To be relevant, the federal NDP needs to tack left
Attack roots of inequality, writes John Anderson.
As the federal NDP approaches its Ottawa convention Feb. 16-18 with new leader Jagmeet Singh, its path forward is not clear. 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 recent 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 us that 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 in which it proposed nationalizing or renationalizing major sectors of the economy. While the Conservatives had privatized the railways, water and energy companies, as well as the major 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. Today a major chain such as Sears closes down, laying off 15,000 employees, and many owners of firms retire and close their businesses, and yet there is no help moving to employee ownership.
Most public and social ownership planks as found in the 1935 Regina Manifesto of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, forerunner
A first step would be to create a publicly owned post-office bank …
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.
Here are three places to start this transformation to public and social ownership. 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 and would be present in more than 6,000 communities across Canada. A second step would be to radically expand Via Rail and build a publicly owned major passenger service on its own dedicated track using Canadian-made, high-speed-rail trains. It could offer, like the TGV in France, 320 km/ h service, making it two hours from Montreal to Toronto, and one hour from Calgary to Edmonton or Regina to Saskatoon.
A third step would be to get Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation 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 where I was brought up. Many of these projects could be co-operative housing as well as badly needed large-scale 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 democratic accountability of boards and worker participation, such as using the German co-determination model, 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.