Introduction by Roger Annis, March 3, 2014 (updated)
The environment critic of the federal NDP, Megan Leslie (Halifax), has published a reply to a high profile critic of the party. Her commentary today in the Vancouver online The Tyee responds to a commentary by writer Murray Dobbin published in the same publication on Feb 24, 2014. Dobbin’s article was titled, ‘NDP needs big ideas to win’. I enclose Megan Leslie’s article below, followed by several comments by readers of The Tyee.
I have recently written an article about fossil fuel and global warming politics in Canada, critiquing NDP and Green Party positions and arguing that their default, as I see it, is prompting deeper radicalization of working class and grassroots politics. My article is featured in today’s edition of Rabble.ca: ‘A relentless fossil fuel industry is radicalizing politics in Canada’.
One of the ‘big issues’ facing the NDP and the entire whole working class movement today is the need to raise the minimum wage. More specifically, there is a growing campaign in Ontario to raise the minimum wage to $14 per hour. After dodging the issue for several weeks, Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath finally spoke out last week and announced she would support a rise to $12 by the year 2016. That’s slightly better than what the Ontario Liberal government is proposing (it raised the minimum wage to $11 last month) but it’s a far cry from what the $14 campaign and much of the union movement wants to see.
Some members of the Ontario NDP tried to have the issue of the minimum wage debated at the party’s provincial council meeting this past weekend. They were not successful. A report of that effort and other news from the council meeting was written by a council member, Barry Weisleder. He is a member of the NDP Socialist Caucus. His report of the Ontario NDP meeting is enclosed further below, published here with permission.
Other voices in the NDP are being raised over the party’s vacuous and mistaken policies, including Simon Black, vice-president of the Missisauga-Streetsville NDP riding association, Gerald Caplan, an academic and former NDP adviser, and Wilfred Laurier University professor Simon Kiss:
- Ontario NDP losing its voice on minimum wage, by Simon Black, in Toronto Star print edition, March 5, 2014
- Have the major political parties ever been so alike?, by Gerald Caplan, Globe and Mail online, Feb. 28, 2014
- Ontario NDP waging war on public investment, by Simon Kiss, The Bullet, March 17, 2014
An editor of Rank and File.ca published a commentary on the debate over the NDP on Rabble.ca on March 6. David Bush challenges those who are critical of the NDP to do something about it: The NDP ‘sellout’ is the left’s cop out, by David Bush, Rabble.ca, March 6, 2014.
Megan Leslie’s Tyee commentary was posted to Rabble.ca on March 6 and has prompted some interesting comments in reply.
(* For those wondering about the word ‘tyee’, it is a term for a large salmon, the iconic fish species of BC’s coastal waters. The word comes from the Coast Salish Indigenous language. It also denotes the notion of ‘roaming free’.)
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Big ideas? NDP’s got ’em in spades
By Megan Leslie, TheTyee.ca, March 3, 2014
“Dream no little dreams,” Tommy Douglas was fond of telling us. As premier of Saskatchewan and leader of the federal NDP, Tommy was true to his words — delivering the first publicly funded health care system in North America while balancing 17 consecutive budgets.
Decades later, New Democrats are still dreaming big.
In his latest piece, “NDP Needs Big Ideas to Win,” Tyee and Rabble columnist Murray Dobbin rightly points out that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have emptied the federal coffers by doling out billions in wasteful corporate tax giveaways while doing nothing to stop the growing income inequality in our country. But I think he missed the mark when he went on to attack New Democrats for not having big ideas. We got’ em in spades, Murray, and I’m proud of them!
We are the only party that has had the courage to advocate a return to pre-Stephen Harper corporate tax levels. It is a position that so incensed Finance Minister Jim Flaherty and his big business friends that he fired off a letter to NDP leader Tom Mulcair warning, as Conservatives tend to do, of economic catastrophe.
And while the old-line parties are arguing over who loves the Keystone XL pipeline more, I watched Tom Mulcair stand up at the Economic Club of Canada and take on Big Oil, reconfirming our commitment to a cap-and-trade price on carbon and an end to the perverse subsidies to polluters that discourage investment in renewable energy. Now that was bold.
In recent months, we alone launched a national petition campaign to push for quality child care that’s affordable for families. We joined with First Nations leaders to repeat our call for an immediate inquiry for the hundreds of missing or murdered indigenous women. And we have led the charge against Stephen Harper’s attempt to import voter suppression tactics from the U.S. Republican playbook through his so-called Fair Elections Act.
From developing a national housing strategy to bringing forward real solutions to fight climate change, the NDP is the party of big vision in Canada.
Household debt far from ‘trivial’
With all of these big ideas, New Democrats have taken our case directly to the people — at town hall meetings, in social media conversations and at the doorsteps and kitchen tables of Canadian families. These are bold — and uniquely New Democrat — ideas.
Maybe to some of us, paying $3 at an ATM is no big deal; we laugh and say we’re “lazy” for not going to our own bank, so it serves us right. But when you live on income assistance to the tune of $6/day, in a neighbourhood with no banking services except a private ATM, it’s a pretty big deal.
To the millions of Canadians who are struggling with record levels of household debt, getting nickel and dimed at bank machines and gas pumps is not “trivial,” despite Murray’s cavalier dismissal. The average family now owes a staggering $1.65 for every dollar it takes home. And those with fixed and lower incomes simply cannot afford all the unfair fees and extra charges everywhere they turn.
New Democrats chose issues of affordability for our first National Day of Action because these pocketbook issues have a very real effect on everyday life. As I knocked on doors in Halifax, the response from people was incredible. One person said he didn’t care about politics and knew nothing about the parties, but if the NDP would put an end to predatory payday lenders, he’d sign up.
At other places, people excitedly knocked on the doors of their roommates to get them out to sign our petition. We connected with new people who self-identified as not “caring” about politics: but they cared enough to support our campaign. It was so inspiring!
‘Dream no little dreams’
We can take on these well-connected interests to deliver practical results that will make a real difference for the average Canadian. It’s a message that is resonating. And it is resonating with many Canadians who have not previously considered voting NDP. It is opening doors and bringing new people into our movement! It is strengthening us, and getting us closer to forming Canada’s first social democratic government and actually building the country of our dreams.
We can keep our eyes on the bigger goals too; making sure everyone pays their fair share so we can finally build that fairer, greener and more prosperous Canada — where no one is left behind.
In 2015, Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats will be able to offer Canadians what neither the Liberals nor Conservatives can: a chance to vote for the kind of change you want, and actually get it. I think Tommy would be proud that we still “dream no little dreams.”
From comments by readers of Megan Leslie’s commentary:
1. The BCNDP wants me to renew my membership so I can vote for [John} Horgan* at the [BC NDP] convention, but I want something from them first. You have thousands of NDP supporters on your e mail list, why not instead of constantly asking for money, recommend to the membership that they read progressive sites like The Tyee and rabble? That way there would be many more informed people in Canada.
I asked my pal David Shreck to talk to someone about it and he told me to talk to the provincial secretary. I haven’t done that yet, because I live out of town. So Megan, why don’t get the job done for me? You can become a commenter on The Tyee, the brains of BC are on here. Both the federal and provincial NDP badly need some advice and you can get it here. So become a commenter and tell us what you think.
2. The NDP have big idea’s, don’t make me laugh – the NDP have no idea’s except for the standard bleat, bleat, bleat.
Universal child care, er no, sorry not that important. Keystone X pipeline, r if the NDP haven’t noticed, society operates on oil, it will be built in one way or another. Bank machine charge, irksome but when government wants us in a cashless society, charging to use the bank machine is a natural byproduct.
The problem with the NDP is that they try to satisfy their many opposing faction in their party and in the end satisfy no one.
Sorry Ms. Megan Leslie, it is the old school harpies, like yourself, that turn off the voters, not the lack of big ideas. Here is what a left leaning European friend of mine had to say about the NDP; “The political environment is polarized and doctrinaire. The left adheres to ideas that are at least a generation out of date”
So here is the NDP’s next big idea, make it a 21st century politcal party. In other words, grow up damn you!
3. You can have all the big ideas you want and then the financial mandarins will point at the national debt and say it’s not “affordable”. Or you can have the best idea and use our own Bank of Canada to fund public expenditure without adding more debt. Simple as pie, truly democratic, and wonderfully radical. Sticks it to the banksters. Without it it’ll be the same ol’ same ol’.
* John Horgan is a rumoured candidate in the BC NDP leadership race. The only declared candidate to date in another member of the party’s old guard, Mike Farnsworth. The contest was prompted by Adrian Dix being pushed out as leader due to his stand during the May 2013 provincial election in opposition to the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline.
Horgan is the lead NDP caucus critic over fossil fuel policy in the BC Legislature. He and his caucus favor the government’s and gas industry’s proposal to vastly expand natural gas fracking in the northeast of the province, which would, in turn, feed a proposed liquefied natural gas industry to be built on the BC north coast.
The two most prominent left voices in the BC NDP caucus—civil rights lawyer David Eby and former public service union leader George Heyman–have announced they will not run for the party leadership.
Report on the Ontario NDP Provincial Council meeting, March 1-2, 2014
By Barry Weisleder, member of the NDP Socialist Caucus
The following may be of particular interest to those critical of the Ontario NDP position on the need to raise the Minimum Wage. Many members of the party, including labour activists, are upset about the party Leader’s delay in articulating a position on the Minimum Wage, and more so about the paltry raise proposed by Andrea Horwath, which is just marginally more ($1, spread over two years) than the current Liberal government increase.
Both proposals perpetuate a situation of people working for poverty wages and Capital profiting big time. This was evident in a number of emergency resolutions submitted to provincial council calling for the NDP to campaign for a $14/hour minimum wage, at least. But party officials managed to keep the resolutions from coming to the council floor for debate. They tried, but failed to keep the subject from even arising.
In the first place, Socialist Caucus-supporting delegates succeeded early in amending the council agenda, instructing the Chair to provide time for members to question Andrea Horwath following her address to the gathering. Unfortunately, after Horwath spoke on Saturday afternoon, her staff whisked her away from the ballroom — so there was no Leader present for delegates to question. (The same happened on Sunday, following the speech of NDP federal Leader Thomas Mulcair.)
This sleazy violation of the will of the meeting did not go down well. When the time came to discuss emergency resolutions, only 30 minutes were allocated to this purpose, and the motions concerning the Minimum Wage were buried in a pile of non-controversial issues that included opposition to gas fracking and to expansion of Toronto Island’s Billy Bishop Airport. The chair’s solemn promise to return to the debate of resolutions before adjournment had all the appearance of a cynical and disingenuous ploy.
The lively lunch time forum of the NDP Socialist Caucus, which was devoted to the Minimum Wage and the need for a bold socialist platform for the coming Ontario election, showed that there was a strong appetite among the delegates present, who came from a dozen or more different NDP district associations, to continue the fight for a big raise in the minimum wage, no matter how much it may displease the Election Planning Committee.
Sid Ryan, OFL President, addressed this issue in a scathing report to the council late on Sunday morning. He said he was “perplexed” by the process and the weak position taken on the minimum wage. Ryan minced no words in stating how disturbed he was to hear that NDP MPPs voted in the Ontario Legislature for a Conservative motion that opposes any increase in corporate taxation. He additionally denounced Horwath’s call for a reduction in taxes on small business, from the present 5% to 3.5%, to support a tiny increase in the minimum wage. “How will an NDP government pay for improvements in transportation, health, education and other vital services if it doesn’t plan to tax those who can afford to pay more?”
On the topic of pensions, Ryan bluntly warned that if there is an Ontario pension plan initiated because Ottawa refuses to increase the CPP, it had better be a universal plan, with no opt-out feature, or Labour will vigorously oppose it.
“There is no consultation with unions by the party leadership. Policy decisions are just announced. There may be a wise and grand strategy behind it all, but it’s certainly not clear to me,” Ryan complained.
Finally, the OFL President insisted on the importance of the campaign to defend postal services, to reverse the Tory-backed Canada Post plan to eliminate door-to-door mail delivery. He pointed to this writer as the organizer of a mass picket, set for March 15 at the Toronto office of Conservative Cabinet Minister Joe Oliver and urged everyone to participate in the protest.
To those who claim, no matter what the NDP does, that labour has nowhere else to go, the OFL head warned: “Look at what happened in B.C. Workers were alienated by the NDP, and when the election came, many just stayed at home.”
Sid Ryan concluded by explaining to the council that the harsh things he’d said were necessary to say, all true, and from the heart – and that being frank about these matters may be the only way to get a real dialog going. And he’s correct. But much more must be said, and done, to force the ONDP leadership off its present course, increasingly distant from the union movement, and increasingly cozy with the business class.