Canadian politics has been reduced to a series of small battles in a static war as the parties jockey for position for the next federal election.

As the politicians skirmish in Question Period, it is as though they are operating inside a hermetically sealed bubble, where they almost entirely shut out the enormous changes that have been rocking the world since the onset of the global economic crash two years ago.

The crash has called into question the verities on which our socio-economic system has been based for the past three decades. But if you read the record of debates on Parliament Hill since the last election you’d have almost no idea that anything unusual was going on. It’s not that debates about stimulus, pensions, and employment benefits don’t matter. They do. What the debates fail to reflect is any wider consideration of the way our socio-economic system is organized and the priorities it establishes, the ways it privileges a few at the expense of the many.

It’s no surprise that the Harper government defends the existing order. But where are the fundamental challenges from the other side of the House? The Liberals are cautiously keeping their heads down, hoping the Harperites self-destruct. The members of the BQ conceive their role very narrowly as the defenders of Quebec’s share of the budgetary pie, not an inconsequential matter, but it rarely leads to basic questions about the socio-economic order.

If a fundamental challenge is going to come from inside the House, it has to come from the NDP. Now and then, NDP members do raise important questions about pensions and EI benefits, about the environment, and Canada’s role in Afghanistan. That is important. What the NDP almost never does, however, is to question the system itself, the neo-liberal order in which we live.

If there was ever a period when basic debate was needed, it is surely now, a time when it is clear to so many across the world that the crisis in which we find ourselves has not gone away, is not being resolved.

In the past, CCF and NDP members of Parliament actually dared to call into question the corporate capitalist order. We could use some of that now.

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