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Poilievre rises because labour and NDP refuse to fight Trudeau

Ritch Whyman

July 2, 2024
The recent by-election loss in what has for 30 years been a safe Liberal seat has exposed how deep the frustration with the Trudeau government has become. 
The Toronto St. Paul's by-election showed the Liberals are in a deep and protracted crisis. The Tory win in the riding shows Trudeau's unpopularity is not just confined to rural, working class and western Canada. It has now seeped into Liberal strongholds.
The issues driving this are ones that should benefit the NDP and the labour movement. Poll after poll shows the top issues are the cost of living crisis, the deep and profound housing crisis, interest rate hikes, healthcare and the climate. 
For over 2 years, more and more people feel their lives are getting worse, young people face a deepening crisis with rent hikes and skyrocketing housing costs. Wages have declined in the face of 2-plus years of the worst inflation in decades. Food prices, gas prices, housing costs and mortgage/debt repayment costs have spiked despite recent claims of inflation being under control. 
The solutions offered by the Liberals have done nothing to address any of these crises. Instead, the decision to jack up interest rates in an attempt to deflate the economy and curb wage demands, made lives worse by hiking mortgage and loan payments and enriching the big banks and private lenders.
In response to the housing crisis, the Trudeau Liberals offered the pathetic changes to allow people to use more of their non-existent RRSP savings and take out longer mortgages that only benefit the banks.
Across the country, workers have been resisting the attempts to use inflation to raise profits at the expense of workers' spending power. Since emerging from the first wave of Covid, workers have fought at the bargaining table and on picket lines to boost wages and benefits. This has resulted in wage gains not seen in decades and workers took advantage of labour shortages to make gains.
This situation should be one that benefits the erstwhile and ostensible friend of workers, the NDP. 
The NDP result in St. Paul's was dismal and declined. In that riding in the 2021 general election, the NDP got 17% of the vote; in the by-election, they got 11%. The Tories are the ones that are gaining from justifiable anger at Trudeau and the crisis working class people are facing. It follows on similar drops in every recent by-election. It seems as if nothing has been learned from the debacle of the 2022 Ontario election where the ONDP haemorrhaged 400,000 mainly working-class votes in the midst of a wave of working-class militancy.
In an attempt to address the decline of the NDP and the impending 2025 election sweep by the hard-right Poilievre Tories, sections of the labour movement are finally realising the depth of the anger, and that the Tories are the ones gaining from it. The Canadian Labour Congress and many provincial federations, the largest union organisations in the country, along with others are discussing a campaign to ‘expose’ Poilievre as anti-worker and to ‘fight the right’.
While it is welcome to see the officials of the labour movement finally take seriously the rise of the right and look to tackle the anti-worker politics of the Tories, the plan is unlikely to move anyone as it refuses to tackle the elephant in the room – the NDP alliance with Trudeau.
The idea that you can mobilise against Poilievre and ignore the failures and attacks by Trudeau on working people – from breaking strikes, to hiking interest rates – is pure folly.
The groundswell of support inside working class communities that Poilievre and the Tories are gaining is based on the reality that in face of the cost-of-living crisis they were the only ones going after Trudeau. They, rather than the NDP or union leaderships, took the ground of opposing a government that was implementing policies that were immiserating millions. 
This is why we have the absurd anomaly of the Tories gaining from issues that should be the bread and butter of the NDP and unions. Instead, the NDP pact with the hated Trudeau left them and their union leader backers in the position of propping up a hated government in exchange for piecemeal, if important reforms: means-tested dental care, a flawed daycare plan that enriches private corporations in many provinces, a small start to pharmacare for a few select drugs. 
The fallacy of such an alliance is exposed by the recent proclamation of the great victory by the unions and the NDP in getting “anti-scab” legislation passed in the House (it still isn’t passed in the unelected Senate). Critics had pointed out that this reform, while welcome, was full of holes. It did nothing to prevent or call for the end of the ongoing use of unconstitutional laws that break federally mandated workers strikes. Dock workers, postal workers, rail workers and most recently WestJet mechanical engineershave all seen strikes broken or attempts to break them by the supposedly “labour-friendly” Trudeau. The major victor of the anti-scab legislation has been Poilievre who, recognising the reality, had Tory MPs vote for it. They have used that to say they are worker- and union-friendly.
Exposing Poilievre and the Tories as anti-worker and in the pocket of the banks and CEOs means coming out swinging at Trudeau. It means the NDP has to break its unholy pact and stop propping up Trudeau. A workplace-oriented campaign that targets Trudeau and Poilievre as threats to workers has the potential to gain a hearing in workplaces both union and non-union, particularly in the private sector and the blue collar ends of the public sector.
It may be too late to stop the landslide predicted for the Tories, but such a campaign could form the basis to fight back when the Tories move to gut services, attack the public sector, blame immigrants and hand over millions to the developers and oil barons. A campaign that points to workers taking action beyond the ballot box and that taps into the wage militancy has the potential to form the grounds for a broader fight against the Tories when they turn on the very workers that voted for them.
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