The true nature of the NDP program

Since the unprecedented “Orange Wave” during the last federal election, the NDP has undergone substantial changes—a new leader, former Liberal cabinet minister Tom Mulcair; the removal of any reference to “socialism” from its constitution, a significant if only superficial change; and a new orientation toward being a “government-in-waiting,” now compelled both to make promises it may actually be expected to deliver on, and to appeal to a large enough section of the ruling class to actually form government. Perhaps more than ever before, the Party has the attention, support, and enthusiasm of “progressives” in Canada, from garden-variety left-liberals all the way down to many communists and even anarchists! It’s important, then, to really understand what this party is, whose interests it represents, and what its election will mean for the class struggle in Canada.

What’s striking about the NDP’s current orientation is its lack of even a pretense to a general programme of social democracy. Taken as a whole, its election platform represents a series of proposals—hardly any of them “leftist” or “progressive”—for the successful management of capitalism, ostensibly to the benefit of “middle class families.” A point-by-point breakdown every aspect of the NDP’s election platform would not be appropriate here, but instead a brief analysis of the major brushstrokes will help illuminate the character of “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.”

“Creating Middle-Class Jobs”—by subsidizing capital

While the NDP are correct to point out that employment, both in quantity and quality, has deteriorated since the financial crisis of 2008 1, their limits of their political outlook prevent them from seeing the only real solution to this problem: revolution against capitalism and the establishment of socialism, a state and economy under the control of the working class.

Instead, their solution is to hand public money over to capitalists in hopes that they’ll use it to employ more workers. On the one hand they plan to support the petty bourgeoisie with a small business tax cut—from 11% to 9% 2—and on the other they intend to “invest in innovation and clean technologies” 3. Specifically, the party plans to extend the “accelerated capital cost allowance”—a tax break given to companies buying machinery and manufacturing equipment introduced by the Conservatives 4—and to create a new tax break for companies to buy machinery, equipment and property “used in research and development” 5.

So, they hope that by freeing up capital to buy more means of production, they can entice capital to spend more on labour. Of course, in so doing they will decrease state revenues—an estimated $600 million in lost revenue is expected with the first small business tax cut, from 11% to 10%, alone 6—and will find it more difficult to fund social services. That this will throw public sector employees out of work and reduce real wages by threatening social programmes goes unmentioned.

As capital accumulates and becomes more concentrated, it requires less labour to set it to motion as value-producing. This lies at the heart of the chronic unemployment created by the capitalist system, and tax schemes for capital only accelerate that accumulation and concentration. This plan will, in the long run, put more workers out of jobs. The “research and development” made possible by these tax breaks will inevitably produce new technologies, which will themselves replace workers.

“Protecting the Environment”—unless there’s money to be made!

With every oil spill, every missed target for carbon emissions reduction, and every natural disaster, the question of environmental protection becomes ever more pressing. Because of this, the opportunism of the self-styled “conscience of the nation” on this issue is particularly egregious.

While a few general promises have been made, most notably the implementation of a cap-and-trade system for taxing carbon emissions 7 (and letting big capitalists pay their way into being allowed to pollute!) and subsidies to capitalists producing “clean” energy 8 (which will end up forcing consumers to pay more for electricity if there’s no plan to subsidize the end product). While these seem underwhelming at best, they are even more so in light of Mulcair’s positions on two of the pressing environmental issues of the day: tar sands development, and pipeline construction.

Mulcair has made himself clear on these issues. When it comes to tar sands development, he has said he supports “sustainable” development of the extraction projects 9, as though such things were possible. In fact, when a star NDP candidate, Linda McQuaig from Toronto Centre stated—quite correctly—that a lot of that oil will have to “stay in the ground” if Canada’s climate change targets are to be met 10, the Party was quick to clarify that this was not their official position and released a naïve statement claiming that “developing our natural resources and lowering our greenhouse gas emissions can go hand in hand.” 11 When it comes to oil pipelines, which recently have shown a particular tendency toward leaking and spilling oil all over whole ecosystems, Mulcair has in the past been an enthusiastic supporter, speaking in favour of the Energy East pipeline in 2014 12, recent equivocation notwithstanding.

And so we see the real nature of the NDP’s approach to the environment: use it to leverage subsidies for capital, support unsustainable and dangerous projects and then, when people are paying attention, pay lip-service to “regulation” and “assessment.”

Where they try to look like social democrats

The three parts of the NDP’s platform which gesture toward pro-worker reforms are its proposed national childcare programme, the proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15/hour and the cancelation of the increase in retirement age to 67.

Unfortunately, the proposed national childcare programme is full of rhetorical slight-of-hand, and so it has to be explained in at least some detail. Billed as a plan to “create 1 million new childcare spaces at a cost of no more than $15/day” 13, the plan is in fact to have 1 million childcare spaces, so to add a half million new spaces in addition to the half million which already exist, and to ensure that these million cost no more than $15/day 14. While the party claims that this “quality, affordable childcare” is “just one election away” 15, the proposal will in fact take eight years to implement 16 and is to be funded on a “60-40” basis with the provinces 17. To date, the funding for this from the provinces has not been promised, much less budgeted for.

And so this is the issue: the plan will be rolled out between now and 2023, and is contingent on money that might not exist. In this light, it looks like a plan that is designed to sound very appealing, but is ultimately designed to fail. In the space of eight years, any number of crises—political or economic—can (and will) provide a pretext to delay, distort, or even scrap the programme. Whether because of a “crushing deficit” inherited from the Conservatives, another major recession (or a worsening of the one we’re already in!), or some other major upset, this plan will not be implemented. It is, in effect, a deception.

The same goes for the “$15/hour National minimum wage” 18. Clearly designed to sound like a promise to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour for workers across the country, this policy will apply only to workers in federally-regulated industries, and will impact only the 12% of those who make less than $15/hour 19. Leaving aside the fact that the NDP supported scrapping the federal minimum wage back in 1996 20, this plan will be implemented gradually between now and 2019, by which time its already-minimal effect will be further muted by inflation and by the scheduled raises many employees—say those making $13/hour currently—will receive.

This measure is, at best, a cynical deception, meant to inspire hope among the millions of workers who struggle, living hand-to-mouth, week-to-week, trying to survive on the pittance of a minimum wage they make working for capitalists—great value for money ideologically. At worst, it’s a false promise that will never be implemented. Since this proposal has been a deception from the beginning, neither would come as a shock.

Of course, if the NDP were really concerned with people earning a high minimum wage, they’ve had every opportunity to make this a reality where they’ve been in government provincially in recent years—Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and most recently in Alberta. Yet where is the $15/hour wage, or anything comparable? This is clearly not a serious priority for the New Democrats and we should not be deceived.

Considering all this, what can we make of their proposal to bring the retirement age back down to 65? Precious little has been said about this promise to date, and as we demonstrated above, the devil is always in the details of their superficially social democratic proposals. It would be out of place for one lone proposal to stand true and forthright for the people in a platform so full of neo-liberal economics and deceptive marketing, so deep suspicion is warranted here.

Where they try NOT to look like social democrats

All of this really pales in comparison to some of the more outrageously right-wing positions taken by the NDP and its leader. Whether they’re “enthusiastically in favour” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement 21, sacking candidates for having criticized Israeli war crimes 22, supporting Canada’s involvement in the imperialist alliance NATO 23, or pledging a quarter of a billion dollars to put more police on the street who will inevitably beat, kill, and spy on the working class and oppressed people in Canada 24, there is a distinct trajectory toward being enthusiastically right-wing.

These are all meant as clear signals to the ruling class that theirs is a party that can be counted on to ‘responsibly’ manage capitalism, that there will be no surprises once they come to office, and, most deviously, that they can corral a large portion of Canadian “progressives” around wholly reactionary politics, the better to stabilize the country politically during rocky economic times. Whether the bourgeoisie takes them up on this is the real question of the election.

Bill C-51

An analysis of the notorious Anti-Terror Bill C-51, its various aspects, and the implications of the changes proposed by both Mulcair and his Liberal opponent Justin Trudeau would warrant an entire article of its own, so we should content ourselves here with understanding the NDP’s general orientation toward it.

First and foremost, Mulcair has been clear: he will not scrap C-51. His plan is, at this point, identical to that of Trudeau, namely to amend the bill as it exists 25. Whether either one of them opposed or supported the bill before its passage was effectively meaningless in the context of a majority government, and so Mulcair’s opposition to the bill when he couldn’t get rid of it is completely irrelevant compared to his position on it when he can.

Specifically, the NDP has proposed: Restoration of the CSIS inspector general, regular reports to the House by the Security Intelligence Review Committee, stricter limits on information-sharing provisions to cover only terrorism, and sunset clauses and mandatory review requirements. 26 So, in effect, they want the bourgeois parliament to retain oversight over its repressive apparatus. Given that the state is not in fact democratic, but is a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, all this means for the working class and oppressed people in Canada is that the same repression will have more review and approval.

These proposed changes are superficial, and if the NDP were serious about “protecting privacy” or “ensuring our rights are respected” they’d repeal the bill entirely. They can’t even bring themselves to promise this, much less carry it out.

What to make of the NDP?

It would come as no surprise if a capitalist political party with roots going back to the Second International supported imperialism in order to secure some concessions for part of the working class at home, but now the NDP isn’t even doing that.

They clearly represent the interests of the bourgeoisie, in particular the manufacturing and technology sectors, evidenced by their proposed tax breaks and investment subsidies, though they’re doing their best to show their willingness to “play ball” with the energy producers and resource extractors, who despite taking a hit with the collapse of oil prices still remain a force to be reckoned with in the political landscape of Canada. Their support among the people comes primarily from its best-off sections—particularly the petty-bourgeoisie, professionals, and labour aristocrats. Support for the party is correlated with level of education 27, which is generally a decent proxy for income and class background. Their support among the hard core of the proletariat, then, is much less pronounced, even among those who participate in elections.

Even the words of Marx and Engels on “bourgeois socialism” seem radical in comparison to Canada’s NDP, though they no doubt still give some insight into the ideology of the party faithful:

“Bourgeois Socialism attains adequate expression when, and only when, it becomes a mere figure of speech.

Free trade: for the benefit of the working class. Protective duties: for the benefit of the working class. Prison Reform: for the benefit of the working class. This is the last word and the only seriously meant word of bourgeois socialism.

It is summed up in the phrase: the bourgeois is a bourgeois—for the benefit of the working class.” 28

The case is clear, now more than ever: the NDP is not a party of the working class, and has nothing to offer us but austerity and deception. They’re professional peddlers of false consciousness, and it’s our job as communists to denounce this racket and build the revolutionary camp in order to win genuine people’s power!

A comrade