Fed­eral NDP must re­turn to roots to out­flank Grits

Kingston Whig-Standard - - OPINION - JOHN AN­DER­SON

As the fed­eral NDP ap­proaches its Ot­tawa con­ven­tion this week­end with new leader Jag­meet Singh, its path for­ward is un­clear. Faced with a Lib­eral gov­ern­ment ver­bally tack­ing to the left — if ul­ti­mately not de­liv­er­ing the goods on is­sues such as the en­vi­ron­ment, tax re­form, for­eign aid and pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion — the NDP hov­ers around 17.5 per cent in re­cent polls. Those are the kind of re­sults it used to have be­fore the 2011 Or­ange Wave.

The NDP lost the last elec­tion in Canada, in part, by run­ning a cam­paign on points, such as bal­anc­ing the bud­get at all costs, that fell to the right of the Lib­er­als.

The suc­cess of the Labour Party in the 2017 United King­dom elec­tions, where it won 40 per cent, and in re­cent polls where it now leads or is vir­tu­ally tied with the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, shows the NDP could ben­e­fit from some U.K. lessons.

While the Labour Party’s plat­form un­der Jeremy Cor­byn was new on many lev­els, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant points was the re­turn of ma­jor planks from the win­ning 1945 elec­tion when it pro­posed na­tion­al­iz­ing or re­na­tion­al­iz­ing ma­jor sec­tors of the econ­omy. While the Con­ser­va­tives had pri­va­tized the rail­ways, water and en­ergy com­pa­nies, as well as part of the post of­fice, Labour prom­ises to bring th­ese sec­tors back into public own­er­ship.

As well, the Labour Man­i­festo prom­ises to “give more peo­ple a stake — and a say — in our econ­omy by dou­bling the size of the co-op­er­a­tive sec­tor” and in­tro­duc­ing a “right to own,” mak­ing em­ploy­ees the buyer of first re­fusal when the com­pany they work for is up for sale.

Most public and so­cial own­er­ship planks as found in the 1935 Regina Man­i­festo of the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion, fore­run­ner of the NDP, have van­ished from the fed­eral NDP plat­form.

Now is the time to bring them back if the NDP wants to re­ally dis­tin­guish it­self from the Lib­er­als.

To re­ally fight in­equal­ity, we cer­tainly must re­dress tax­a­tion and in­come, but at the root of th­ese plagues is the ter­ri­ble pyra­mid of wealth and own­er­ship. For ex­am­ple, the rich­est Cana­dian fam­i­lies own the same wealth as the bot­tom 30 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

This in­equal­ity can only be fun­da­men­tally re­dressed when or­di­nary peo­ple own more of their econ­omy and prof­its go back to the com­mu­nity.

A first step would be to cre­ate a pub­licly owned post-of­fice bank which could of­fer bet­ter rates and ser­vices than the big five banks.

A sec­ond step would be to rad­i­cally ex­pand Via Rail and build a pub­licly owned ma­jor pas­sen­ger ser­vice on its own ded­i­cated track us­ing Cana­di­an­made high-speed rail trains. It could of­fer, like the TGV in France, 320 km/h ser­vice, mak­ing it two hours from Mon­treal to Toronto.

A third step would be to get Canada Mort­gage and Hous­ing Corp. again build­ing af­ford­able hous­ing as it did af­ter the Sec­ond World War, when it built many houses in­clud­ing a large num­ber in Ajax, Re­gent Park and Benny Farm in Mon­treal. Many of th­ese projects could be co-op­er­a­tive hous­ing as well as badly needed largescale new Indige­nous hous­ing.

The dif­fer­ence with th­ese new mod­els of own­er­ship from past mod­els has to start with how pub­licly owned com­pa­nies are man­aged: with elec­tions and ac­count­abil­ity of boards and worker par­tic­i­pa­tion, and more com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion such as en­cour­ag­ing co-op­er­a­tives based on one mem­ber, one vote.

The Swedish So­cial Democrats used to call their eco­nomic model the Peo­ple’s Home. The above sug­ges­tions would be a start to hav­ing Cana­di­ans re­ally own­ing their home­land.

John An­der­son is a for­mer pol­icy di­rec­tor for the fed­eral NDP, for­mer gov­ern­ment af­fairs di­rec­tor for the Cana­dian Co-op­er­a­tive As­so­ci­a­tion and the au­thor of Why Canada Needs Postal Bank­ing.

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