Was the NDP right to delay an election?

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The political story in the capital is that the Bloc and the NDP will sustain the Harper government, at least for several weeks.  The commentators have not been kind and have characterized the NDP particularly as weak and vacillating, nothing short of turncoats on their record of 79 votes against the Conservatives.

Some are looking for every opportunity to spin it as badly as possible for Jack Layton and have seized on CAW President Ken Lewenza’s comments that the EI changes which the NDP have said they will vote for are “crumbs.” Of course, Lewenza’s comments made no reference to Layton or the NDP and stated the obvious in that temporarily extending benefits for up to 190,000 people does not help the vast majority of the 1.6 million unemployed.

Ken Georgetti said about the same in his comments -- the difference only in tone -- to wit, we will take the close to $1 billion in crumbs because it will be meaningful for some unemployed workers.

The gruesome numbers on unemployment and EI are laid out succinctly by Armine Yalnizyan in her posting to the Progressive Economists Forum.

The consensus is that these measures are not enough to warrant support for Harper’s government.  Indeed, my own union, which yesterday was hit with a body blow announcement of pulp and paper mill closures at five locations, was forced to say that a government that does nothing in the face of these disasters has lost its moral right to govern.

But let's not confuse these realities with the decision by the Bloc and NDP to hold off the election campaign for at least at few weeks longer.  Clearly, these calculations involve much more than the numbers of unemployed that will collect the extra EI benefits.  Calculations which need not remain a mystery to those outside the inner circle, because they are more or less summed up in NDP campaign manager Brian Topp’s blog on the online edition of the Globe and Mail.

The argument is simple, and, I believe, sound.  The odds are against defeating Harper in a hurry-up campaign, so why should we be in a hurry?  As Topp said, “Eleven months is not a lot of time to recharge for another federal election campaign.” 

Another concern heard around Ottawa labour and NGO offices is Ignatieff’s lackluster performance and a danger that he may implode once tested.  That combined with Ignatieff’s clear shift to the right on social and economic issues, has dampened enthusiasm for a quick campaign (and there was little to begin with) based on the Liberal leader presenting a credible and winnable alternative. 

We are in pre-election territory and will drift inevitably towards the edge. Labour and civil society have a little more time to get ready to make a difference, as will the opposition parties. In the meantime, about 1,500 of my members who have just received the ultimate bad news and who will not even receive the severance pay that is owed to them will get a few more weeks of EI.


Fred Wilson is the Assistant to the President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union. He will be contributing a regular column, National Office: Looking out from Ottawa, to rabble.ca.

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