Tag Archives: NDP

Ontario NDP given chance to pull the Liberals left

2 Aug
Peggy Sattler with Andrea Horwath during the August Ontario byelection

Peggy Sattler, middle, won in London during the August 1 Ontario byelection

Voters delivered a clear message: out with the Liberals, down with the PCs.

The NDP won two of the five liberal ridings up for grabs in this byelection. The new MPPs are successful politicians in their own rights: Percy Hatfield was a city councilor in Windsor and Peggy Sattler was a school trustee. Both were running in ridings where the former representatives, Dwight Duncan and Chris Bentley, wore most of the controversy of the $500 million waste in the gas plant scandal. 

The Liberals barely held onto Dalton McGuinty’s former riding and Mitzie Hunter took over for Margarett Best, a cabinet minister whose profile was never very high.

The PCs only won Etobicoke-Lakeshore in a race that had more to do with Toronto politics than Ontario politics, where two sitting councilors raced against each other. Former Etobicoke mayor and Rob Ford insider Doug Holyday is their new MPP.

Before any party claims victory, a sober analysis of the political scene is critical: were people voting for, or against something?

There’s no question: the PCs and the Liberals, if not tied to be this byelection’s loser, were neck in neck for that laurel. The PCs might just take it as byelections tend to be the opportunity to show the ruling party a lesson. In the next general election, these votes might swing right back to the Liberals. Many have wondered publicly what this will mean for Tim Hudak’s future. I agree that his days as leader are numbered.

This bring me back to my first point: the Ontario NDP might regret these results.

That’s my pessimistic way of saying this: the NDP has won its greatest opportunity since they held government to influence government. Are they up to the challenge?

Assuming that government holds long enough to even consider a budget, the pressure on the NDP to deliver a budget with the Liberals that reflects some progressive values will be their greatest test in nearly 20 years. The Liberals will need NDP support. The New Democrats cannot rely on weak, populist policies if they’re going to prove that they’re a viable alternative. They’ll have to demonstrate that they can play politics: make serious demands or force a general election.

Will party insiders see this reality? Or will they actually believe that folks in London and Windsor voted NDP because they think Andrea Horwath should be premier?

The victories for the NDP in this campaign are not insignificant. Sattler and Hatfield will be important additions to Queen’s Park.

But the losses for the NDP are more significant than this byelection’s gains. The absurd powerplay of Adam Giambrone to become the candidate in Scarborough-Guildwood called into question both the party’s internal democracy and moral decency. It was a bigger error than Sattler’s win was a victory. Miscalculating Giambrone’s transit strategy and siding with a Rob Ford-esque subway promise was a bigger error than Hatfield’s win was a victory.

They’re bigger errors because they seem to have been orchestrated by the party’s central command. Where Sattler and Hatfield won mostly on their reputations followed by the banner of the NDP, Giambrone seemed to be steered by the back room of the party. Or, at least that’s what it looked like from the outside.

When budget negotiations come around, who will be the strategists? The folks who organized Giambrone’s campaign or Sattler’s campaign?

If the NDP picks their big issues now (public childcare? lower tuition fees? new energy policies?), pulling a Liberal budget to the left won’t be politically difficult.

Staying on their current track: figuring out the easiest policies to implement and allowing populism to drive them, will result in the a PC victory during the next election, if that party jettisons Hudak.

There are many, many months for the NDP to clean itself up internally and find the best political minds and organizers they can mine from the left. With an activist Ontario Federation of Labour, this shouldn’t be a hard task.

They have no other choice: they have to finally put their progressive rhetoric into action or left-wing Ontarians should walk away and start something new.

Whether or not “the party” sees this is an entirely different question that I’ll no doubt get to write about in a few months.

Photo from http://www.peggysattler.ca

From Orange Wave to Third Way: Speech delivered at Marxism 2013 in Toronto

3 Jun

As a populist party that has seemingly abandoned its base in the drive for Liberal and even Conservative supporters, it’s hard to imagine the NDP fulfilling the roles that most activists or progressives believe it should fulfill.

I was never an activist for the NDP but I learned a lot working from the outside of the party through the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, where we hoped our policies would be adopted to become policies of the provincial party. Because, as the left-wing party that is meant to amplify the demands of social movements, we believed that that was the role that they held: in addition to their own policy-making structures, the NDP should be taking its lead from the activists on the ground and in those social movements. These groups have the research. We had the expertise.

But, of course, this rarely happens. Instead, social movements, including the labour movement, have to operate more like lobby organizations, even if the majority of the leadership from these movements are members of the party. It is in these interactions that it’s clear that the NDP has broken the drug dealers’ cardinal rule: it has gotten high on its own supply.

Yes, the NDP, both federally and provincially, has forgotten that it is not actually the Liberal or the Conservative parties and must fight its brand of politics out on a different terrain. This omission will prove to be the party’s most critical error. Like a game of chess played against a master, where you move every one of your pieces to mirror your opponent, you’ll do well enough until you eventually lose.

When I moved to Québec City, possibly the only city in Canada where I had zero political contacts, we literally stumbled across the office for QS at the start of the Québec election. The language barrier had made me more shy than I had been my entire life. Luckily, I was half drunk and I walked into that office (my partner walking into a window) and became involved immediately.

QS is new. As I wasn’t around for the glory days of the CCF, it’s hard to compare the two parties as they’re at different stages of their existences. But my involvement in QS has made a few things extremely obvious. First, that for a party to be able to call itself progressive and not get laughed at, it needs to be rooted in social movements. This remains a struggle for QS and much of our political organizing starts with the question of who are the groups leading the charge and how can we help them? Second, keeping any party firmly on the left takes a core group of people who will unwaveringly challenge the party and its members to reject electoralism, even when a motion comes forward with the laudable goal of increasing our number of seats to 5. Third, and on the left this is sometimes ignored or not held up as being important, the leadership of QS, that is the spokespeople, are charismatic, intelligent and popular. Both the former leaders and now the new one have histories in community organizing that helped to produce impressive faces for our party: so impressive that one of our spokespeople was voted the most popular politician in 2011 and the other was voted most popular in 2012.

I could talk more about QS. I could also go on with identifying all the problems that I can see with the NDP and its provincial wings. But I only have 15 minutes and I think what’s important here is to have a discussion on what’s possible, what’s desirable and what is to be done with the NDP?

To start, socialists need to ask ourselves is the NDP even capable of shifting far enough to the left to be able to undertake the changes that we believe are necessary to manage (not even stop) the ravaging effects of capitalism?

If the answer to this question is yes, then activists must look toward working through the party apparatus to try and force change from the inside. I have no doubt that the current strategic decisions, the drift to the right and the abandonment of the party’s core issues to offer Geico-stolen promises off car insurance are the result of the collective organizing capacity of folks in the party. Change the people, it’s undoubtedly possible to change some of the policies.

And, if we agree that the current democratic model is itself the problem, then we might be satisfied with making such minor changes, while we push for more radical changes outside of the party. Indeed, I have many, many friends who have chosen this route.

However, I cannot ignore the conservatizing influence that this has on activists. While what I have just stated is true, that moderate change is likely possible with a regime change of the players, it is also more true that in the relationship between who changes, the party will undoubtedly change less than the person being involved. To pretend this isn’t the case is total naïveté. While I know that some people are comfortable with this trade off, it’s important to be honest that it is a trade off and, in my opinion, just isn’t worth the time and effort that has to be put in.

This leaves us with the only other answer to my question: no, it’s not possible for the NDP to shift enough to the left to undertake the changes that we believe are necessary to manage the ravaging effects of capitalism.

Unfortunately, in a government role, the NDP has proven that this answer is most likely to be the correct one.  The NDP has never delivered what it claims to be able to deliver. Instead, NDP governments have broadly inflicted neo liberal policies while offering some modest social reforms, in some cases.

This reality means that the option that will likely have the greatest impact for socialists is to abandon the NDP all together and coordinate a process of broad and fundamental regroupment. If we believe that socialists should be fighting it out in mainstream electoral politics, then regroupment is our only hope. Whether this takes the form of a new political party or just a provincial or federal network that’s main job is to force change on the NDP from the outside is determined by several realities that we must face.

First, regroupment cannot be reorganization. It must include groups who have not normally worked together, organize on new terms and around the core of what the NDP should be fighting for.

Regroupment also has to include labour. Despite the problems that exist within the Labour movement, unions are still comprised of people and offer Canadians the best vehicle to organize broadly. Labour activists must make links with social movement activists and find ways to advance their politics within their communities and externally. This means that labour bureaucracy, the ones who have decided that the NDP should be elected at all costs, has to be challenged. It is not good enough to simply want to keep Hudak out or to kick out Wall: people need to be organized around issues, not simple against people.

Finally, and obviously, regroupment needs to be focused on a core set of demands that will once again inspire people to be involved in politics.  Maybe this should start with demanding a corruption inquiry at the federal level, radical but entirely possible education and health reforms at the provincial levels and transportation and energy alternatives. If we cannot expect the NDP to lead on these issues, activists themselves must build networks centred on these values to the force the party into action.

Or, if action isn’t possible, to lay the groundwork to start a new political party.

QS is remarkable for many reasons, but it’s most important for activists outside of Québec because it shows what’s possible. With just two deputies, QS has been able to respond, almost daily, to the debates that are happening at the Ass Nat. And, not just respond but offer criticism and alternatives. They drew on the strength of the student movement and ensured that the discussion about free education wasn’t relegated to just student demands, but in fact, the desires of progressive Québecers who were both inspired and who stood in solidarity with the student strikers.

The only way to test the NDP is to provide strong, parallel movements than can challenge the austerity policies of the federal and provincial governments. If our movements are strong enough, broad-based and not limited to regions, we can actually put the NDP to a test: either the party will join our movements, take its lead from our demands and advance our demands, or they’ll pull a Party Québecois: get elected on a left-of-centre platform, made possible by the activist work undertaken in Québec, and then betray Québecers by backing down on nearly every promise.

It will be at that moment that the next steps become clear: either they’re with social movements or they aren’t. And if they aren’t, the organzing that had been done up until that point will form the perfect basis for a new party.

Who can save the Ontario political left?

6 May

Picture 22This past weekend, Québec Solidaire’s econmic platform, the Plan Vert was officially launched. The campaign is a response to Liberal (and now PQ) Plan Nord, premised on resource extraction and exploitation of Québec’s north. It focuses on investing in the following initiatives:

  • transitioning Québec toward green energies
  • the mass development of public transportation (especially outside of the large cities)
  • the mass transition toward energy efficiency and social housing
  • developing cooperatives and collectively-run businesses
  • taking back control over natural resources.

There is also a focus on food sovereignty and finding local food solutions for Québecers, especially in regions under-serviced by local food production.

The campaign was launched in the middle of Québec Solidaire’s national congress, a congress that was criticized by many members (including me) for having too much of a focus on electoral gains, absent of the necessary political analysis that anchors QS firmly on the left.

But when the Plan Vert was presented, my fears about an electoralist, populist shift to the right were somewhat calmed. Yes, while the campaign is set to start in the fall, work should commence immediately. Yes, the Plan Vert should have included the role that tax evasion and corruption play in slowing or stopping progressive environmental policies from being implemented (as one member mentioned to me).

And, most importantly, yes, activists within the party have to remain diligent in defending its progressive core, especially as the party grows and external pressures will force it towards the centre.

But regardless, the Plan Vert is a solid platform upon which activists can organize. It’s an example of what a political party with any ideology should do: present its own agenda based on the internal policy work undertaken by its members. For a party like QS, policy work isn’t confined to members alone, as the party takes its cues from the experts: social movements.

During the campaign launch, and as I have yet to shed all aspects of my Ontarioness, I couldn’t help but feel really, really sorry for my friends and family back home for whom there is no similar political party.

Instead, the Ontario NDP is, again, engaging the public in an online survey. On their website, they announce that they have a new toll-free number and website that will help them help Ontarians, “…have their say on:

  • How to make the budget more accountable to Ontarians and how to make government more transparent
  • Cost saving measures that will balance the budget without jeopardizing services
  • Fair and affordable ways to fund transportation and transit
  • Firm guarantees to deliver on government commitments
  • Reflecting the needs of every region across the province”

OK, ignoring the syntax problems that exist with the final two bullet points (have their say on reflecting? Really?) this is an example of what happens when a party with a progressive mission and core loses its political compass.

The slow, decades-long slide towards electoralism has left Ontarians with no realistic, progressive options at the ballot box. What’s worse is that the Plan Nord is modeled on Ontario’s Ring of Fire, a plan that will be equally or more destructive to Northern Ontario and the ONDP is nowhere on demanding the destructive elements of the Ring of Fire be stopped.

Short of a miracle dropping the scales from the collective eyes of the ONDP, social movements are the only hope that Ontarians have. Social movements will either have to take the ONDP (back) by force or start something new: the situation is too desperate to allow for the space on the left to be occupied by this.

The Plan Vert offers Québecers a real alternative: liberation from neo-liberal policies, as one delegate said this weekend. After the liberation from the Liberals landed more austerity in the form of PQ broken election policies, the direction that Québec must take if we are to free ourselves from the influences of profit and the destruction of resource extraction, should be more clear than ever before.

But Canadians, especially people involved in the NDP and its provincial branches, can take from the strategies presented within the Plan Vert too. We cannot defeat austerity if we don’t offer alternatives. We cannot build confidence among citizens if we refuse to show them that there exist alternatives.

And we certainly cannot ignore these alternatives while hiding behind a toll-free number or tweeting a website. If the ONDP hasn’t found the answers to the questions they posed, how do they expect the average Ontarian to be able to solve transit funding on their own, for example? This isn’t democracy, it a democratic mirage that actually undermines the confidence people might have in the ONDP. It’s deeply disenfranchising and it’s an insult to everyone who suffers as a result of austere policies.

Am I being too harsh? Maybe. But once you see what Québec Solidaire has made possible, especially in spite of our deeply broken political system and with just two representatives elected, it’s hard to look at the strategies of the ONDP in any other way.

Survey says: The ONDP is out of ideas

8 Feb
Screen shot 2013-02-08 at 2.01.56 PM

It’s surprisingly hard to find photos of Horwath speaking at rallies.

What is up with the Ontario NDP?

During the last election, rather than offering Ontarians a vision for the province that was a real alternative to the austerity policies of the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives, the NDP promised every Ontarian relief from the HST on their home heating bills.

The chorus around hydro was so loud that it drowned out other, moderately more progressive, though equally boring policies. The sum total was an election where I held my nose and encouraged myself to not vote for the Northern Ontario Heritage Party candidate running in my Toronto riding.

(I didn’t know that party existed, though I figured the word “heritage” was a code word for “racist” as it sometimes is in Canada.)

I bring up the last Ontario election because that was the last time the NDP’s policies directly affected me, as an Ontarian. Aside from their disappointing budget negotiations last spring where they could have maybe saved the ONTC, the election was the last time the NDP had the chance to impress me as a potential voter. Then I left Ontario for Québec.

Despite the neoliberal policies of the Parti Québécois, they make the Ontario NDP look like the Progressive Conservatives. With a vision of Québec that is slightly less neoliberal than the Liberal party’s, the Ontario NDP could learn a lot from the PQ’s social democratic approach.

The key to their success is producing (and implementing) a platform that more or less resembles what they believe Québecers want: an end to corruption in politics, a moratorium on fracking, banning asbestos mining, a tuition fee freeze (the NDP promised that in the 2011 election), 15,000 new public childcare spaces and increasing taxes on top income earners.

With a particular ideology, the PQ has offered a program that they have used to entice Québecers to support them.

For some reason, the NDP has instead relied on the use of online surveys to determine their political priorities. It was this survey approach that some NDP activists used to justify their weak policies during the 2011 election. During the election, Ontarians apparently “had their say” to make HST off home heating the big issue of the election for the NDP.

And they’re trying it again.

This past fall, the NDP should have jumped on McGuinty’s prorogued government and turned it into a rallying point. They should have staged protests across the province, pretended to govern anyway, issued daily press releases with the issue that the NDP caucus would be highlighting each day, invited Liberal and PC MPPs to join them in their mock government, flooded radio phone-in shows with stories about their dedication to democracy, rejuvenated the campaign for electoral reform or basically anything else that was something.

Instead, there wasn’t a whole lot. The teachers’ negotiations dominated the headlines and the NDP was almost completely absent from the debate.

And when the OFL impressively mobilized nearly 30,000 people out front of the Liberal Convention, in many ways the culmination of the battle waged by the teachers, Andrea Horwath wasn’t among the speakers. Was this labour’s fault? The NDP’s? I don’t know. But if I were running the NDP, I’d have every single NDP MPP, staffer and activist all over that rally as if it were lifeboats being dropped off the side of the titanic, whatever it took.

Now, faced with a leader who may actually appear more progressive than Horwath at the Liberal Party, the NDP has returned to their favoured form of policy development: another survey.

You can tell Andrea your priorities because, apparently, she’s run out of her own.

In the fight against the Liberals, here’s what is supposed to inspire Ontarians:

  • End corporate tax loopholes (this is just related to the HST)
  • On-the-job training for youth
  • Opening doors-to-employment
  • 15% cut to auto insurance rates
  • 5 day home care guarantee for seniors
  • Balanced approach to balancing the budget

This is supposed to differentiate them from the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives. This is supposed to be inspiring.

If the NDP is going to start convincing Ontarians to vote for progressive policies, rather than just picking up the scraps left behind by even less impressive Liberal and PC parties, they’re going to have to do better.

Why not promise to do something actually progressive? Why not demonstrate to Ontarians why the left exists and that it’s capable enough to fight for a more just and equitable world? Why pretend that on-the-job training for youth (more unpaid internships??) will do anything to help a generation of young people who are drowning in debt and cobbling together shitty contract with shitty contract to get by?

If it’s crowdsourcing that the NDP has opened itself up to in this process, then, fine. Here’s a list that can be crowdsourced.

  • Immediately instate $5/day publicly subsidized childcare
  • Create a Green Ontario plan that would halt mining on traditional Indigenous territory, increase rail connections, reinvest in the ONTC, invest in alternative energy sources and phase out nuclear power.
  • Reverse McGuinty’s tuition fee increases (a reduction of up to 71%).
  • Create a new tax bracket for people making more than $150,000
  • Launch a corruption probe into the affairs of the Liberal Party to investigate ORNGE, E-Health and the Mississauga gas plan closure.

I really want Ontarians to have a progressive, uniting force that can take down neoliberal politicians and I’m not naïve: the NDP isn’t supposed to be this force. But in its desperate reach for populism while still occupying space on the “left” it prohibits any other opportunities for activists to build an alternative to the party.

Instead, progressives are expected to lobby the NDP the way they would lobby the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives, through meetings and online surveys.

It’s no wonder the party seems to be struggling to reach people. By and large, its relationship with the left is somewhere between damaged and non-existent.

In Québec, the Parti Québecois’ brand of populism and social democratic rule wasn’t good enough for the left. The result has been the creation of Québec solidaire, born out of social movement organizations.

Ontario isn’t Québec but progressives from both regions should learn from each other: either the NDP must be turned into a fighting, progressive force, or it can’t continue to be the only party on the “left.”

Because unfortunately, the status quo is letting austerity win.

Photo taken from: http://niagaraatlarge.com/2011/01/03/head-north-young-doctors-%E2%80%A6-far-away-from-fort-erie/

The Province of Northern Ontario

5 Oct

George Orwell warned us. Somehow he knew that the future would be marked by the use of words that mean one thing but that mean another.

In many ways, it should have been inconceivable (I don’t think it means what you think it means).

I’m thinking of this because I came across the use of one of these doublespeak words while looking up an article for this post.

Sustainable.

Here’s a definition I copied and pasted. With my French classes making me comb through dictionaries 68 times a day, I don’t feel like transcribing what my Canadian Oxford Dictionary says. But, you’ll get the point.

sus·tain·a·ble/səˈstānəbəl/

Adjective:
  1. Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
  2. (esp. of development, exploitation, or agriculture) Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources

The least popular Liberal in Northern Ontario, Rick Bartolucci used the word “sustainable” to justify the divestment in the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, according to the North Bay Nugget.

In the release, Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci says the divestment of the ONTC is necessary to promote sustainable transportation and telecommunications services in the North – now and in the future.

“This thorough and competitive sales process will ensure the buyer selected for Ontera is best able to meet provincial priorities to deliver telecommunications services, stimulate the economy, sustain jobs and provide value for taxpayers,” he said.

You got that?

Turning over the telecommunications infrastructure and service of Northern Ontario to a private corporation will ensure the sustainability of phone service in the North. Divesting in rail and bus service will ensure the sustainability of transportation in the North.

I’ll repeat: removing the public accountability inherent in these organizations (through, you know, democracy), Northerners will be better served by Rogers or Coach Canada or…you know, the likely replacement in the case of most transportation services….nothing. Jobs will be lost. Workers will be paid less. Services will suffer.

It’s easy to ignore that companies like Greyhound nearly cancelled routes in Northwestern Ontario because they’re not profitable enough (though a public pressure campaign convinced the company to keep some services). Forget the fact that the ONTC exists because Northern Ontario is a large place and the normal rules of capitalism haven’t really convinced politicians to create transportation systems that actually help people (rather than the mines). Let’s pretend to not remember the vast network of quasi-public (more public than private anyway) system of transportation that moves people throughout the GTA called GO Transit that also costs a lot of money to operate.

These things are forgettable for two reasons.

The first is that for most people in Southern Ontario, Northern Ontario starts at Orillia. And when the tip of the iceberg is mistaken for the entire thing, bad decisions will be made.

The second is that for the Liberal Party, they can mail a bag of turds to most Northerners and it will not likely change what people think about their party. The Liberal supporters will blame it on the kids down the street. The vast remaining majority will further despise the party.

So, attacking the telecommunications network Ontera and killing the Northlander are good political decisions. They won’t likely hurt the Liberals.

(Though, as the party with arguably the most support in the North, the NDP made a huge political and moral mistake by not including support for the ONTC in their budget negotiations with the Liberals.)

A few weeks ago, I encouraged people to not fear discussions about Québec independence. In that same vein, I think that it’s clear: Northern Ontario needs to become its own province. Not a country, yet, but at least a province.

For many people in positions of power, the North, especially with the Liberal’s drooly romance with the Ring of Fire, seems to be nothing more than a bunch of vacant land with lots of wickedly expensive crap under the soil. For industries who will  profit from the activities in the North, infrastructure, telecommunications and quality of life of Northerners is only important insofar as it encourages and enables their profits to grow. This colonial relationship continues to drive communities into poverty and perverts local leadership to support programs that aren’t what their communities want.

Bay street doesn’t care about Sault Ste. Marie, Hearst or Geraldton. Neither does Queen’s Park. And, together, such an attitude leads to a decision like the divestment of the ONTC.

Imagine the possibilities inherent in the creation of a new province: The chance to build a transportation infrastructure that connects communities with rail and bus lines that can bring students home from Lakehead University or Northern College. Imagine starting a province where people come together to create what they want, rather than inheriting a series of messes created by the South? Imagine being able to make decisions without waiting for permission from the faraway land of Toronto.

Imagine what Northern Ontario could look like if the people in the North were the decision-makers? Imagine the possibilities for First Nations communities, many of who struggle for self-determination and some of who have successfully fought against mining or logging companies looking to profit off their “resources.”

To me, that would lead to something sustainable. That would create jobs and infrastructure that actually works for Northerners.

All communities in Canada are struggling with another form of doublespeak: where their “democracies” are less democratic and more a tyranny of the minority. In Northern Ontario, it’s clear that the current arrangement in the province does not work in the best interests of the people there and something has to change.

If Northern Ontario can’t get any respect from the South as an appendage then its time to create a new entity that could form a relationship with Toronto or Winnipeg (or Chicago) on it’s own terms.

Enough of having to beg from the scraps left over from the Greater Toronto Area.