A letter to progressive friends

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As Canadians go to the polls, it is time to act together.

The prospect of a Harper majority government looms before us. Fortunately people have been thinking ahead about the best way to take Harper down. For instance Catch 22 has drawn up a list of Conservative held ridings where uniting behind one opposition candidate could assure the defeat of a sitting Harper M.P. It is also looking at ridings where sitting opposition M.P.s need unqualified support.

Given the damage to the Canadian economic and social fabric of six years of Harper minority rule, limiting his government to another Conservative minority will be no victory.

The only likely alternative is a Liberal-NDP coalition of the type agreed to by Stephen Dion and Jack Layton in 2008, and supported by senior figures from both parties Jean Chrétien and Ed Broadbent.

Many on the left have been wary of party politics, for good reason. The New Democrats have disappointed us consistently. Today, the NDP points to rising inequalities, but offers no analysis of why inequalities are growing, and gives us little idea of what needs to be done about the economy to create a more equal future for Canadians. Who can forget 1988 when the NDP failed to make free trade the central issue of its national campaign? For much of the last 25 years the NDP has mounted the same campaign, supporting the liberal welfare state, and highlighting the party's commitment to Medicare. It has been strangely silent about the economy, jobs, and incomes.

Social movements have absorbed the talents of most political activists, and Canada has become a better place because of commitments made to fight for issues such as gay and lesbian freedoms, aboriginal rights, women's equality, peace, Third World development, against racism and minority oppression, for the right to organize, freedom of cultural and artistic expression,  and social justice. Much of our political education took place in fight back campaigns against Liberals, Progressive Conservative, and now Harper Conservatives.

I have learned we must invest parliament with activists as members. Business groups are well organized, successfully lobbying Liberals and Conservatives to ignore the common good, the public interest, and the needs of many Canadians. M.P.s are hoodwinked into promoting profits as the greater good. Vigilant, articulate, courageous, and well informed M.P.s are the best defence against the massive lobbying of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and the National Citizens Coalition (Stephen Harper, former president).


Academic research has shown how election victories are orchestrated through control of public opinion. Corporate Canada gives generously to ensure that we get the news they want us to get. Mainstream media, including the CBC, regularly ignore dissent, discount evidence that does not fit with the corporate view of the world, and do their best to discredit socialism, or even mild anti-capitalism.

Canada has some highly qualified political economists, some with worldwide reputations for incisive critiques of the prevailing order. Many academics have made serious commitment to social change a part of their teaching, research, and community action.

What is badly needed today is for social activists, anti-corporate campaigners, progressive trade unionists and academics to look closely at the prevailing political situation and see what role they can play in electoral politics. Establishing a countervailing power structure in our communities, building a counter-hegemony in our society, depends on reversing the current balance of parliamentary power.

I ask people to look at the record of Jack Layton over his eight years as NDP leader. He supported defeating the Harper government on a confidence vote and forming a coalition government because it is in the interests of Canada to be rid of a tyrant practicing one man rule. Layton continues to keep the coalition option alive.

The dominant narrative is that governments need to give up revenue to businesses and corporations because they are best placed to make life better for all. Against this, Layton has said governments can make transformative changes in people's lives, through increasing the GIS and eliminating seniors poverty; ensuring every Canadian, young or old, has a family doctor; protecting the environment through retro-fitting buildings to promote energy conservation; and mproving later-life economic security by agreeing to double CPP benefits.

The dominant narrative is wrong. The Layton story is the one most Canadians would agree with, but it has trouble being heard through the media filter, when it is not subject to outright distortion.

Elections are a time when people can talk politics. People on the left have always widened discussion and debate around the issues of the day. Today is a time to go beyond the traditional roles activists and intellectuals set out for themselves as commentators or guides to issues. What is needed now is engagement and support for the most progressive option available, which is most likely your NDP candidate. Whatever the short-comings you may find in the national party, observe in its campaign or identify in statements made by candidates, this is not the time to demobilize.  

The key to the makeover of Canada that is underway is ensuring that Canadians remain indifferent to our national political life, cynical about the political process, and encourage others (wittingly or unwittingly) to think the same way.

A large turnout of voters committed to progressive action would ensure the defeat of Conservative M.P.s. If people allow themselves to be turned off by Conservative attack ads, government propaganda, media mischief making, or because NDP candidates do not live up to our expectations of what it means to be progressive, then the outcome is foretold.

I say elect enough NDP members, and then work to make the party live up to your aspirations for it.

You know without it being underlined, that it's difficult for individuals to make themselves heard in party politics. The right wing have developed a whole theory of collective action that suggests political activity, even voting, is a waste of time. One vote so seldom makes a difference, why bother?

Recent Canadian history suggests that political action makes a considerable difference to people's lives. The Conservatives and their supporters do not doubt it, that is for sure.

It is our turn now. Time to join with others, and create a wave of progressive change to transform our parliament. Time to make a difference in your community by supporting a candidate, and mobilizing others to support your candidate.

Why vote? Why act? Why live?

In solidarity,

Duncan Cameron

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