14 Feb 2012

NDP leadership candidates
ducking biggest issue of our time

Heading into the final weeks of the NDP leadership race, the candidates still have not debated the most important challenge facing society -- the destructive force of modern-day capitalism.

How can a political party that calls itself “social democratic”, or even “progressive”, have a leadership campaign go on for several weeks without candidates – as far as I can determine – discussing the damaging force that capitalism has become?

At Davos last month, heads of think tanks and corporations called for the revamping of capitalism because of the destruction the system has wrought.

Even the normally mild-mannered monthly Toronto Life had freelance journalist Jason McBride do a hatched job on dysfunctional capitalism in its March issue in an article entitled Something Rotten on Bay Street.

McBride interviewed prominent economist Roger Martin, Dean of University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and author of Fixing the Game.

Writes McBride: “Martin is a great believer in business as ‘an agent of positive change,’ but he argues that business has failed, spectacularly, to fulfill this role, largely because of its misplaced faith in erroneous economic theory: specifically, that the primary purpose of any corporation should be the maximization of shareholder value.”

Why can’t the NDP speak up?
Surely if it is okay for Big Business and one of its leading proponents to slag capitalism, it should be safe for aspiring NDP leadership hopefuls to speak up and join the conversation.

In fact, the NDP itself could benefit greatly from a society-wide discussion concerning the problems caused by capitalism.

If there are no improvements to the neoliberal-style of capitalism practiced now, the NDP – if elected – will come up against the extreme right wing views of powerful corporate bodies. This includes the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which consists of executives from all of Canada’s most powerful corporations, and the 50-member Canadian Bankers Association.

If these two bodies did not like policies proposed by a new NDP government, they could easily undermine the government’s agenda. Just ask Barack Obama.
At this stage it is highly unlikely that any of the remaining seven NDP candidates will come forward to open-up a discussion on the failures of capitalism.

Journalist Murray Dobbin, in an October 24 article on The Tyee, provided an insightful description of the positions being taken by the three leading candidates:

“If the party chooses one of the front runners, Brian Topp or Thomas Mulcair, it will cement the party's rightward drift and pre-occupation with tactical manoeuvring at a time when world events will make drift of any kind a sideshow,” wrote Dobbin.

Dobbin is supporting former CAW negotiator and MP Peggy Nash for the leadership. He likes Nash because of her excellent grasp of economics and the fact that he believes she can bring together the various social movements the NDP will need if it hopes to defeat the Conservatives.

Even so, it is unlikely that even Peggy Nash will come out and promote the reorganization of capitalism during the race.

Instead of explaining how they would challenge the system, the NDP leadership hopefuls are playing it safe, making proposals that would, at best, reinstate some of hundreds of programs slashed by Harper. Greatly restricted by budget limitations, they also would be able to add few of their own excellent programs.

Starry-eyed by the possibility of forming the next government, the NDP is targeting mushy middle ground voters.

However, if the new leader wanted to try to really shake up Ottawa, s/he could go another way.

A little assertiveness will do better at the polls
The party could adopt a more aggressive stance and target the tens-of-thousands of angry and disgruntled Canadians, many of whom are struggling or being left behind by Harper’s neoliberal policies.

The way in which the public embraced the Occupy Movement in the beginning shows that people know they are being exploited. They are in need of leadership.

The new NDP leader could take a bold step and expand the activities of the riding associations. Most associations have never been fully utilized. They could be turned into activist groups that would, as the saying goes “get their hands dirty”, assisting groups and people in their communities who are facing difficulties.

The associations could recruit volunteers who would be able to help, say, a women’s shelter that has lost its funding because of Conservative cutbacks, or an after-school program that might need to find new facilities.

The party could recruit a lot of those young people who were so emotionally touched by Jack Layton’s remarkable letter when he passed away.

If it wanted to, the NDP even could develop its own version of the Company of Young Canadians, the Trudeau era organization that provided many kinds of support for poor communities.

The party would benefit considerably by getting involved in these kinds of activities. Such a program would allow the party to rebuild and expand its depleted grassroots networks. If the NDP is elected, it will need a wide and responsive base to support it against the right-wing attacks that are almost guaranteed.

And communities would greatly appreciate the support and, most important, there would be a good return at the ballot box. Yes, it could be the right time for the NDP to show some imagination and ingenuity that would allow it to deservedly make its mark in the 2015 election.

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JABS AND LEFT HOOKS: The Harper government subsidizes fossil fuels to the tune of close to $3-billion a year. Meanwhile, Barack Obama’s new budget proposes the elimination of numerous tax breaks for oil and gas companies. Good luck Barack! . . .  . Author Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer rightly attacks the CBC’s embarrassing production of this year’s Canada Reads in The Globe and Mail. She says the program trivialized the importance of writing and reading in Canada . . . .  Canadian electoral and proportional representation expert Stuart Parker has prepared a study that evaluates the feasibility and potential impact of NDP leadership candidate Nathan Cullen’s proposal to field a unified slate of Green, Liberal and NDP candidates against Conservative incumbents in key ridings in the 2015 election. Parker concludes that, at best, the proposal could transfer as many as three dozen seats from the Conservatives into the hands of centre-left parties, without hurting the NDP vote in other ridings. It is a remarkable paper. Everyone should read it.


  1. The NDP since the time of Ed Broadbent has decided that their future lies in moving from the left towards the centre so as to defuse the arguments about socialism and the nanny state. As much as I decry this strategy it is in fact working in so far as they are garnering more votes. THis has seldom translated ito more seats however and they are getting to the point that there is very little to mark them as any different than the Liberals. Should they somehow manage to get into power they would then be faced with the mirror image of the problem Harper has. They would have party members wanting bold socially progressive moves while they have to placate a middle muddle scared to death of any real change. Similar to Harper trying to keep his more vocal dinosaurs quiet while he goes about the business of ensuring corporations are served before citizens.

    1. I think the NDP can woo the centrist vote without merging with the Liberals. It means keeping to your principles while figuring out where you can give to the middle ground. Layton did this in Quebec and it did translate into many seats. Is this a bad thing? Please check out my blog at: http://ndpleadership.wordpress.com

    2. By "woo the centrist vote" I presume you mean to nudge-push-cajol the "centre" into a more modern contemporary prespective?

      Maybe involving (a portion of) the 38% will help to define a new 'centre'?

  2. This is a SUPER timely REVEVANT blog! The fact that 38% of eligible voters for whatever reason(s) passed up the opportunity to vote in the last election ought To wake up the sleepers.

    Unfortunately the NDP appears ready to repeat the same old mistakes.

    Every time they make some gains on the publics desire for change and or progress they panic and tighten their collective sphincters and run for the "centre".

    Nothing wrong with the "CENTRE" if you know what and where the CONTEMPORARY centre is or is headed, but do any of the leadership candidates have any idea of this? Looking at the 38% which is a BLOC larger than that of ANY party presently Parliament and could if it voted in a BLOC elect a MAJORITY, leads me to say they need to have another look.

    Canada's best hope for a PROGRESSIVE alternative to the neo-fascist Harper hatchet men does not need a leader who only knows the centre between his buttocks.

    Or in other words who needs another "liberal" party? If thats the best they can do, might as well go to the original and listen to Rae-day address the Economic Club of Toronto on his idea of the "centre"!

    PS: Nick please set 'spell check" to English (Canada); I Do know how to spell centre, labour &c.

  3. I'm pretty far left, but still a capitalist. You CAN be both.

    1. Now that takes some juggling!

  4. capitalism only works when tightly regulated. the new democratic party seems to always go for the 'bear bait' of avoiding this truth. social justice must always prevail over corporatism in any new democratic government but we seem to back off it when in government. bob rae's so-called 'new democratic' government in ontario is a prime example of being afraid to do what was right and ultimately paying the price.

  5. I think you mean the boundaries need to be set by forces other than capitalists and/or the capitalist 'state'? If so that is the de-facto ending of capitalism.

  6. If we had a 'none of the above' on the ballot, the NDP would realize that these voters have a voice and that this growing body of disenfranchised Canadians need to be listened to.

    1. Would many of the 38$ no shows SHOW for a "non of the above" choice? By being no show, I think many of them mean just that.

  7. You are doubtless correct in saying that none of the candidates (insofar as I am aware) have in a policy paper directly addressed global issues pertaining to the crisis of free-market capitalism, however:

    1. If you look at the policy statements that some of the candidates have release, there are elements of this embedded in some of them (see below); and

    2. This race for for party leadership is in large measure a domestic one and so focusing on global issues might well take a back set in that kind of context.

    I'm not saying that discussing capitalism is unimportant (and various candidates have, for example, addressed global issues such as climate change) but in the context of the leadership contest I can see why their attention might be elsewhere. In general, it seems to me that the leadership candidates have not presented as full and well-articulated policy papers as I would like to see - but I'm mindful of how much they have to do in a short time, and most of them have rather limited resources to do so.

    Nonetheless, it's not a bad idea to - as you have in your article - draw attention to this lack of emphasis.

    Chris Majka
    Halifax, NS.

  8. While I agree with much of what you say I don't think the NDP is the answer either.

    This election may not be the one but I believe that there is a circle of parties that no one wants, hence the terrible non-voting portion of the population.

    Did you realize that, if in the last Federal Election all of the non-voters had voted Communist (assuming they ran candidates in every constituency) we would now have a majority Communist government.

    The core that people are getting tired of included Conservatives, Liberals and NDP

    N. Burman

    1. You've got a handle on the way the 38% are thinking and also many likr=e me that hold the nose while ticking the NDP.

      Unfortunately they're the best we have at present so if we are going to corrall the Cons and their destruction of what was one of the best countries in this (capitalist) world, it seems getting an increasing influence on their policies is a priority.

      I note that though they must be aware of this blog none have responded?

      Ladies and gentlemen of the "contest" have you anything to say in response to this BLOG??

  9. I am enjoying the conversation here. While you may not all agree on all subjects, I think you will all agree that Canada needs to have a talk.
    I am almost ashamed to admit that I voted for these cons in there first 2 attempts at a majority. Last election I too held my nose and voted NDP. When Lawrence Cannon, stated that Canadians wanted the Egyptian " dictator " to listen more to it`s people, instead of saying Canada wants the dictator gone! That was enough for me. Since the last election, Harper has gone completely mad. IMO
    Gus Bell

  10. I find myself agreeing with those who say that the NDP needs to have a discussion about capitalism gone wrong, but the leadership race may not be the best place to have it. Once the leader is selected, the NDP can level both barrels on the topic. Nick, you're bang on with your comment that the corporate elite won't like it. I'd add that their advisors, the economists-elite, will have a field day. I had an opportunity to observe one in action last week when Larry Summers spoke at the Jack Mintz luncheon. I've written a post about his "strategy" to pull the US out of its financial quagmire. Very disturbing and more than a little scary. Here's the link if you're interested http://susanonthesoapbox.com/2012/02/19/lunch-with-larry-summers-informative-but-weird/
    Susan Wright

  11. As far as the party recruiting young people and building its grassroots network, I believe that there is a grassroots movement recruiting the NDP.

    Leadnow.ca has been working, at the request of its supporters, to influence the policies of non-con parties from within: witness the thousands of new NDP members who joined the party in time to vote in the March leadership race.

    I don't imagine that everyone is happy about this, but Canadians who are disenfranchised by our electoral system want to make sure that the Harper majority is an ugly freak accident that will never happen again. I see the NDP as a likely vehicle for just this purpose.

    Maybe the Reform party will be the inadvertent cause of some reform.

  12. The wheels of change turn slowly One step at a time must we progress. First, get rid of The Harper Conservatives.Then will come the long struggle to rid ourselves of the excess's of Capitalism.Politics it has been said is "The art of the possible" The new world will be built one stone at a time.

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