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Lament for a Party that has lost its way

Canadian Politics

Photo by Canada’s NDP

I write this with sadness and dismay. Finally, after more than 80 years from the time Canada’s social democratic party had been formed (first as the CCF, then as the NDP), in 2011 it became the Official Opposition, and as the 2015 election approached, consistent public opinion polls indicated that the New Democratic Party was headed to form the government. But then a few weeks before the election the party’s prospects began to unravel. The election dealt the party a devastating blow, reducing it from the 103 seats it won in 2011 to 44 and relegated it once again to third party status. What happened? What went so terribly wrong? What must the party do to regain the respect of Canadians to once again place it in contention to form the government?

One thing for certain, the NDP must do some serious soul-searching to find its true raison d’être. From my perspective, it is fundamentally wrong for the party to abandon its basic social democratic principles in a misguided attempt to veer to the centre-right and try to become “electable” as a supposedly non-threatening capitalist party, not much different from the Liberals or the Conservatives.

As columnist Thomas Walkom commented after the election:

What is the point of a social democratic party that is afraid of democratic socialism? What is the point of running as faux Liberals when the real Liberals are already there?…If a left-wing party’s only chance at power is to move rightward, why bother?

This is an astute fully apropos comment and it strikes at the very heart of the self-defeating position that the NDP has drifted into, either purposefully or just willy-nilly.

But before going further into this, it is necessary to examine what went wrong in this past election, especially when the prospects at first looked so promising for a major breakthrough for the party to form the government. It should be noted that while the NDP had been the Official Opposition during the last four years its stature rose consistently while at a proportionate rate the Harper government’s stature declined. This was basically because of the effective role of Prosecutor Mulcair and his competent party critics who throughout this period exposed the chicanery, outright lies, deceitful practices, and the overall dictatorial style of the Harper regime. So by the summer of 2015 the bulk of Canada’s people were so fed up with this despised government that they wanted change – and initially the logical alternative was the NDP. It was basically theirs for the taking, but they succumbed to bad strategy and blew it.

First off, how Tom Mulcair allowed himself to be persuaded to undergo a persona change is baffling. In Parliament he had been extremely effective as the no-nonsense “Prosecutor Mulcair” who cowed and undermined Harper at every turn. But suddenly on the campaign trail he turned into a defensive affable and constantly smiling “Timid Tom.” These unnatural looking smiles made him look phony and not himself, and people sensed that he was being manipulated for supposed “electoral gain,” and this was counterproductive. One of Mulcair’s best skills was his ability to go on the attack against Stephen Harper – something that Trudeau was really not able to do – but here during the crucial election campaign his advisors seemingly forbid him to do this. So through bad strategy a powerful strong point for the NDP to have a dynamic effective leader was thrown away. This by itself was a significant factor in the NDP’s lackluster and uninspiring campaign.

In Quebec, to his credit, Mulcair took a principled stand in supporting the right of Muslim women to wear the niqab. In trying to explain the NDP election debacle, it has been put forward that this principled stance lost the party votes in Quebec which then encouraged voters in other provinces to stampede to the Liberals in order to defeat the Harper Conservatives. This might be a comforting theory for the NDP but it ignores the fact that the Liberals took the exact same principled stand on the niqab, perhaps even more adamantly – and yet they did dramatically better in Quebec than the NDP. So there is something else far more critical than this that caused the NDP’s demise in both Quebec and elsewhere in Canada.

Rather than the niqab issue, it was the NDP’s economic policies that proved to be the Achilles heel for the NDP. On August 25 the NDP reached 40% in the polls and it was on that day that Mulcair announced their plans for a balanced budget, regardless of any downturn in the economy. Up till this point the NDP were steadily rising in the polls, but immediately after this vow to balance the budget the NDP ratings began to drop. By September 16 the NDP were down to 32% (almost in a tie with the Liberals and Conservatives) and on that day Mulcair made a further announcement – the NDP promised four years of balanced budgets “to reassure voters that the party is throwing off its socialist past,” as cited by the CBC. The NDP’s downward spiral continued, by October 2 they were at 27%, behind both the Liberals and Conservatives, and on election day, October 19, they received only 19.7% of the vote.

There is considerable evidence that the collapse of NDP support was a consequence of their balanced budget mantra, especially when contrasted with the more credible and appealing economic proposals by the Liberals. The NDP boxed themselves in doubly by not only making an ironclad commitment to balancing the budget – come hell or high water – but at the same time they vowed that they would not increase taxes of any kind except for a 2% corporate tax hike. Although they put forward explanations on how this could be done, they were attacked on these matters by both Conservatives and Liberals, and in the end the public felt that the NDP proposals were simply not credible.

If the Conservative government had struggled to maintain services in recent years without running deficits, in what have been stronger economic times, the only way an NDP government could balance the budget in a weaker economy would be through substantial cuts. Their proposed minor revenue gains would be insufficient to maintain current spending levels in the onset of a recession, let alone meet other campaign commitments such as a national childcare plan. In short, many in the public felt that to adhere to their balanced budget mantra, the NDP would have to adopt austerity measures much like the Harper Conservatives.

As soon as Mulcair announced his commitment to a balanced budget, the Trudeau Liberals viewed this as a major strategic error. It gave them an issue that they felt would appeal to many progressive voters who would conclude that the NDP’s balanced budget decision felt too much like Harper’s policy. As one Liberal insider said, “I don’t get it. They had a foot on our throat and they took it off.”

Even before the beginning of the official campaign the Trudeau Liberals began to outmaneuver the NDP on economic policies. Since Mulcair had already declared way back in 2013 that the NDP would not raise taxes on anyone, it was a simple matter for the Liberals to outflank the NDP on the left by using the narrative of “taxing-the-rich.” On May 4 Trudeau announced that the Liberals would tax the “top 1%” (those making over $200,000) and give tax-cuts to Canadians he called “middle class.” This was a clever move to make Trudeau appear more progressive than Mulcair on the popular issue of income inequality. This was designed to attract left-leaning voters, including soft NDP voters, and it was difficult for the NDP to respond to this strategy. On this issue the Liberals had a significantly more progressive policy than the NDP. In response, how could the NDP argue against imposing higher personal taxes on the wealthy? As the campaign progressed, taxing the rich turned out to be one of the Liberals’ key messages.

When the official campaign began, the Liberals brought forth an even more potent policy that was aimed squarely at outflanking the NDP to the left – this was deficit spending to stimulate a shrinking economy that was about to enter an official recession.

On August 27, two days after Mulcair declared his balanced budget pledge, Justin Trudeau announced that the Liberals would double spending on infrastructure to jump-start economic growth and that they would not balance the books for three straight years but they would achieve a balanced budget by the 2019-2020 fiscal year. The Liberal fiscal plan would see ”a modest short-term deficit” of less than $10 billion for each of the first three years, to be then followed by a balanced budget.

Strangely, locked into their balanced budget obsession, the NDP couldn’t see that as the summer progressed, it made Keynesian sense to use infrastructure spending to get out of Harper’s recession – even if that meant running deficits. But, to their credit, the Liberals did see this, and they acted on this crucially important aspect, positioning themselves as the anti-Harper party, taking full advantage of the contracting economy.

Trudeau campaigned effectively using Keynesian arguments and logic that with Canada’s low debt to GDP ratio and historic low interest rates, now was the time to deficit finance a wide range of infrastructure projects to stimulate the economy. Moreover, there’s evidence federal deficit budgets are no longer the concern for voters that they once were. In early September, polls showed large numbers of both Liberal and NDP voters, at 76 and 72 per cent respectively, were in favour of modest deficits for the purpose infrastructure expenditures. Even 40 per cent of Conservative voters were in favour of this! By October a full 78 per cent of Canadians supported such a policy. Why didn’t the NDP adapt to this obviously new phenomenon?

Ironically, despite the fact that about three-quarters of NDP voters supported such a policy, the NDP federal establishment remained hopelessly bound to their balanced budget mantra, and Mulcair, during their debates, tried to ridicule Trudeau’s position and accused him of being irresponsible to future generations. It was painful to see both Mulcair and Harper in the same corner opposing Trudeau’s sensible policies. At this stage it was almost certain what was going to happen on October 19.

Trudeau and his advisors had worked out a successful campaign strategy, but it is little known that their plan wasn’t original – their electoral plan is essentially modelled on Rachel Notley’s NDP spring campaign, which resulted in a NDP majority government in Alberta! For the NDP to win a majority government in Alberta is almost the equivalent of getting a socialist government elected in Texas!

For readers who have not done this, it would be highly instructive to examine the 25-page Alberta NDP election platform. This is a carefully crafted document that was apparently distributed to most households in Alberta. In the introduction Rachel Notley states as follows:

In this platform document my colleagues and I set out our agenda for the next four years.
Our top priorities are creating jobs in a diversified, 21st century economy, restoring honest and open government, preserving and building our health care system, preserving and building our education system, and rebalancing government revenues to make them more fair – asking high income earners (the top 10% of Albertan tax filers) and large, profitable corporations to contribute a little more.
With our plan we will balance the budget in 2018.

On the same page in the next column the Conservative position is presented:

Mr. Prentice has introduced a budget that asks you and your family to pay for bad decisions by the Conservatives – through higher taxes and fees, and through deep cutbacks to your family’s health care and education. In his budget, Mr. Prentice is not asking for any sacrifices at all from our province’s large, profitable corporations – the people who need help the least, and can most easily afford to contribute a little more.
Challenged on all of this, Mr. Prentice is telling you and your family to “look in the mirror,” because, in his view, his government’s bad choices are your fault.
Jim Prentice should look into his own mirror.

In actuality, what the Prentice Conservative government had proposed was a grim austerity program, featuring increased taxes and unconscionable fees on social services, almost similar to the Greek debacle. In the NDP platform, each of these Conservative proposals is outlined one by one, and then it is contrasted with what the NDP would propose instead.

Most importantly, the NDP proposed an increase in personal taxes for the upper 10 per cent of tax filers, an increase in corporate taxes, and an increase in oil and gas royalty rates. And because of relatively high unemployment and the sad state of much of the province’s infrastructure, Notley stated, right up front, that to deal with these problems, for the first three years the NDP government would deficit finance a wide range of infrastructure projects, and by the fourth year they should be able to balance the budget.

With this logic and carefully structured plans Rachael Notley trashed her opponents during campaign debates and on May 6 Albertans elected a majority NDP government. On October 27 the NDP government presented its first budget, totally in line with their election platform. On November 5 Premier Notley addressed the Edmonton chamber of commerce, pointed out the various projects that have already been launched and the necessity for a $6 billion deficit in order to fulfill the government’s objectives. During her talk there was plenty of applause and a standing ovation at the end – from the chamber of commerce!

The Alberta NDP enacted a winning strategy, every which way. How could the federal NDP been blind to this … and essentially ignored what had transpired? How is it that Justin Trudeau and his advisors paid careful attention to what had unfolded in Alberta, and decided to emulate the winning NDP strategy? And with that strategy the Trudeau Liberals now have a majority government in Ottawa. This could have been the NDP’s for the taking …

Such colossal blunders are not something new for the NDP. Over the years they have committed some ghastly errors. It grieves me to review these issues, but we must first identify past problems and mistakes … and then maybe if the party could learn from these debacles, maybe the NDP may rise from its ashes, phoenix-like, and still some day form the government in Ottawa.

The first debacle goes back to 1988 when, in an ill-advised campaign, Ed Broadbent gained a greater number of seats for the NDP, but effectively sold out the country by enabling Mulroney to enact the Free Trade Agreement, later to become NAFTA. Since almost 60 percent of Canadians opposed the trade agreement, splitting the vote with the Liberals thwarted the will of the people. At the start of the election when John Turner declared that the cause of his life was to defeat the FTA, Broadbent and the NDP should have welcomed his impassioned appeal. Turner was open to discussions with the NDP on this matter. This was such a crucial issue that the NDP and the Liberals could have worked out some type of tacit agreement or even formed a temporary coalition in order to defeat this essentially bad agreement for Canada. John Turner fully understood the nature of this agreement and its disastrous implications for Canada, but, as it became evident, Ed Broadbent remained largely ignorant of the agreement’s specific provisions. So instead of cooperating with Turner’s Liberals on this issue, the NDP viciously attacked Turner, almost ignoring Mulroney, so Mulroney wound up with a majority and enacted the Free Trade Agreement. As for the NDP, they got 43 seats … and Canada got with lumbered with the FTA, later to become NAFTA.

Strangely, the NDP has never taken an enlightened stand on NAFTA and have never advocated its abolition. Lloyd Axworthy, former president of the University of Winnipeg and former Liberal minister of foreign affairs had put forward a powerful critique of NAFTA that deserves citation:

Let’s begin by seriously considering an end to NAFTA and reliance instead upon the World Trade Organization to regulate the terms and provisions of free trade. Not only would this offer us the protection of a trade body that has some teeth in its regulations ones not rooted in US domestic procedures and laws–it would also free us to engage in a much more innovative and active global strategy. The emergence of new economic powers like China, India, Brazil and South Africa provides markets hungry for the resources and know-how that Canada possesses. Our NAFTA connection impedes our ability to take advantage of this potential… . It’s time for new policies and tough action to shift our trade and security strategies away from a preoccupation with continental matters to a more global footing.

Now a second NDP debacle. For almost the past decade the bulk of Canada’s people, especially NDPers, bemoaned the Harper regime’s arrogant misguided reactionary governance of Canada, but how many of these people recall that it was a deliberate decision of the NDP to put Harper in office in the first place?

In the spring of 2006, despite all the terrible shortcomings of the minority Martin Liberal government, negotiations were proceeding and there were good prospects of enacting a national childcare program, an aboriginal assistance agreement, and perhaps even a pharmacare program, but suddenly the NDP almost inexplicably decided to defeat the government. All these prospects were lost and have never been reintroduced. No one seems to know why this was done or what was to be gained from this action at this time. Some say it was taunts from Harper that seemed to goad Jack Layton to pull the plug. What did they hope to gain from an election? The best scenario would have been another minority Liberal government, but with an increase in NDP seats to give them the balance of power. Actually, this would have been a good outcome. But somehow they lost their compass. Inexplicably, the NDP proceeded on a concerted course of action to reduce the Liberals, as they said, to a “burned out hulk.” For Jack Layton, it was as if Harper and his Conservatives didn’t exist – his fury was directed at the “corrupt” Liberal Party. But what really turned the polls dramatically against the Liberals was the announcement that the RCMP were investigating Ralph Goodale, the Liberal finance minister – courtesy of a request by the NDP – on baseless fraudulent grounds, later dismissed. And the rest, as they say, is history. In the final analysis, it appears that the NDP didn’t care if their actions resulted in a minority Conservative government, or even a Conservative majority. Yes, the NDP got 10 extra seats, but what about the consequences to Canada? We wound up with the Harper regime for almost ten years – thanks to the NDP. But the NDP leadership prefers not to talk about that.

And then there were two recent provincial campaigns that the NDP had good prospects of winning, but, as with the recent federal campaign, the NDP mishandled the campaigns and the prospects turned to dust. In 2013 in British Columbia, for several months the NDP were riding high in the polls and it appeared to be a dead certainty that they would win. But during the campaign, although they had scads of evidence with which to eviscerate the discredited corrupt governing “Liberal” Party, the NDP got tongue-tied and decided to “play nice” and hardly any of this came out. As for their own platform, they ran a moderate centre-right campaign and there was nothing dynamic or progressive about it. Instead, they seemed to say, “Elect us and we won’t do anything bad” … and with a low turnout the Liberals inexplicably got re-elected, even to their own surprise.

An even greater foul-up occurred in Ontario with the NDP’s strange decision to trigger an election in the spring of 2014 and then run on a right wing populist platform. They deliberately ran to the right of the incumbent Liberal Party, going so far as to court Conservative voters with promises of ‘balanced budgets’ and no new spending on social programs. Long-time Ontario NDP activists were “deeply distressed” by Leader Andrea Horwath’s decision to do this. Her campaign was so bizarre that many traditional NDP supporters ended up voting for Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne, whom they considered the true progressive of the two.

For some strange inexplicable reason, instead of taking note how the Alberta NDP managed to win a majority government in traditionally hostile territory, the federal NDP proceeded to adopt essentially the same strategy that failed so miserably in the Dix campaign in British Columbia and the Horwath campaign in Ontario. Despite glaring evidence to the contrary, they mistook “bland centre” for safe, although they had indisputable evidence right before their eyes that “playing it safe” had resulted in disaster in B.C. and in Ontario. In each of these three instances the NDP campaigns gave voters insufficient motivation to support the NDP, especially when the Liberals put forth more dynamic and bolder policies.

In actuality, the NDP had risen to opposition status not through a new and exciting vision for Canada, but through an increased ability to sound as politically bland and unthreatening as the Liberals and Conservatives usually do.

There were some other aspects that were troubling about their campaign, where the party deviated significantly from its basic roots as a social democratic entity. Its policies were always directed at diplomacy and peaceful foreign relations. Spending on the military and so-called “defence” was never a priority, but in September Thomas Mulcair announced that “Harper has driven down defence spending to one percent of GDP and we’re going to raise it to 1.2 percent.” This was supposedly to show Canadians the NDP was by no means soft on defence. This was crass catering for electoral support regardless of party principles. Woodsworth and Douglas as founders of the CCF/NDP would not be amused.

But it gets worse. When on September 21 Justin Trudeau announced that the Liberals would scrap the multi-billion dollar purchase of 65 F-35 stealth fighters, he was immediately attacked by Mulcair, saying that this was evidence of Trudeau’s “lack of experience” – although, seemingly, up till that moment the NDP had also been on record opposing this purchase! And the next day both Harper and Mulcair both blasted Trudeau for his opposition to the project.

It should be noted that the F-35 is widely acknowledged as one of the most expensive and mismanaged military procurements in modern history. This is in conjunction with the fact that the Harper Conservatives had falsely claimed that these 65 aircraft would cost $9 billion, but then in an explosive scandal it was revealed that the actual cost would be $30 billion and perhaps as much as $45 billion. So this was a scandal of no small magnitude. The further scandal is why would Canada need such a fleet of aircraft? What is not widely known is that these are not weapons of “defence,” these are sophisticated first-strike weapons whose only targets could be Russia, China or Iran. So what was Harper’s Canada up to? And why has Mulcair suddenly come out in support of this? Also, aside from Mulcair, what is the NDP’s real position on this issue? The last thing Canada needs is to spend multi-billion on a senseless fleet of first-strike aircraft. And how is it that Trudeau knows this but Mulcair doesn’t?

The devastating defeat that the NDP suffered in this past election is far more serious than most people think. Justin Trudeau’s ability to symbolize change through his youthful appearance was an important factor in this campaign. He is indeed relatively young and during this election his capabilities had been greatly underestimated. He conducted a superb campaign and accomplished this without a single negative personal attack ad on any of his opponents. He came out of this with his head high and since the election his ratings have continued to climb. He may be able to fend off the old guard in the Liberal party who may try to thwart his dynamic new approach to politics. If he is successful he may very well be on the scene for three or more electoral terms. Given this, and with the Conservatives holding their reasonably solid base, the NDP may very likely be relegated to third party status for the next fifteen years or more. So what is their future and what is their destiny?

The CCF and the NDP in their formative years functioned as both a social movement and a political party. Policies and principles were of paramount importance; they were never sacrificed in the short-term interests of election strategy. It was more important to maintain the party’s fundamental principles than to sacrifice these in hopes of winning at the ballot box. By maintaining its principles the party hoped to influence and sway society at large to move in the direction of these principles. This was always recognized as a long-term goal and it was considered worthwhile. It’s largely because of this policy that Canadian people got enlightened about the benefits of a national medicare program. Such a program became a reality and because of this, in 2004 Tommy Douglas was named “The Greatest Canadian”, based on a CBC Canada-wide, viewer-supported survey.

The NDP at the moment is a far cry from what it was in the time of Tommy Douglas. It is no longer a social movement and at this stage it is barely a social democratic party. Actually it has become a small-l liberal party focused on electability. In its policy documents there has been a recent overhaul of the NDP preamble, which now downplays socialism, eliminated social ownership, and deleted a commitment to the abolishing poverty.

I am not certain when the process began, but in recent times it appears that it is election strategy that seems to determine the party’s policies and principles, rather than the way the party used to function. This is a marked dramatic change and something that the party must recognize and deal with. It is crucial for the party to do some critical soul-searching and to re-establish a principled raison d’être. Since it has little hope of forming the government for many years to come, a strong argument can be made that it should go back to being a social movement as well as a political party.

At the present time we have an NDP that seems to be deathly afraid of its historical shadow. They’re even afraid of their own official policy documents that spell out the party’s beliefs, as well as membership resolutions passed at annual conventions. During this election campaign all these documents were expunged from the NDP website so as not to conflict with their “capitalist friendly” election platform. And what about Tommy Douglas’ speeches and writings … are these now an embarrassment to the current leadership’s perception of “electability”? Electability for what? Apparently not for anything that could be construed as the principles of a social democratic movement, let alone anything that might verge on (perish the thought!) socialism. So why am I in this party as a small “m” Marxist and socialist?

If Tommy Douglas is recognized as the ‘greatest Canadian,’ and he was right about so many things, why can’t the present NDP have the courage to explore more earnestly democratic socialism? Since it can no longer pretend to be the government-in-waiting, the NDP must rethink its role in parliament and indeed in the country. For fifty years or more, as a social movement and a political party, the NDP promoted a range of social policies that eventually forced Canada’s government to enact them. This included old age pensions, unemployment insurance, public auto insurance, medicare and other measures. In recent years the NDP hasn’t presented the equivalent of any of these policies. Why is this?

If the course of its soul-searching it should acknowledge the fact that during this last election it lost support from the public largely because of the failure of the party to present bold, progressive ideas.

The NDP should take note that the Labour Party in Britain had been discredited and greatly weakened by the right-wing policies it applied in government under prime ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. As a result Labour lost the last two elections to the Conservatives, although they too have not been popular. Because of Labour’s ongoing malaise, earlier this year the party membership, overwhelmingly, chose a solid left-winger, Jeremy Corbyn, as their new leader. His campaign for leadership has induced a surge of new and young members into the party. The change was so dramatic that the mainstream media continues to try to undermine him and the old guard Labour MPs have been hostile to him. Despite all this, Corbyn has set out to reform the party by converting it into a meaningful social democratic force, with some clear socialist principles, and the British grassroots support this approach.

Throughout most of Latin America, left-wing platforms have emerged almost everywhere, with solid support from the majority of the people. And of all things, even in the USA there is Bernie Sanders openly campaigning as a socialist! If this can happen in the USA, why has the NDP been trying to distance itself from its legitimate social democratic background? If the NDP had the courage to cast off its current Blairite attributes and reinstate some aspects of socialism in its policies, this would surely differentiate the party from the Liberals. But to do this would require a new Corbyn/Sanders leader.

In reality, it may be a blessing in disguise for the NDP to have been defeated in the way that they were. They are now no longer in contention to try to form the government for the foreseeable future, so there’s no point in them grooming themselves to be “electable” at this stage. As such they should take this opportunity to radically change course and develop some much needed long range plans for Canada. There has to be some truly meaningful substance to this party. In addition to support for social programs, the NDP must develop a proper economic development strategy for Canada. There are some major proposals they should develop and from the position of a social movement as well as a political party they should introduce these in Parliament and more importantly to the public at large. These proposals may not be as significant as medicare but they are nevertheless challenging.

The first is the issue of Big Pharma, the colossal pharmaceutical industry. It is this that has undermined medicare in Canada by constantly lumbering both the public and the government with its ever increasing costs. For example, Gilead Sciences sold $12.4 billion worth of Sovaldi at $1000 a pill last year. Even business writers are concerned. A Forbes writer wondered why the same hepatitis C drug that costs $84,000 a year in the US costs $900 a year in Egypt. With its connections at the US Food and Drug Administration, Big Pharma, to eliminate competition, has set out to systematically demolish homeopathic medicine. The answer to this is for Canada to nationalize the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs and medicines should be sold to the public and hospitals at cost of production. There would be tremendous opposition to this and the restrictions of NAFTA may present serious problems.

Given this, and for other reasons as previously outlined by Lloyd Axworthy, this could be the justification for the NDP to advocate the termination of NAFTA. This is not insurmountable – all it requires is a 6-month notice. The issue of NAFTA should be a major item for the NDP to discuss and debate, and hopefully take up the cause and get Canada out of this treaty. The NDP took the right decision to oppose the recent TPP proposal and they should fight every inch of the way to stop the federal government from adopting this corporate takeover of the country.

Canada has no business being in NATO and spending billions each year on armaments and the military. Who is going to attack Canada? However, if we really did adopt an independent policy, the USA might just decide to put us in our place within their Empire of Chaos. But if that were to happen, we couldn’t defend ourselves anyway. It’s not 1812 anymore when we were able to repulse the attacking American forces. In any case, the NDP should debate the matter of leaving NATO, and hopefully reason would prevail and the NDP should then adopt this as a matter of policy.

A fourth issue is the matter of Canadian banks and the Canadian government’s relationship with the Bank of Canada. A group of lawyers have filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court to try to force a restoration of the Bank of Canada to its mandated purposes. In essence, they want the Bank of Canada to provide interest-free loans to the federal, provincial, and municipal governments, as provided for in the Bank of Canada Act. This money would be used to finance public expenditures whenever there is a budgetary deficit. In fact, the federal government used to borrow interest-free (to at least some extent) from the Bank of Canada up until 1974. Since then governments borrow all of the necessary money (apart from any bonds they may sell to the public) from private banks at the going rate of interest. As such, Canadians are economically burdened with the resultant debt-servicing charges because the Bank of Canada does not make use of its prerogatives in the interests of the Canadian public. Interestingly, this case and the various developments that have occurred have not been covered by the mainstream media. It almost appears that the federal government had somehow ordered the mainstream media not cover the case.

Further on this matter, between 1939 and 1974, the federal government actually did borrow from its own central bank.  That made its debt effectively interest-free, since the government owned the bank and got the benefit of the interest. As such Canada emerged from World War II with very little debt. Somehow at the present time this is largely unknown by Canadians and our government ignores this crucial aspect. Surely this is a matter that the NDP should take to heart. It should surely follow the developments of this court case, and then pursue the matter in Parliament. In the long run, if the NDP had the guts, they should start the process of eventually nationalizing the banks in this county.

These are some of the measures that the NDP should seriously consider. If they should decide to support these proposals, once again the party would become as relevant as it was in the days of Tommy Douglas. And in due course, with such a meaningful platform and a dynamic leader who would support these causes, the NDP might be able to win the support of the Canadian public. Canada could then have a government that could change the course of history for this country.

And finally, many of us are tired of the “New” in the party title – isn’t it time that it became the “Canadian Democratic Party” or better still the “Canadian Social Democratic Party”? What we desperately need is another Tommy Douglas, or at least his vision of the party being a social movement and the conscience of the nation.

John Ryan, Ph.D., Retired Professor of Geography and Senior Scholar, University of Winnipeg. He can be reached at [email protected]


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