Two Big Takeaways for the NDP on Canada’s 2015 election

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Editor’s Note: On October 19, 2015, Canadians voted all across their country to elect a new parliament. There were three major parties contesting the election everywhere and a couple minor parties. After the last federal parliamentary elections (in 2011), the Conservatives held a majority, the social-democratic New Democratic Party (NDP) were the second-place party (heading the opposition for the first time), and the centrist Liberal Party finished third. At the start of this year’s election, the NDP had a large lead in the polls seemed poised to form a government for the first time in Canada’s history. As the campaign progressed, however, the NDP’s support collapsed and voters instead chose to elect a Liberal Party majority to parliament. This majority will be led by Justin Trudeau, the son of former longtime prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who led the party from 1968 to 1984. The Conservatives finished second. The NDP finished a distant third.

Below, guest contributor and NDP supporter Adam Chaikof presents the two major lessons he drew from the NDP’s unsuccessful campaign to lead the federal government for the first time in party history.

Lesson 1: Don’t treat balanced budgets like a sacred cow (especially during economic downturns).

It certainly goes without saying that one of the most common right-wing retorts to any suggestion of expanding the welfare state or investing in jobs or infrastructure is that such measures are too costly and will only increase the national debt and deficit.

Besides the obvious ideological reasons, the Right constantly employs this line of attack because voters easily understand it. After all, many voters reason, if we have to live within our means, why shouldn’t the government do the same?

Within this framing, beyond completely rejecting the Left’s core principles, left-wing parties can respond to these accusations in one of two ways: they can either try to convince the electorate that they’re actually better at balancing the budget than the Right, or they can argue that running a short-term deficit isn’t harmful and is necessary to stimulate the economy.

In other words, the Left can either try to win the debate on balanced budgets on the Right’s terms, or they can try to reset the debate’s terms altogether. During this most recent election in Canada, the NDP chose the former route, while the Liberals chose the latter.

The NDP chose this strategy for two reasons. First, NDP provincial governments actually have better fiscal records on average than both Liberal and Conservative ones despite spending more on economic and social programs.

Unfortunately, there is one notable – and very noticeable – exception to the NDP’s fiscal record: Bob Rae’s provincial government in Ontario from 1990 to 1995. Rae’s early 90s legacy still haunts the NDP in the electorally vital province of Ontario. This is the root cause of the second reason for the NDP’s strategy of campaigning on fiscal responsibility.

Rae’s record is still hotly debated – and he actually has long since defected from the NDP to the Liberals – but the most commonly accepted narrative is this: After leading the NDP to its first ever victory in Ontario in 1990, Rae unsuccessfully tried to spend Ontario’s way out of a recession and was then forced to implement austerity measures after exploding the province’s deficit.

Whether you accept this narrative or not, it’s undeniable that Rae’s poor economic record has been like a millstone around the NDP’s neck in Ontario at both the federal and provincial levels for the past 20 years. Ontario sends the most federal MPs to Parliament. In other words, eager to convince voters of its fiscal credibility and finally excise the ghost of the Rae Provincial Government, the NDP made maintaining a balanced budget one its main campaign planks.

This decision, however, had serious repercussions for the NDP. Many voters simply didn’t believe that the NDP’s proposals for raising revenue (e.g. raising corporate taxes by 2%, closing tax loopholes, etc.) would be enough to pay for its other spending promises. These included universal childcare and pharmacare, a national housing and transit strategy, reversing Harper’s cuts to health care and pensions, a national cap-and-trade system, and new investments in clean energy and manufacturing.

These proposals remained very popular, to be sure, but Canadians didn’t have much faith in the NDP being able to implement them properly because it seemed like they were trying to have it both ways: Spending a lot while balancing budgets. Read more

In BC, indigenous resistance to pipelines on traditional lands

“In British Columbia, indigenous group blocks pipeline development” | Al Jazeera America – August 2015:

Since June, the Unist’ot’en clan has prevented work crews from accessing traditional territories that oil companies see as key to Canada’s future

 
My quick summary of the story: Indigenous Canadians from the Unist’ot’en clan are physically re-occupying land, stolen from them over a century ago, to prevent environmentally destructive energy development by the Harper government and oil companies.

No wonder Prime Minister Harper reacted so angrily last year when the United Nations reminded him he is bound to receive “Free, prior and informed consent” from First Nations peoples when Canadian federal policies affect them and their sovereign nations. Free, prior, and informed consent tends to stop things like pipelines.

Best quote: “This is Unist’ot’en territory. It’s not Canada. It’s not B.C.”

Not everyone in the Nation, of course, is happy with the resistance. Some chiefs seemed more supportive of the oil companies than of the efforts to block the pipeline, claiming it would be economically beneficial to their Nation.

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Election 2015: Canada’s political Americanization continues

President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, February 2009. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, February 2009. (White House photo by Pete Souza)

“The Closing of the Canadian Mind” – New York Times op-ed:

The prime minister’s base of support is Alberta, a western province financially dependent on the oil industry, and he has been dedicated to protecting petrochemical companies from having their feelings hurt by any inconvenient research.
[…]
His active promotion of ignorance extends into the functions of government itself. Most shockingly, he ended the mandatory long-form census, a decision protested by nearly 500 organizations in Canada, including the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Catholic Council of Bishops. In the age of information, he has stripped Canada of its capacity to gather information about itself.
[…]
He has been prime minister for nearly a decade for a reason: He promised a steady and quiet life, undisturbed by painful facts. The Harper years have not been terrible; they’ve just been bland and purposeless. Mr. Harper represents the politics of willful ignorance. It has its attractions.

 
CBC Canada’s Federal election 2015 Poll Tracker, as of August 17, 2015:

There will be 338 seats in the next House of Commons. A party needs to win 170 seats to form a majority government. Each federal electoral riding corresponds to one seat. The Poll Tracker estimates the most likely number of seats each party could win if an election were held today, based on current polling levels.

The Conservative Party leads with 125 seats and is 45 seats from winning a majority government.

Social democrat New Democratic Party at 118, centrist Liberals at 92. (So, 210 if combined in coalition, which is not a certainty.)


Recently from AFD on this topic:

“Canada’s government re-election platform: Be Very Afraid”
“Passive-aggressive Canadian flag ‘battles'”
“Canada gov’t upset that they might have to consult native peoples on things”

Canada’s government re-election platform: Be Very Afraid

CBC Canada on a scandal involving the ruling Conservative Party’s attempt to manipulate the civil service into helping terrify voters into re-electing them:

Foreign Affairs bureaucrats were told this spring to produce three terrorism-related statements for minister Rob Nicholson to make to the media each week, ahead of a fall election in which security and Canada’s response to terrorism are expected to be key issues.

The email, dated April 24 and obtained by CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, suggests the regular ministerial statements should be crafted from an event reported by the news media, such as developments in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
[…]
Security and Canada’s response to terrorism are expected to be key issues in the upcoming election. Canada is part of a U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a mission opposed by the NDP and Liberals.

The email relays a request from Nicholson’s communications team and is addressed to all bureaucrats working in security-related divisions. It tasks them with providing the minister’s communications team with “…three MINA (ministerial) statements to the media regarding security in the context of terrorism each week.”

 
How very 2004 America of them. They should also issue color-coded warnings and recordings of Osama Bin Laden hoping for a win by the left-leaning parties. Well, the last one might be hard. While we know where he stood on U.S. Senator John Kerry’s candidacy, I’m not sure that before he died Bin Laden ever released his views on the NDP or on the eldest son of former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.

Apparently it wasn’t very successful manipulation of the civil service, though, as it turns out:

A review by CBC News of the department’s releases since the email was issued has found the number of security and terrorism-related statements has only rarely met the three-a-week target.

 
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Report out on Canada’s historical abuse of indigenous people

ThinkProgress, “The Canadian Government Systematically Tortured And Abused Aboriginal Children For 100 Years”:

This process of “cultural genocide” was one major objective behind the Canadian government’s support of residential schools for Aboriginal children, according to a damning report released by the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Tuesday.

The children’s cultural identity was not the only thing that suffered at the schools — First Nation, Métis, and Inuit children were brutalized through physical abuse, sexual violence, derogatory language, meager food, and a deliberate attempt to rid them of their cultural identities. The commission found that at least 3,201 students died while at the schools, often because of abuse and neglect.

Families were often coerced by police into sending their children to these schools as part of a policy, intended, “not to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity,” according to the commission’s findings. The schools functioned first under the purview of various churches, and then with the support of the government from 1883 until 1998.
[…]
“Seven generations of children went through these schools and we have said that coming to terms with this past, in a way that allows for there to be a much more mutually respectable relationship is going to take, perhaps, generations as well,” Justice Murray Sinclair, who heads the commission, told NPR.

 
The program was not officially ended until 1998 (!), although it was wound down in most places in the early 1980s (hence the “100 years” figure above). Meanwhile, as recently as last fall, Canada’s Conservative-led government was upset that they might have to consult native peoples on policies under their existing treaty obligations to the federation’s indigenous communities and sovereign nations.

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Passive-aggressive Canadian flag “battles”

The Economist ran an article on the slighting of Canada’s flag’s 50th anniversary by the current Conservative government — which is otherwise quite gung-ho about promoting (even creating) Canadian nationalism. The five-decade-old flag replaced British imperial/monarchical motifs.

For non-Canadians, the passive-aggressive bickering over Canadian nationalism, history, and symbols is fairly amusing. Excerpt from the piece:

Mr Harper’s government has been reinforcing ties with Britain. He reinstated the word “royal” for the navy and the air force, replaced Canadian artwork in the lobby of the foreign ministry with a portrait of the queen and agreed to share some embassies with Britain. Given his royalist inclinations, it would be tough for the prime minister to celebrate the flag whole-heartedly.

 
The Liberal Party, which supported the flag’s development and introduction in 1965, recently cobbled together an enthusiastic rally to celebrate the flag (and itself ahead of upcoming elections). The Conservatives stayed pretty quiet about the anniversary.

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The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections

15 national elections I’m watching on 2015 and the questions I’m asking about them, organized in chronological order.

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Greece: Can modern Greek democracy survive the combined effects of years of extraordinary fiscal mismanagement, a devastating recession, and a sudden day of reckoning (austerity) stage-managed from Berlin? That’s the bigger question the world is asking when Greece heads to the polls this coming weekend, behind narrow questions of what might happen in the next six months. Newcomer “Syriza” – a party with moderate rhetoric, yet still an unknown quantity – has led the polling average since November 2013, more than a year before snap elections were called. Syriza could shake things up — for good or ill — in the country whose ancestors founded much of Western democracy. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also formalized the concepts of “oligarchy,” “aristocracy,” and “tyranny,” so that’s not a huge comfort. Modern Greek democracy is just 40 years old, and Plato might forecast a turn to a less participatory form of The Kyklos (the cycle of governance between such forms) is about due. The rise of the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” as a potent force in Greek politics offers that grim path.

Nigeria: Should a young democracy re-elect a civilian president from the same party that has won every election since 1998? Should it do so despite his record of extreme incompetence in handling an insurgency that has now seized more territory than ISIS controls in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy? What if the alternative choice is a former military dictator and perennial also-ran? These are the basic questions facing Nigerians in February’s election that will see once-accidental President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party face off against Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the head of an increasingly powerful opposition coalition and amid plunging oil prices. The legislative chambers are also up for election. Even if Jonathan is re-elected, he may face a hostile majority.

Israel: Can the Israeli left make a serious comeback in the country’s politics after Israel voters increasingly veered to the right and after significant party changes shattered the Labor Party for almost a decade? Would it make any difference to Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the world at large? Would it change the economic fortunes of average Israelis?

United Kingdom: Is the Westminster System — as it has traditionally existed in its tripartite form since the arrival of universal male suffrage — finished in Westminster itself? UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and other parties outside the Big Three make another coalition government of some kind almost a certainty – likely with huge effects for the British populace and their place within the European Union.

Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.
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