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Transforming Power

Judes's picture
Judy Rebick is one of Canada's most celebrated and well-known feminist thinkers, critics and writers. She is the founder of rabble.ca.

The morning after: Where are we and where do we go from here?

| May 3, 2011

It was an extraordinary election. Both Stephen Harper and Jack Layton got the results they were aiming for. Stephen Harper got his majority and Jack Layton replaced the Liberal Party not only as the Official Opposition but quite possibly as the only federal alternatives to the Harperites. Canada now looks like so many other countries with one party on the Right and one on the Left. So why do I feel so bad?

Firstly, a government that has shown its contempt of democracy in a myriad of ways, not the least lying to Parliament about its spending, won a majority of seats. Now they have no structural limits on their power. True an NDP opposition is a major improvement over a Liberal opposition but a majority government that barely listened to the Opposition when it was in the minority will ignore the Opposition in majority.

Secondly, most of the NDP seats came from defeating the Bloc Quebecois, also a social democratic party. So the 102 NDP Members of Parliament replace a combination of 83 social democratic members in the last Parliament, less dramatic than it appears. The Bloc members were mostly very effective advocates in Parliament, most of the NDP members from Quebec are unknown. Everyone in English Canada talks about a split between the NDP and the Liberals but the NDP and the Bloc are much closer politically. A major weakness of the social democratic left in Canada is its fierce identification with the federalist cause against the self-determination of Quebec, stopping most progressive people in Canada from seeing their obvious commonalities with the Quebecois and vice versa.

On the other hand, having an NDP caucus that is half Quebecois can bring together the concerns of progressive in Quebec and English Canada . That could be a good thing. However, today on Democracy Now, Stephen Lewis declared the NDP victory in Quebec a blow to "separatism," which is exactly the wrong way to see it. What it seems to be is a desire of the people of Quebec, including sovereigntists to stop a Harper majority, as well as a fatigue with the same old Bloc Quebecois and a genuine affection for Jack Layton. We should be thanking them.

An NDP opposition also gives social movements much more voice in Parliament. For example, Jack Layton and much of his caucus are strong feminists. Support for feminist and LGBT rights are bred in the bone for them and they have strong links with those social movements. Jack has often spoken at anti-war rallies and should be willing to call for a federal inquiry into the G20 repression.

My major worry about the Harper government is not that they will go after abortion and gay rights because that would wreck the coalition they have built with Progressive Conservatives and probably with some of their corporate support. My major concerns are to do with the environment, Indigenous Rights, privatization, war, criminalization of poverty and dissent, cuts to funding for arts and culture and of course democracy itself.

An NDP opposition should also impact positively on the mainstream media, which has moved so far to the right in recent years, without a single left-wing voice outside of the Toronto Star and me on Q. More left wing voices in mainstream media, means Canadians will hear more of the actual debate between Left and Right particularly on economic and environmental issues.

The mobilization of citizen groups, especially youth, was extraordinary during the election and bodes well for the future. Even if it didn't have a major impact on voter turnout, it did have an impact on framing the debate and no doubt on the NDP high numbers, in Ontario and BC. Most importantly, a new generation of young people have gotten a taste of activism and hopefully will continue. Lead Now, one of the most effective and impressive groups plan to continue and build a progressive political movement.

The debate about strategic voting was fierce in the last days of the campaign. I don't consider the Liberal Party to be in any way on the Left. On economic issues they are no different than the Tories. The dramatic cuts to social programmes that opened up the gap between rich and poor were mostly carried out by Paul Martin. However in this election there was a difference because the Liberals support democracy. However, as soon as the NDP surge in Quebec started, it made little sense to vote Liberal strategically since no-one else would be doing it. If you look at the ridings the Conservatives picked up in Ontario, there were three way splits, where there had been just Liberal/Tory contests before. There is no guarantee the people who voted NDP would have voted Liberal this time. And there is evidence that right-wing Liberals voted Conservative to stop the NDP.  Moreover, the people who check into strategic voting sites are not numerous enough when spread across ridings for strategic voting to work unless the parties are on side.

You may disagree with my analysis about strategic voting but please do not blame the NDP for the election results. The NDP ran a good campaign and won people's support with their policies and Jack's personality. That is what parties are supposed to do. The people of Canada rejected Ignatieff and the Liberals. Whether that will be permanent remains to be seen. If you want to blame someone, blame both the opposition parties for refusing to co-operate electorally to defeat Harper.

In 2001 the New Politics Initiative proposed a new party based on a fusion with the Greens and the NDP and closers ties to the then rising anti-globalization movement. The NDP now has a chance to create a more vibrant party of the Left by working closely with Elizabeth May, the first Green elected member in North America, and what's left of the Bloc in Parliament and by speaking for those who have had so little voice over the last fifteen years. I hope they do it.

And whether they do depends on how much pressure is on them from outside of Parliament. As Tria Donaldson, a youth activist said ," we need to raise a little hell." We need strong extra parliamentary movements that rely on the kind of grass roots mobilization we saw during the election since state funding will no longer be available for anyone who is really challenging the government. People of my generation need to step aside and make space for young people to provide leadership to these movements. For too long, progressive social groups and unions have relied on old tactics and old methods, talking to each other. We need to link up with the most vulnerable people in society who are mostly racialized in the big cities and live in places like the 905 around Toronto. One positive element of this election is that the divisions between left and right in a lot of communities of colour was much more clearly articulated in this election through initiatives like the "go ethnics go" video.

Building much broader support for and profile to the Indigenous struggles to defend their land against the tar sands, mining and clear cutting will also be key. The environmental and social justice movements are coming together globally through initiatives like the Cochabamba Accord and the UN Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth. Environmental destruction and its defence internationally will continue to be a major feature of the Harper government.

Finally, we need to build links again between Quebec and English Canada. Last week-end I attended a conference in Montreal that included people both from Quebec and English Canada on climate justice. It was the first Canada/Quebec conference I had attended in years. In the 1980's we built strong alliances with Quebec against free trade. Now we must rebuild those alliances to fight the attacks of the Harper government. That way if the Parti Quebecois wins the next election in Quebec, which is very likely, the chasm that always grows between Quebec and English Canada when sovereignty is on the agenda can be narrowed.

And as far as the movement for proportional representation goes Fair Vote Canada has already published the results if some form of proportional voting had been in place. It would have been a minority Conservative government with the NDP in second place. The bad news is that both the Conservatives and the NDP benefited from the First Past the Post system so don't look for changes any time soon despite the fact that Harper used to support PR and as far as I know Jack still does.

That's my take the day after elxn41.



@pitt: now that's what i call dialogue! have you ever considered a career in mediation? because i'd love to be your agent. in fact i'm already working on a reference letter for you which will include such phrases as: "i cannot recommend pitt too highly. he is out standing in his field."

Well I guess Pitt has shown us a good glimpse of what the Harper Conservatives think.  Rather depressing.  If you want to be cheered check out the Quebecois response to my blog, much more uplifting

Oh my, there's no sarcasm here comrade. In fact I'm motivated by love for my fellow man and you're motivated by hate and contempt. Canada's the second greatest country in the world second only to the U.S. and while we can't match them in the level of assistance they've given the rest of the world both materially and morally we can do our part to make the world a better place. There was a time in the 1960's before the black days of the Trudeau era when we could have out Americanized the Americans and became a global economic powerhouse. But unfortunately Canadians were hoodwinked in to supporting the single most destructive regime the country has ever known the effects of which are still felt today. With all our government support of "the arts" we've created the most mediocre art ever produced in a free society. One has to only turn on the radio to hear the effects of Canadian content laws forcing radio stations to play embarrassingly awful Canadian bands playing their "songs" which prompt the listener to change channels immediately. Any Canadian artist with talent (and their are many) immediately pack their bags and move to the States so they don't get trapped in the Canadian Ghetto and they get to play with the big boys. Most artists who stay in Canada because they're not good enough to make it in the States and they need their government handout to maintain their artistic careers.
As for schools Canadian Limousine Liberals send their children to exclusive private schools and go to the States for their medical procedures so they don't have to wait in line with the plebeians. Multiculturalism has created hatred between ethnic groups. Hate speech laws have created an Orwellian state were truth is not a defence and your life can be ruined by something you said. Our universities are a joke. A B.A. in arts is completely useless because students aren't taught anything anymore they are indoctrinated. Feminism is a joke whose followers use extortion to get more money and concessions for themselves which they have neither earned nor are they entitled to.
In closing, I have to reiterate that I am correct on all my points. My views are backed up by reality and facts. The left is a religion in which its adherents must make a leap of faith and must close their eyes to obvious contradictions within their system. Socialism has never worked. It will never work and even if it did work it would still be wrong. If there is anyone out there who still is able to think for themselves they should read Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal by that great American genius Ayn Rand. Her writings completely destroy every aspect of left-wing theory and practice. By the way I can backup and expand on anything I've written in these two emails. There is absolutely no way that any one writing from a left-wing point of view could in anyway prove anything I've said to be wrong. Capitalism is the greatest form of political organization eve invented. It has improved the lives of hundreds of millions of people. This is why lefties are reduced to lying and ad hominem attacks. You are intellectually and morally bankrupt. Cross over to the righteous side.



pitt's comments are so ludicrous that I can't tell if he/she is being sarcastic or serious...

in parliament it's all cats running mouseland now. Stop playing this losing game and putting all your chips on the no difference party pols. Build real power stop empowering political parasites in a fixed-game electoral system.

Finally a majority. Now we can get down to business. 1)Break the backs of the public sector and teacher's unions. These unions are pure evil and have been bleeding the taxpayer dry for years. 2) Privatize all schools. With the teacher's union beaten down and busted up in to a million pieces all schools can be privatized letting people send their kids to schools that teach what they want their kids to learn. This will put an end to left-wing indoctrination now going on. 3) Privatize health care. Health care in Canada as it is now is a complete scam. The unions have complete control and the waste is unbelievable. By privatizing the system it will become way more efficient and health care will improve dramatically. 4) Abolish all gun laws- people have a right to protect themselves and their property and that includes the legalization of handguns and automatic weapons. 5) Make all drugs legal- by removing the criminal element and enabling addicts to get clean safe drugs from doctors crime will drop by 85%. 6)Abolish income tax and make most other taxes voluntary- this is self-explanatory. 7) Abolish all government funding to the arts- with lower taxes people will voluntarily donate to the arts and musicians will be able to afford guitar strings. Art sucks in Canada because it is subsidized by the government. Nothing inspires an artist to create more and better art then the need to get money to buy wine and dope. 8) Destroy multiculturalism and get rid of so called hate crimes. Multiculturalism builds walls between people and destroys what made Canada great. Hate crimes are thought crimes e.g. that dumb-ass comic that got fined $15,000 FOR SAYING SOMETHING!!!!-----You all know I'm right. And I will be proven right. Progressivism is done like dinner. Obama's out in 2012. Go out and get a real job.

Thanks Judy, it's interesting, you almost get the feeling that the Tories encouraged the media to fawn over Jack Layton at the end of the campaign to split the vote.  Some of this seems just a tad too convenient when you consider the source of so many NDP stories.   They are comfortable with a NDP opposition because they believe they can always use the "Commie Pinko" stuff to scare enough voters their way.  It also keeps the Liberals week, which I imagine they are more interested in right now.

We'll see where and when the first attack ads happen.  That should give away their stratedgy from here on.  Although I imagine the attack ads will be aimed at Dalton McGuinty until the Fall.

One suggestion, when you're on the air please repeat over and over that the media is Corporate/Right-Wing, repetition was what got people to believe the media was Left-Wing when it wasn't.  The NDP should do this as well.  Someone should also release a report on how many news organizations picked the Tories in this last election.



Thanks, Judy, perhaps I wasn't clear. When I said we should create a "bridge" to the remaining Liberals, I was deliberately vague but frankly thinking of a merger of sorts. 9 roads that lead to Rome, and thus there is more than one option, but I agree that a centre/left united party is the most logical option, at the very least until PR can be enacted.

Thank you for this piece.  I agree with a great deal  of what you have written.  However  I think we should take into consideration whether it is possible to help exacerbate the inherent political conflict between Red Tories and evangelical or socially conservative right-wing Tories.   Harper's majority rests on the coalition that is not necessarily stable.  Some Red Tories  and  right wing liberals who voted for  Harper are also secular, non-homophobic and pro-choice. 

If I were Harper I would want these potential conflicts to be very quiet. If I were an evangelical or social conservative at some point I would be asking for my agenda.  if this is occurs  we should highlight the contradiction.

 Further it seems to me if the Left can  propose issues for public debate that are socially progressive but  do not necessarily  translate into a direct government expenditures  we might be able to take the  make the contradiction between Red Tories  and the social conservatives visible.  For example something like a campaign to   expend tax credits for childcare costs,  or  asking that “adoption leave” under EI  to be renamed as part of parental leave  could open up some of these issues.  There are clearly potential downside risks if we lose popular support to expand a program we already have.

In the alternative we should consider how to reframe  how we present issues for public discourse so that we can expand the audience to some of the socially progressive Red Tories. For example, on the whole the progressive community has not  articulated a right to safety argument within the  “law and order” agenda.   The issue is not exclusively about the right to safety from police violence it is also about the rights of poor people to be taken seriously when they  fear  for their safety. For example poor people rarely receive the protection of the police when they are the victims of economic fraud.  At least in Toronto the problems of  tenancy related scams, credit card related scams and services related scams  are not rare. The police rarely want to investigate these crimes if the victims are poor people.  Demanding the right to be safe in our communities  is to demand  something they don't want to pay for.

Even more provocatively  arguing that  the war on drugs is utterly  un-winnable and incredibly expensive  has the potential for political problems among Tories. For example if it is argued that government should stop incarcerating people  for personal possession of  any drugs,   and should focus police attention  on gang activity  we might be able  to mobilize some public support for addictions as a health issue against the unilateral  neo-liberal say no to drugs attitude of social conservatives. More  provocatively  the left can reframe our argument concerning the war on drugs to focus on the public policy needs to undercut the gangs  by allowing  doctors to prescribe  more than  methadone; perhaps including the Swiss example of prescription heroin, we  exacerbate the contradictions between  fiscal conservative Tories and socially conservative Tories.  Al Capone's empire  ceased to be relevant when prohibition was lifted.  

We need to publicly acknowledge that addictions  destroy peoples' lives,  destroy families and that the drug trade  is tearing communities apart. It is terrifying  to be in your apartment and listen to gunfire outside your building.  Having dealers threaten you or your family  when you ask them to lower the noise levels  is terrifying.  Undoubtedly,  a large portion of alienated poor young man are attracted to the trade because of the misery of their lives. Clearly their misery is created by class and  often race  but the choice to use violence terrifies entire communities.  The war on crime agenda  has traction in poor communities because people are afraid. If we do not acknowledge the legitimacy of that fear and the right to safety as a principal right we lose any voice we might have in the public debates about law and prisons.

We need to consider  that the Harper majority  coupled with the Ford majority could well lead to the election of the Ontario Tories.  If we can initiate or open up areas of public argument on social  policy we might have a better chance at protecting public programs in the event of a triple tiered  Tory government.  I do not think that doing more of what we have always done without critical analysis of how to exacerbate the contradictions between different types of Tories is particularly useful.

 For example, simply arguing that TCHC should remain publicly  owned  ignores the fact that they are a very terrible landlord. Very large numbers of the TCHC  tenants I  work with  desperately want to move into private sector housing and away from the dangerous and crumbling buildings owned by TCHC.   If all  the Left talks about is the importance of  public ownership of the properties without talking about the quality of life  and threat to safety  in the buildings   we are perceived as  middle-class  twits who are not responding to  the real and  legitimate misery of TCHC tenants. 


The same is true when we talk about the need to keep public services public without talking about the quality of service.  For example overall the quality of TTC service is terrible.  It is slow, often very crowded and often breaks down.    if we do not acknowledge the  reality  of the unpleasantness of the use of the service  and the need for  significant improvements in the quality of services that  we, the public, have a right to receive it is difficult to see how we, the Left,  can  slow the privatization momentum.


 It is important to focus on the need for good jobs. However if we do not also focus on the right to good quality services and if we do not try to focus  public attention  on the fact that  private companies do not want to guarantee a quality of service only cheaper quantities of service I believe we will be unsuccessful in  stopping privatization.  There is  a great deal of truth in the adage that “we get what we pay for”;  cheaper costs is often tied to inferior product. While many poor and working people envy the wages and benefits of  public-sector workers very few want to live with seriously inferior services. The same is true for nursing homes and  senior services.  if we can  mobilize on demands for quality services for working people and our families we might be able to open a space for a public discussion of how cheap can we be.


Therefore  it seems to me that we cannot defeat  Harper and other Tory agendas without re-examining how we are currently articulating our opposition to the neoliberal agenda.








I didn't suggest an alliance with the Liberals because now that we have four or five years, I would rather see an alliance with more progressive forces.  It's true that some of the remaining Liberals are quite good but I can't bring myself to suggest that the NDP should help save the Liberal Party  This needs more thinking about.  Perhaps a unite the left movement that left-wing Liberals could be part of. 

I saw you on Democracy Now! today. Your down-to-earth perspective is essential, as it's hard to know at this point what the future holds. Sigh.

For anyone who wants to catch up with Judy's discussion with Stephen Lewis, here's a link to the show she referenced: http://www.democracynow.org/2011/5/3/the_right_and_left_claim_success

Cheers, jt

Its clear: there is Quebec and there is Canada.


"An NDP opposition should also impact positively on the mainstream media, which has moved so far to the right in recent years, without a single left-wing voice outside of the Toronto Star and me on Q. More left wing voices in mainstream media, means Canadians will hear more of the actual debate between Left and Right particularly on economic and environmental issues."

let's not leave it to the corporate media to 'shift' to accomodate a party they obviously don't like. and let's remember that the least-corporate-agenda mainstream media, the CBC, is in danger now that Harper has a majority.

Here are two links that show the editorial position of major newspapers re: the election:



kind of points to the need to really build independent media. like really, not just having most people 'in the movement' regularly going to check out a few websites and share a few links, but actually organize around independent media, media that is going to reach people that aren't 'in the loop' on social media or regulars to alt media sites.
maybe get a media coop going in your neck of the woods - http://mediacoop.ca - or get building/supporting independent media on the agenda (as a priority) of whatever group or organization you happen to be a part of

if you want to blame anyone for the Harper majority, blame the conservative machine that knows how to organize and campaign a lot more effectively than any of the other parties, and blame the corporate media who are in lock step with that conservative organizing

and our failure to yet build an infrastructure that can support the realization of our politics


So why do I feel so bad?

Because with a minority, Harper ruled with an iron fist and a complete disregard for working

Canadians. Now that he has absolute power, he will be absolutely contemptible. It's great that

Jack layton took Quebec from the separatists, but his caucus will be full of well-meaning, but

woefully inexperienced MPs who will be like lambs to the slaughter of their Tory counterparts, most

of whom have suckled on the public tit for decades in Ontario and Alberta governments.

As Buddy Guy once said, Damn right I got the blues!


Judy, thank you for this perceptive editorial.

You wrote, "If you want to blame someone, blame both the opposition parties for refusing to co-operate electorally to defeat Harper." 

Yes, I do blame them both. I'm disappointed, however, on the "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" principle, that you make no mention of creating bridges with the remaining Liberals when countries with proportional representation know that coalitions, open dialogue, and compromise is precisely what makes them successful. (Furthermore, seeing Quebecois voters abandon the Bloc, and without enough NDP strength outside that province's borders, it's questionable as to how long Quebec will continue to vote NDP, so that should and cannot be the major strength to rely upon.)

Why not promote the idea that the NDP needs to work closely not only with the Bloc and the Greens but with the remaining moderate Liberals? Some kind of alliance seems as inevitable as the sunrise, why are we wasting so many more years coming to this logical conclusion?



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