There is no question that Stephen Harper's Conservatives are fervently committed to serving big business. Their cuts and attempts to hold federal government workers to pay increases below inflation and suspend their right to strike prove this yet again. But the fact that the Conservatives are aggressively right-wing doesn't mean that a coalition of the right-wing Liberals and the NDP is any kind of progressive alternative.
The Liberals are one of the two historic parties of Bay Street. As Naomi Klein has put it, in the 1990s they "continued and deepened Mulroney's neo-liberal economic program." They did "exactly what Harper has just done, in terms of using an economic crisis for a neo-liberal about turn."
They implemented NAFTA and supported the FTAA - the deal that drew tens of thousands of global justice protestors to Quebec City in 2001. They also sent Canadian troops to take part in the occupation of Afghanistan and passed repressive "national security" legislation.
One reason for the Liberals' past success has been their skill at talking as if they actually care about working people, as if they weren't a party of big business. But that's what they are, and whether or not they're in a coalition with the NDP they will only govern in a way that's acceptable to most of the capitalist class.
The coalition's document, "A Policy Accord to Address the Present Economic Crisis," makes this clear: "This policy accord is built on a foundation of fiscal responsibility." "Fiscal responsibility" means keeping government spending within the limits that major capitalists are willing to tolerate.
Make no mistake: a Liberal-NDP government will be a government whose efforts to "manage the economy" during this worsening global economic crisis will be mainly geared to helping corporations, not employed and unemployed workers.
In a coalition government with the Liberals, the NDP will be forced to support unacceptable measures. A Liberal-NDP coalition will also strengthen the most conservative elements in the NDP, those who want the NDP to embrace neoliberalism more enthusiastically than it has already and to pay even less attention to labour and community activists. Such a coalition will weaken the little that remains in the NDP of past efforts by activists in Canada to build a political party independent of Bay Street.
There is also a real danger that many people could end up tolerating government policies that hurt working people because they come from a Liberal-NDP government rather than from the more blatantly pro-business Tories. We see this in the US, where many people swallow reactionary measures brought in by Democrats that they would reject if implemented by Republicans.
What should we do?
Relying on a Liberal-NDP government to deliver what people need is a recipe for disappointment. If a coalition government is formed (or if it isn't), everyone who believes that people shouldn't suffer because of a crisis we didn't create needs to mobilize. Now is the time to get organizing in unions, community groups and on campuses. Now is the time to start planning forums where people can come together and discuss campaigns that put demands on the federal government.
We should build campaigns to demand genuine reforms such as a full-scale pro-worker overhaul of EI, the construction of non-profit housing and better public transit systems, the strengthening of public pensions, tough regulations to slash greenhouse gas emissions, status for all, and the nationalization of the banks. Vigorous efforts are needed to oppose every effort to scapegoat unions or immigrants for the crisis, and to call for the immediate withdrawal of Canadian troops from Afghanistan.
In addition to such campaigns, there is also an opportunity for popular education about capitalism. The economic crisis has dealt a huge blow to confidence in the system. Many people are open to discussing the crisis, capitalism and alternatives. Supporters of radical social change shouldn't miss this opportunity.
Sebastian Lamb is an editor of New Socialist, where this article first appeared.
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