With the next federal election a little more than two years away, it is time we started asking the Liberals and New Democrats what kind of government they will deliver if either one can bounce the Conservatives from power.
It would be unwise to underestimate the Conservatives' devious political smarts, but it increasingly looks like we may have a dramatic change in Ottawa -- perhaps a Liberal government.
A win for either the Liberals or NDP will be a tremendously important change, but the winner should also be able to deliver a new kind of politics.
So, it's time to begin pressuring both Justin Trudeau and Tom Mulcair to articulate exactly what they would do, and the challenge is huge.
The last time Canada had a liberal-minded, reasonably democratic government was during the Pierre Trudeau era in the 1970s.
The domination of the government by a powerful elite dates back to Liberal Prime Minister John Turner more than 30 years ago. That's when a wealthy, mainly corporate class of men began dominating the federal government and its economic policies.
The rich and powerful believed that unrestricted capitalism could do a much better job of running the country. One of the first moves was to abandon the policy of full employment in favor of making conditions more advantageous for business.
While other governments helped embolden and empower corporate Canada, it has been Stephen Harper who has embraced neo-liberalism more than any other leader, destroying many of the country's foundations during his seven years in power.
Subsequently, if there is a new government, it will come to power with the extreme right-wing more entrenched than ever before. Quietly lobbying behind the scenes, aggressive organizations are determined to maintain policies that tend to reward the rich and penalize the rest of us.
The Canadian Council of Chief Executives is the largest and most powerful of this corporate elite. Membership is made up of the CEOs of the country's largest 150 corporations, which have assets worth $4.5-trillion. It was this Council that was the main force behind the push for Canada to sign its two major free trade agreements. The Council continues to quietly push for a loosening or breakdown of the Canadian-U.S. border, something that most Canadians do not want.
Other powerful organizations more concerned about their own interests than the public interest are the Canadian Bankers Association, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
The ruling class also has the support of the corporate-owned mainstream media, most of which favors a right-win point of view.
So, what of Trudeau or Mulcair?
From what I can see, neither is proposing any changes that would upset those who so strongly dominate the country. So far, both say they will focus on improving the lot of the middle class, but Trudeau won't increase taxes on the rich. Both favour some sort of tax on carbon. The NDP is talking about creating a long-overdue national transportation policy. Trudeau favors keeping the Senate, but appointing better qualified Senators.
These promises are more about getting votes than taking on the serious issues facing the country. Interestingly, as far as I know, the term "neo-liberalism" was not uttered once during either the Liberal or NDP leadership race.
If either party manages to replace the Conservatives, it will inherit a bleak financial situation. Harper has limited the revenue-generating ability of any new government by dramatically reducing both corporate and individual tax rates as well as creating tax loopholes and failing to crack down on funds held offshore.
An early test of a new government would be to see whether it would have the determination to defy the corporate elite and increase both corporate and personal income taxes. Without increased revenues, the government will be unable to cope with the destruction left after 35 years of right-wing policies.
Proportional representation, which is promoted by Fair Vote Canada and other groups, would be a huge improvement over our first-past-the-post electoral system but, unfortunately, would not alone reverse our enslavement to neo-liberalism.
The winning government would need to attack problems such as income stagnation, high unemployment, smaller and poorly funded government, the decline in social services and welfare systems, removal of safety inspections at companies, and the decline of the public education systems in most provinces, etc.
Meanwhile, the right-wingers won't ease up. They want to end Canada's supply-side economic system that stabilizes the price of dairy products, and they want to destroy as many unions as possible. They are so determined they may not be satisfied until children have the "right" to work in the mines.
Another big challenge for either Trudeau or Mulcair would be to work with the provinces to modernize and find increased funding for our deteriorating medical care system. Powerful groups, the insurance industry and right-wing politicians want to see the system further fall apart so that a two tier system will become acceptable to the majority of Canadians.
In addition, we will have to see if a new government will overcome the energy industry's opposition to the implementation of effective global warming regulations.
The Liberals or NDP, as well as provincial governments, could send a strong message to Canada's far-too-rich and too powerful banks by starting to borrow money for the government from the Bank of Canada instead of the private banks. Each year, governments across Canada now pay some $60 billion in interest on their debts -- interest payments that need not be incurred. Each year, governments across Canada now pay some $60 billion in interest on their debts -- interest payments that need not be incurred.
Unfortunately, in view of their middle-of-the-road political orientation, neither party will dare even discuss taking Canada out of its two so-called "free trade" agreements. The U.S. and North American deals gave corporations more power than governments in important areas, caused Canada to lose much of its manufacturing industry, drove down wages, and saw reductions in unemployment insurance payments.
Because it will be possible to end some of the destructive ways of 35 years of neo-liberal government, this next election is hugely important. But winning alone and coming to power with a mishmash of weak-kneed promises will not be enough.
We must not allow either the Liberals or NDP to avoid the real issues. The public needs to push the leaders hard so they will take strong positions on the main issues. We need to know which party will be prepared to do the most to oppose the business-controlled agenda.
Nick Fillmore is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and social activist. He served in various capacities with the CBC for more than 25 years, including a time as an award-winning investigative journalist. He also is a former member of the editorial board of THIS magazine.
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