When the Ontario NDP announced their proposal to raise the minimum wage to 12 dollars an hour by 2015 many on the left became rightfully indignant. This proposal not only undercut the actual campaign for the 14 dollar minimum wage pushed by anti-poverty groups and labour, it also tied the increase to tax cuts for small business.
On a strategic level this move made no sense for the ONDP. Was the idea that they would win over small business owners en masse with tax cuts? I mean let’s be clear here, as a group, small business owners are more likely to vote for Hitler than the NDP. Or maybe they were thinking they could win over disaffected Liberals. But the NDP should know better, as Nora Loreto pointed out in her recent article, “there is no better liberal party than the Liberal Party itself.”
By not even splitting the difference between the Liberals and the 14 dollar an hour minimum wage campaign their position will please no one — not business owners, not labour, not anti-poverty groups and certainly not people who work for or close to minimum wage. Their recent announcement that it seeks to implement a one-time 100 dollar rebate on hydro bills smacks of a cheap parlor trick borrowed from the right designed to win an election, not to actually address the root problems.
But the ONDP’s drift rightward isn’t an aberration. The NDP everywhere is offering up micro policy differences as big ideas: tax cuts for small business, hydro rebates, capping ATM fees, returning corporate taxes to the levels that the Liberals had them at and not demolishing Canada Post.
In Nova Scotia the Liberal government recently stripped away the bargaining rights of home support workers, after one day of striking. The NDP, while disagreeing with the Liberals, actively facilitated the Liberals passing the legislation with greater speed. When the NDP were in power they too attacked the bargaining rights of workers in the health care sector. When one reflects on the NDP government in Nova Scotia it is hard to come to the conclusion that they really put forth a bold new vision for the province.
In New Brunswick the NDP released a statement supporting the police crackdown of Mi’kmaq led protests against fracking in Elsipogtog this past fall. In British Columbia the NDP was trounced in the election by a haggard and scandalized Liberal party. The dippers ran to the imagined centre, which in reality turned out to be a cavern, as the political terrain was polarizing. They were unprincipled, only at the last minute coming out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline (now the only declared leadership candidate, Mike Farnworth, is advocating a reversal of that position).
The federal NDP offer up only reversing the cuts Conservatives have implemented and a bevy of minute technocratic changes to this or that regulation or law. The political horizon in Canada is becoming ever more narrow when an ATM fee reduction is a bold move.
What happened to the traditional social democratic ideas: drastically cutting military spending, socializing industries, a national infrastructure plan, an aggressive plan to deal with the climate crisis and shift towards renewables, buckets of money for a housing strategy that includes facilitating co-ops, taxing the rich, putting doctor’s on salary, universalized dental, pharma and child care, proper funding for post-secondary education, an actual plan to deal with the elder care crisis, or plans for aggressive job creation?
So what explains the narrowness of the NDP’s vision these days? If you want to understand the NDP’s drift right, you probably should look to their left. It is a disorganized mess. I am thinking of a word that rhymes with clusterduck.
In the trade union movement the politics boils down to roughly three options. They are in lockstep with the NDP. They have been spurned by the NDP, but don’t know what else to do other than support them. They tacitly or explicitly support the Liberals. Mass social movements are few and far between and have not offered up any tangible alternative. The rest of the left in Canada has abdicated all pretense of leadership, opting instead to act as Statler and Waldorf, the two old men Muppets who heckle everyone else from the comfort of the balcony.
I can’t blame people for wanting to get involved in the NDP (and there are lots of smart lefties in the party) or voting for them when the only things on offer from us, the far-left, are an endless series of complaints and moral pronouncements. If the left’s plan in practice is to wait for people to self-organize and rise-up and save the world, it is no wonder people vote for the likes of Rob Ford, his fantasy world seems a lot more real than large swaths of the left. Those of us on the left have to stop outsourcing responsibility for what is happening in this world, it is not simply neoliberalism and the bad acts of social democrats which explains our current predicament. If the left’s analysis of the NDP is that they’re a bunch of sell-outs and weak-kneed social democrats, what does that say about us?
Occupy did the left a huge favour, it put class struggle on the map for huge chunks of the population. Even though it mistook a tactic, an occupation, for a strategy for social change, it put the question of what are we going to do about injustices and inequality in our society on the table. The left needs to come out of its shell and take seriously the prospect of building real, accountable, democratic, political organizations that can strategize for change, attract people to our ideas and empower them to take action.
So yeah, the NDP is drifting rightwards, but that is because the rest of the left is stuck in the mud.