[Marxism] Political crisis exposes Canada's national, class divisions

Richard Fidler rfidler_8 at sympatico.ca
Tue Dec 9 06:35:35 MST 2008

OTTAWA – In a classic 19th century work, English journalist Walter
Bagehot divided the Constitution into two parts. The “efficient”
part — the executive (cabinet) and legislative — were responsible
for the business of government. The “dignified” part, the Queen,
was to put a human face on the capitalist state. Bagehot noted,
however, that the Queen also had “a hundred” powers called
Prerogatives, adding: “There is no authentic explicit information
as to what the Queen can do

On December 4 Canadians learned, many to their dismay, that those
Prerogatives, borrowed from England in their Constitution,
included the power to shut down the elected Parliament. Using her
discretionary authority, Governor General Michaëlle Jean, the
Queen’s representative, allowed Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s
request to “prorogue” or suspend the proceedings of Parliament
until January 26. This enabled the minority Conservative
government to avoid certain defeat in the House of Commons in a
vote scheduled for December 8. At the same time, the Governor
General rejected a formal request by opposition MPs from two
parties to form a new government which, with the promised support
of a third party, would have a clear majority in the House.

As one wit commented, Canada has now become a “pro-rogue state”.
It is no laughing matter, however.

No recession?

The Parliamentary hiatus means that Canadians enter a deepening
financial and economic crisis without even the promise of early
government assistance that might provide emergency relief from
mounting unemployment, vanishing credit and evaporating private
pensions. Employment statistics released December 5 revealed the
loss of 70,600 jobs in November alone, the biggest monthly job
loss since the 1982 recession.

The economic crisis is now a political crisis — and threatens to
become a “national unity” crisis — as government and opposition
parties fan out across the country to rally public opinion behind
their respective agendas.

The crisis was touched off two and a half weeks earlier when
Parliament met for the first time since the October 14 general
election. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty presented an economic
statement that incredibly predicted that Canada would avoid a
recession, projected a budget surplus, promised to privatize and
sell off government buildings and other assets and imposed
significant cuts in government spending. The government also
announced it would drop pay equity measures for women in the
federal public service, reduce the overall wage bill for federal
government employees and ban their right to strike. And to add
insult to injury, state funding of political parties was to be cut
back sharply. 

The Harper government had already earmarked $75 billion to take
mortgages off the books of the banks and is providing tens of
billions in other forms of support and liquidity to the financial
industry, with few conditions.

It seemed the right-wing Tories had forgotten they were a
minority. Less than two months earlier, they had been elected in
only 143 seats, 12 short of a majority.

NDP beds down with Liberals

Flaherty’s statement caught the Opposition off guard, as the
government had been hinting for weeks that it would propose
economic pump-priming measures even at the cost of a budget
deficit. Normally, so soon after an election, a defeated
Opposition would be expected not to try to overturn the
government. But to the government’s surprise, the two major
Opposition parties now moved to defeat the Tories in a
parliamentary vote and form a coalition government to replace

Within days, Liberal leader Stéphane Dion had cobbled together a
deal with the New Democratic Party, Canada’s traditional
social-democratic party. Dion and NDP leader Jack Layton agreed to
form a joint government “built on a foundation of fiscal
responsibility” to rule for at least three years. Liberals would
hold the key positions of Prime Minister and Minister of Finance
as well as 18 of the 24 cabinet posts, the other 6 going to the
NDP. It began to look as if the NDP had rescued the Liberals, who
only six weeks earlier had emerged from the election with their
lowest voter support since Confederation in 1867.

Since the Liberals, with 77 seats, and the NDP, with 37, could not
muster a majority, they got the pro-sovereignty Bloc Québécois,
which holds 49 of Quebec’s 75 seats, to pledge not to support
motions of non-confidence in the Government for at least 18
months. Voilà, a government with a working majority of 163 seats,
to be led by outgoing Liberal leader Dion until May, when he was
to be replaced by whoever won the scheduled Liberal leadership

The political content of the Liberal-NDP coalition agreement  was,
to say the least, rather modest. It featured vague promises of
increased spending on infrastructure investments, housing and aid
to troubled manufacturing industries; easier eligibility for
unemployment benefits; improved child benefits; pursuit of a
“North American cap-and-trade market with absolute emission
targets” and unspecified “Immigration Reform”. 

Perhaps more significant were the things it did not contain — most
notably, no reference to Canada’s military intervention in
Afghanistan. The NDP’s promise to end Canada’s “combat mission” in
that country was one of the major planks that distinguished it
from the Liberals and other parties in the recent election.

Nor was there any reference to the North American Free Trade
Agreement or other trade and investment deals that the NDP had
previously opposed or pledged to reform in workers’ interests.
There was nothing in the agreement that would in any way mark a
Canadian departure from its close alignment with U.S. economic or
foreign policy and military strategy. 

Best case scenario?

The coalition proposal struck a responsive chord, however, among
many trade union and social movement activists. On-line
pro-coalition petitions were swiftly organized, attracting tens of
thousands of signatures in support. Media talk shows and email
discussion lists buzzed with favourable commentary.

Prominent left critics of neoliberalism volunteered their support.
Naomi Klein, setting aside her autonomism for the moment,
envisaged a “best case scenario”: “one, you get the coalition, and
two, the NDP uses this moment to really launch a national
discussion about why we need PR [proportional representation]

Socialist Register editor Leo Panitch, while expressing
reservations about the anticapitalist potential of the coalition,
hailed the “courage” of the coalition proponents and saw some
promise in the NDP’s role: “In Canada, as the New Democrats
prepare themselves for federal office for the first time in their
history, the prospect of turning banking into a public utility
might be seen as laying the groundwork for the democratization of
the economy that the party was originally committed to when it was

Even some Marxists saw merit in the Coalition. The International
Socialists, in a special supplement to their newspaper Socialist
Worker, opposed giving a “blank cheque” to the Coalition, but said
“The key question now is what demands we make on the Liberal-NDP
Coalition and how we mobilize to win them.”

There were a few lonely dissenting voices. ....

Full: http://tinyurl.com/5jyyk9

More information about the Marxism mailing list