative is little more than a band-aid solution to cover the open sores of Capitalism and make life a little more tolerable. On the positive side there is a growing consciousness that there needs to be a fundamental structural change in the distribution of wealth in society. Interest is renewed in the lessons of the past, and Marxism is very much on the discussion agenda.”

I asked Harry Paine about grass roots involvement. He responded, “Activists in Manitoba are not so much in political party life, as they are involved in community organizations. I think that is becoming somewhat universal as capitalism declines dramatically; the working class has to rely more on its defensive organizations. The challenge for socialists is how do we integrate the transitional demands of a socialist program into the pragmatic concerns of these defensive community organizations?

“Manitoba has one of the highest rates of volunteerism in North America. One in three Manitobans volunteer in their community. Of course that includes sports coaches and Girl Guide leaders, but there are huge numbers who are working with the homeless, the aged, in food banks, and so on.

“These people often support the NDP because it is a lot easier to get grants and legislation passed with them than it was with the Tories in government. The fact that community representatives are listened to and consulted does more to keep our membership figures up than anything.

“For instance, I am President of the Manitoba Society of Seniors, was appointed by the Cabinet to the Council on Aging as an advisor to the Minister and on the Boards of half a dozen other community-based organizations and as such have access to all the relevant Ministers and their departments even though I am constantly reminding people that I am a Trotskyist, and believe the only real answer is to overthrow capitalism.

“Last year I was the Campaign Manager for our MLA Rob Altemeyer and ran the most successful campaign, next to Greg Selinger’s in St. Boniface. I publish an on-line community newsletter that goes to most of the local NDP members once or twice a week, which has some pretty radical stuff in it sometimes, and I have never been challenged because of my leftist slant. Actually I get lots of fan mail from people who think that is the strength of the NDP riding association.

“In spite of his popularity, Gary Doer was seen as being inaccessible and out of touch with this growing and powerful sector of activists. There are some members who are concerned and upset because they feel abandoned by big daddy, but most members feel honoured that he was chosen as ambassador and will do a good job. Then again, there are a lot of us who believe that either there (Washington), or in the (appointed Canadian) Senate, is where Doer properly belongs.”

What about Ashton’s so-called leftist stance, including his pledge to freeze/reduce university tuition and ban strikebreakers?

“Ashton’s base was to some extent in the northern areas of the province where he comes from, although Selinger cut into that with support from First Nations’ delegates. Community activists seem to be divided into those who basically support the NDP and those who stand aside and are somewhat cynical about politics; the latter provided the main active base of Ashton’s support. Some were traditional leftists, but for the most part were an unprincipled combination.

“As for his ‘left’ policies, for the most part it was seen as posturing. It is easy to talk about strikebreaking legislation in a province that hasn’t seen a scab situation in years and where strikes that last more than a few days are pretty rare. Unions haven’t suggested anti-scab legislation and only the Firefighters and the Steelworkers from Thompson (the area Ashton represents in the Legislature) supported him. The main bulk of the Manitoba Federation of Labour supported Selinger. Students were divided about 52/48 for Selinger. I don’t think they really believed Ashton was serious about his program.”

The Manitoba NDP convention was over in three short hours; no policy debate, no election of officers. The leadership vote was Selinger 1,317 and Ashton 685. The regular annual party provincial convention will occur in the Spring. By then, in the face of the deepening global economic crisis, the direction of the new NDP Premier may be clear. The question is: what will the new crop of Manitoba NDP members have to say about it? –Barry Weisleder

Aim a Little Lower, Please

After Taser International, Inc., issued a bulletin from its U.S. headquarters instructing users not to aim the weapon at the chest of a suspect to avoid impact to the heart, police in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg, plus the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Ontario Provincial Police decided to comply.

This comes almost two years after Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski died at Vancouver International Airport. He was jolted by a Taser up to five times by the RCMP. Indeed, hundreds of people across North America have been killed by cops using the weapon. Toronto police admit to deploying Tasers on 122 people last year, including two 15-year olds.

John Tackaberry, spokesperson for Amnesty International in Canada, said adjusting where police aim their Tasers “isn’t a solution to the problem… it’s the impact the Tasers have on bodies.”

Paul Lochner, whose autistic brother George was Tasered by the Toronto emergency task force in 2006, agrees the change isn’t enough. He would like to see Tasers banned.

Ditto. The lesson here is that the cops are feeling the pressure of public outrage. The point is to keep it up. –Barry Weisleder

Like We Said . . . Blood for Oil

Oil baron T. Boone Pickens told the U.S. Congress in Washington on October 21 that U.S. energy companies are “entitled” to some of Iraq’s crude oil because of the large number of U.S. troops that lost their lives fighting in the country and the American taxpayer money spent in Iraq.

Pickens complained to the newly formed Congressional Natural Gas Caucus that the Iraqi government has awarded contracts to non-U.S. Companies, particularly Chinese firms, to develop Iraq’s vast reserves while U.S. companies have been shut out.

“Heck, we even lost 5,000 of our people, 65,000 injured and a trillion, five hundred billion dollars.” Bitter over promises (which Obama is unlikely to keep), Pickens said, “We leave there with the Chinese getting the oil.”

Cry us a river, boss man, but the blood and the oil still flow plenty profits into your pockets. Only anti-war mass protest action will turn off that tap. –Barry Weisleder

Education for Activists Conference

Education for Activists Conference
2nd annual Toronto Socialist Action Trotsky School


November 20-21, 2009 at OISE, U of Toronto, 252 Bloor St. W.
just above the St. George Subway Station

Friday, November 20, 7 p.m.

Rosa Luxemburg – a revolutionary for the 21st Century The nature of Reformism, the concept of the Mass Strike, and an analysis of the Revolutions at the end of World War I.

Presentation by Adam Shils, Chicago Socialist Action, leading member of SA-USA

Saturday, November 21, 10 a.m.

Is Fascism on the rise in America?

What is fascism? What is the significance of the right wing rallies against medicare reform? Where is the U.S. labour movement and what is it doing?

Presentation by Adam Shils, Chicago SA

12 noon Lunch break, and screening of film “Workers of All Lands”, a history of 3rd and 4th Internationals

1 p.m. Permanent Revolution, Stalinism and the Transitional Program What is the strategy for fundamental change?

Presentation by Barry Weisleder, federal secretary, Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste

4 p.m. The Jobless Recovery, and other absurdities of the capitalist economy What is the socialist alternative?

Presentation by Julius Arscott, Executive member, Toronto Socialist Action

6 p.m. Social event at a nearby pub

Conference Registration: $10 for the weekend, $4 per session (or pay what you can)

For more information, visit: http://www.socialistaction-canada.blogspot.com

e-mail: barryaw@rogers.com or call: 416 – 535-8779

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

Ligue pour L'Action Socialiste