No Majority For You! And Other Kvetching On The 2021 Canadian Election Farce
As the farce that is Canada's election heads into the homestretch, Gabriel Haythornthwaite takes an incisive, caustic look at the campaign so far, the lack of viable options for the left and the need for leftists to start looking beyond this election towards building a genuine anti-capitalist alternative.
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By Gabriel Haythornthwaite
Summer elections are weirder than usual. Called on August 15th by a Prime Minister with fantastic hair, more than half the federal campaign has rolled by a public largely uninterested in the proceedings.
Any grounded analysis of Canuck elections should conclude that the corporate rich guarantee their victory in advance of polling day through the right-wing allegiances of elite parties and a highly restrictive business media debate. At the same time, leftists like myself should take an interest in the outcomes as they frame the politics the working majority has to live under.
So, in this vein, I daily check the CBC Poll Tracker (which projects vote and seat counts based on rolling poll aggregates) to take the pulse of this plod. A week in and this ritual became what I dub "the daily bummer" as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have fumbled from a welcome repeat minority government performance to a potential upset at the hands of the Erin O’Toole regressive Conservatives. I know a greater-Evil when I see one.
Adding to this gratuitous bummer is that in the past week, the "other" column of the CBC party polling results—originally containing two far-right parties, Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada and the cowboy western Maverick party—has vomited out Mad Max's PPC as a column of its own. The proto-fascist PPC, currently polling at near 6% (they got 1.6% in 2019), now has almost double the support of the badly-tanking Greens whose leader, Annamie Paul, appears better suited to the role of saboteur.
Paul insisted in the summer that her instigation of a Green caucus purge and, relatedly, taking her own Party to court were both distractions no one should pay any mind to. Financially strapped and political divided, Paul has been forced into a bunker mode of electoral battle by sticking to her riding for the campaign’s duration. However, the ostensible Green leader did find time to (she claims accidently) endorse the ruling Liberals at a September 2nd press conference, extolling the Trudeau climate plan as the best option to take advantage of a “green [gold] rush” (huzzah!) The PPC currently leads the Greens in every province except BC, where the latter’s shit 6% polling is half of what it was in 2019.
One saving grace in this farce is that no party seems remotely close to a majority. The Conservatives have a vote-clumping problem with overwhelming margins in Alberta and Saskatchewan, where they already hold all but one seat, while the Liberal vote is much better spread out. In 2019, under Andrew “Trust Me, I’m An Insurance Broker” Scheer the Conservatives got 34% of the vote (what they are currently polling), one point more than Trudeau who nonetheless gained 36 more seats.
The NDP seem very pleased with their stubborn standing at 20% while insisting Jagmeet Singh is running to be Prime Minister; repeating Jack Layton's weird alpha-male routine in the 2008 contest from a very similar hopeless 4th place standing in Parliament with 20-odd seats. This used car salesmanship has the following grifter-logic; by saying something is so, that's half way to making it be.
But this "gonna-be-PM" bluster also violates the corporate warning about over-promising and under-delivering which you would think, given how much the NDP has served the corporate rich (especially at the provincial level), they might get by now. If the current happy trend holds, the NDP is on course to return to distant third place with fewer seats than they had in 1988.
Speaking of over-promising and under-delivering, Trudeau the Younger has definitely done that by calling the election expecting a scared populace to reward his COVID handling with a majority. Didn't his Brain Trust read the numbers of a Delta-variant (somewhat impervious to vaccines it seems) driven fourth wave? The vaccine passport announced in places like BC, meant no doubt to boost Trudeau by both placating the business classes and punctuating a return to regressive-normalcy, has backfired on the liberal Right and put wind in the Con and PPC sails.
I suppose the Trudeau Trust is not superstitious. But should they not have been struck by the fact that Trudeau the Younger had to lead off his expertly rehearsed election call with an awkward statement about Afghanistan; the very day Kabul fell to the Taliban? This statement underscored Canada’s clueless response to this well-deserved anti-colonial drubbing with Trudeau insisting that Canada “stood behind the people of Afghanistan” as foreign colonists and their collaborators were fleeing for their lives.
At the very least, the Trudeau Trust could have waited two days for the Nova Scotian election on August 17th. Here, the overconfident ruling Liberals—ahead in the polls at the start of the campaign—went down to a bunch of Tory swindlers who promised big increases in healthcare spending. This was the first instance of a Canadian provincial government being turfed in an election since the start of the pandemic.
Ten days to go and it appears that the Cons have peaked perhaps too soon. Bay St. O’Toole is super-vulnerable on health care, given his video statements in favour of privatization in 2020. An edited video that focused on the Con leader’s pro-privatization comments was released, courtesy of Deputy PM Chrystia Freeland. This cyber-sparring earned Freeland the censure of Twitter which labelled her legit video as “manipulated media"; shocking that the Americans would seek, for the first time, to interfere in another country’s elections.
Of course, the Liberals are far from innocent on the privatization charge and also have never answered for their steep cut to provincial health care transfers in 2017. In another case of the Irony Files, the Cons were earlier making health transfer cuts an issue and have promised to restore the annual increase to 6%, as it was at the end of King Harper. Small problem there being that Harper was the one who planned the cut and Trudeau the Younger carried it out without notable Parliamentary or public opposition.
And what about last year’s humiliating renewal of the corporate free trade agreement with America and Mexico driven by Il Duce Trump? The prime issue of the 1988 election, repeated more mildly around NAFTA in 1993, now does not even merit a mention. Why would an election bother to take up a corporate plunder agreement passed by all parties but the BQ in the last Parliament? Yesterday’s deeds in support of global cartels matter far less in elite political contests than today’s marketing ploys.
Lots could happen to make this outcome terrible or even worse. Liberal minority is the least awful of remotely feasible outcomes which, in my opinion, is a compelling short-term argument for tactical voting. That may fall hard on the NDP that is running a positive campaign with little punch and a terrible 2-year track record of supporting right-wing corporate free trade and mega hand-outs in Parliament. The Northern Democrats’ “Better is Possible” mantra is not just a bullshit bubble-gum slogan but is also highly ironic as, for the working majority, the Fix is in for the Worse.
I will not delve much into the recent election debates but it is worth noting that maybe-Green leader Paul did strike a blow on the NDP’s progressive pretensions by pointing to Singh’s support of BCNDP Premier John Horgan’s fossil fuel boosting. Backed in the last provincial election by the corporate press, the Horgan regime has seen fit to attack the environment by ramping up Big Fossil’s public hand-outs and sicking the RCMP on protesters disrupting old-growth forest logging. Singh’s pretense that the federal NDP does not have to answer for Horgan in any way (while supporting him last year in the election) and demanding everyone not pay attention to provincial policy may not be compelling for the duration of the campaign.
The Cons appear to be pulling votes off the Libs’ right flank, particularly in BC where voters are least likely to ignore that Horgan is a policy twin of Trudeau. The PPC's rise is drawing from the Cons right flank but I also suspect is getting non-voters into the mix (for all those people who make voting a holy duty regardless of conscience, perhaps consider this example). This may be why the PPC vote does not dramatically decline on the 20th in the Con push to knock Trudeau off his throne.
Nonetheless, leftists and other anti-fascists should be perturbed by the PPC’s rise.
Appearances of profound idiocy most certainly does match the reality of the party’s base but the largest rallies held during this pandemic have been those of the proto-fascists (a rally in Manitoba recently attracted at least a thousand people). The PPC has also demonstrated that a relatively small group of determined disrupters can be quite effective in throwing a ruling party’s campaign off balance on the ground. Mad Max himself has a shot of winning back his seat in Beauce, Quebec, currently held by the Cons. There are lessons here for leftists to take in. Or we can hide under a pile of coats until the next election and hope everything turns out fine.
Again, leftists are left abandoned in most ridings in the country and this is something that is a product of not having done the groundwork for a viable Left party. In the short run of this trashy farce, if you live in a riding with a Communist or Marxist-Leninist Party candidate, there is an outlet to register dissent with the current right-wing monopoly over politics. In the long-run, the vast majority of leftists who currently settle for the NDP or abstain in disgust, need to begin the challenging work of intruding directly into elections at all levels so as to make use of the opportunities these contests provide for critical debate and effective organizing.
A new political network is a key place to begin the work of democratic politics based on an understanding of pressing issues for the working majority and operational local plans to contest elections that encourage and draw upon rank-and-file workplace and community organization. This work must be planned over a multi-election cycle all while encouraging organized labour and its allies to develop their own independent democratic political agendas.
Local elections are where one’s efforts are far most likely to bear fruit at the start. Electing people at a local level would provide fighting centres for popular needs as well as the basis of success and experience to run credible campaigns at higher levels. Trial runs to test ideas and organizing methods at higher electoral levels can also be done on a selective basis to do the same.
A unified left-wing political network can evaluate and learn through its successful development of solid local organizing circles, sound political ideas and effective communications all tested in practice through electoral and non-electoral campaigns. This success will be amplified by electing appealing and hard-working people into office who prove they can be relied upon to support and lead popular organizing and struggles of the day. By realizing such a growing level of success over time, leftists can better advance new political forms that make sense to and inspire the working majority to fight for their priorities at all levels. It is at this point that we can then start to credibly pose the project of a Party worthy of the name and can argue effectively against tactical voting and sure-fail entryism into the right-wing swamp of the NDP.
As the Ethiopian proverb apparently says, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second-best time is now. Let's get on to planting a new left-wing political network.
Gabriel Haythornthwaite is a PhD Candidate at Western University's Faculty of Education and a long-time political trouble-maker.