Volume 38, Number 1: January/February 2004

Run-Up To The 2004 Federal Election

The business establishment was never happy with the split in the ranks of the Tories that followed the collapse of the Mulroney regime. Bay Street always likes an acceptable fallback to the party in office, a second party committed to its agenda in case the first one falters and is unable to deliver.

It may not get that in the new Conservative Party of Canada, born as it was out of a fraudulent process that ranks with the most cynical maneuvres in Canadian political history.

Both the Alliance and the PCs acted, however, out of desperation, each facing annihilation at the hands of a Paul Martin-led Liberal government that takes up just about all the space there is for fiscal conservativism. Brian Mulroney, Preston Manning and their antecedents could only dream of enacting the extreme version of neoliberalism Paul Martin fathered on behalf of the Liberals. Alliance and Tory leaders hoped that together they could at least mount a competitive campaign in 2004 leading to a victorious one in the next round, or the one after that.

Now it is not at all clear that this will occur. The merger – its haste, opportunism and betrayals so transparent ‹ leaves such a foul odour that only the most obtuse Tories will be willing to hold their noses and vote the new party. Especially one that is so clearly a makeover of the neanderthal Alliance.

The Martin Liberals can only reap the benefit of such a fouled-up effort to “unite the right.” But the NDP, under its energetic and telegenic new leader, Jack Layton, will also gain ground, although not enough to become the official opposition as some would hope.

As revealed in CD’s interview of Jack Layton in our previous issue, Layton’s vision of the NDP is radically different than the NDP to which we have all grown accustomed. It is a vision of an activist party with close links to the social movements ‹ something quite alien to social-democratic party formations here (or anywhere else, for that matter). Of course, it remains to be seen whether Layton will succeed in transforming this party from the electoralist machine it is and always has been into a campaigning, movement-building organization.

Prior to the 2000 federal election we observed in these pages that “For better or for worse, federal elections are a defining moment in the political lives of an overwhelming majority of Canadians, especially outside Quebec. Inasmuch as people see political and collective action of any sort as a solution to their myriad problems – by far the largest number turn to the party system and elections. We have to be able to say intelligent and intelligible things to those … voters.”

With this in mind, for our March-April issue we have invited several anti-capitalist activists to put forward elements of a structural reform electoral program. Our aim is to stimulate discussion in part to exercise whatever modest influence we might have in the 2004 election, but mainly to build our capacities to think strategically about revolutionary reform and to intervene intelligently in years to come. Readers who wish to participate in this discussion are invited to send us their thoughts.