To be rel­e­vant, the fed­eral NDP needs to tack left

At­tack roots of in­equal­ity, writes John Anderson.

Ottawa Citizen - - OPINION - 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.

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.

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