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October 23, 2019

The 2019 federal election will leave a sour taste in the mouths of most party faithful - regardless of the party. The Liberals lost their majority and the enthusiasm for Justin Trudeau waned. The Conservatives, looking to topple the Liberals came up short. The NDP lost seats in Quebec and failed to regain seats lost in urban areas and the Greens didn’t get the breakthrough that the polling suggested. The only party that made significant gains was the Bloc Quebecois who are responsible for taking seats from most of the other major parties.

Each party had it’s own set of complications. The sunny ways of the Trudeau Liberals had already taken a beating as it became apparent that they were nothing more than run of the mill corporate shills. The purchase of the Kinder Morgan pipeline alienated them from the environmental movement. Their back-door dealings with SNC Lavelin and the attempt to shield corporate corruption exposed that they were not as progressive as many thought. Trudeau’s blackface antics made him look like a racist silver spoon fratboy.

There were simply too many questions. Trudeau wore black face, but he’s not a racist? He drove two women out of his cabinet, but he’s a feminist? He taunted ingenious victims of mercury poisoning at a Liberal fundraiser, but he believes in reconciliation? He bought a pipeline, but he is a climate champion?

Over a million voters deserted the Liberals in this election, and for good reason.

In the end people voted for him to remain in a minority government only because they were afraid of a Conservative win and the Liberals pushed that strategic vote argument for most of the election.

But it wasn’t just the Liberal attacks that did in Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives. They were constantly dogged by the statements of racist, sexist, anti-choice candidates. Scheer hasn’t the ability to hold those people in check the way Stephen Harper did and it showed. It also reminded us that this current iteration of the conservatives is still a coalition of the eastern Mike Harris Tories and the socially conservative Reform base. It will remain a divided and fractious party. There are already sections of the party who were disappointed that Sheer wouldn’t open up the abortion debate or the question of same sex marriage and they are looking for a new strategy to push on the Conservatives.

And of course, the brutal cuts imposed by Conservative premiers like Doug Ford in Ontario did a huge amount of damage.

They were also seen as wildly out of touch on key issues such as climate change. They will however try to rebuild, and for them, in this polarizing moment will probably mean more overt racism and a scapegoating of immigrants a refugees. Maxime Bernier, the leader of the even more overtly racist People’s party lost miserably but the Scheer conservatives still want to woo those sections of the party that joined the PPC back into the conservative fold.

The NDP started this campaign in a big hole. There was talk of them losing official party status. That didn’t happen and they were able to win 24 seats - enough to hold the balance of power. It was nowhere near the kind of collapse that was predicted.

But there were problems from the start. Much of which came about because of poor positions the party held before the campaign. For example, the NDP lost the opportunity to connect with the power of Sept 27th because they didn't take it seriously from the start. And their equivocation on environmental issues - LNG in BC and a refusal to outright condemn fracking - made it hard to distinguish them from LPC. And that meant, in places like rural New Brunswick the protest vote went Green (10% or more across the Maritimes).

As the campaign wore on Jagmeet Singh shifted to the left. His identification with the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes and his clarity on certain progressive platform points such as universal pharmacare and plans to clean up contaminated water on Indigenous reserves won him wide praise. In the last couple of weeks of the campaign it seemed that an unapologetically left platform could break through.

But it was a little too late. The UpriSingh was a genuine phenomena but it didn’t show itself until the last week of the campaign. Singh also had to deal with the racism of both electors and of his own party members during the campaign. There was a point early in the campaign where high profile party members such as Thomas Mulcair and Rachel Notley publicly mused about not voting for Singh. Those voices were silent as the election dragged on but it was a tough position to start from.

Likewise, the shameful position of some leaders in the union movement to call for a strategic vote for the Liberals cost the NDP.  In ridings like Windsor-Tecumseh - a riding with a strong union base and where the NDP held power for more than a decade, their vote collapsed and the Liberals took over.

All of this leaves us with a minority parliament. The parties have no interest - or in some cases no capacity - to run a new election campaign any time soon.

There have been calls for an informal coalition between “progressive” forces usually referenced by pundits as some sort of a Liberal, NDP, Green cooperation.

Problems with propping up the liberals

But the Liberals are far from progressive. They are a party of oil companies and bay street bosses. If the NDP were to support them, it would inevitably push Jagmeet Singh and the party to the right. In a polarizing environment, that would be a recipe for irrelevancy.

As we have seen in the past, when the NDP props up the Liberals they are required to put some of their more progressive ideas on hold. The Liberals will use the progressive veneer to take credit for any positive legislation and soon enough we would not be able to distinguish the parties from each other.

It means abandoning the specific reason why the NDP is different - it’s organic connection to the working class through the union movement. It’s very existence is an argument against class collaboration and the whole “we are in this together” mentality driven by the bosses. We are not all in this together. Bosses, landlords and the 1% do not have the same interests as the working class. Indeed they are usually diametrically opposed.

When Jack Layton mused about joining with the Liberals to stop a Stephen Harper Majority in 2008, they agreed to drop two key election promises - opposition to corporate tax cuts and opposition to the war in Afghanistan just so they would be granted a seat at the cabinet table. They didn’t ultimately do it but it showed how quickly a section of the party brass are willing to shift right to gain some power.

What next?

The key remains building the movements on the streets to shift the political terrain. The logic of elections is that once they are over we are all supposed to go home and wait for the next vote in 5 years. As the climate strikers have pointed out - we don’t have that much time. People are sick of austerity, poverty and racism as well.

The NDP can hasten the demise of the Liberals by throwing themselves into the climate strike movement and pressing for a green new deal. They can offer support to the GM workers in Oshawa who are trying to save their plant and build green vehicles. Singh was the only one to visit Grassy Narrows and take seriously the mercury poisoning that the community is suffering from. The NDP should keep pushing on safe water for Indigenous communities and put forward legislation that covers the UN Deceleration on Indigenous Rights. They should introduce legislation on their national pharmacare program.

But most importantly, the NDP should be building movements outside of parliaments throwing open their constituency offices.

The climate strike on November 29, the continued fight against Doug Ford’s cuts in Ontario and the ongoing fight against the rising far right will be intense in the next few months. The NDP can situate itself within these movements and take the UpriSingh to the next level. Or they can prop up the Liberals and get decimated in the next election.

The NDP brass will likely take all of the wrong lessons from this campaign. They usually do. They will argue that the tack to the left hurt the party’s electability. This is nonsense and needs to be opposed. The issue was they were too late to the radical party.

It is up to the movements, therefore, to push for the NDP to keep left and to build the kind of fight that will shift all of the political terrain in a radical direction.

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