Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Apocalypse Is On the Way

It is a beautiful day in Victoria. The sun is out and it is 10C. The flowers are up. Many trees are in bloom. People are out working in their yards. But while eating breakfast I pick up the Times-Colonist. A front page story covers the demonstrations in Vancouver yesterday over the proposed expansion of Trans Mountain Pipeline. Indigenous leaders insist that the new pipeline will be stopped. But look how quickly opposition was shut down at Standing Rock. Today the repressive state has enormous power and popular opposition is weak. This is not the 1960s.
Vancouver rally againstTrans Moutain Pipeline

Friday Kinder Morgan obtained a court injunction banning protests at their Burnaby terminal. There had been around 15 protesters there for over a week trying to slow down new work, part of the expansion which has the approval of the Trudeau government and the appointed National Energy Board.

Is there a chance that the project can be stopped? The municipalities of Burnaby and Vancouver have gone to court to challenge the legality of the NEB and their declaration that the project can not be held up by laws existing in the municipalities. The NEB has the support of the Trudeau government.

There are high hopes that the John Horgan NDP government will stand by its pledge that the pipeline will not go ahead until an expert panel decides that there would be no threat posed to B.C. from an oil spill. But the B. C. government has already backed down on this political issue by agreeing to allow the courts to rule on the legality of the proposed commission. Does anyone really expect a court to rule against a corporate development project? Will anyone really be surprised if the Horgan government folds on this issue? The NDP government reversed its pledge to halt the Site C dam construction.

But what disturbs me most is the fact that in this political fight between the Alberta and BC NDP governments the issue of climate change and the burning of fossil fuels is nowhere to be found. Yet even the U.S. Energy Agency says that if the goal of keeping the increase of the planet’s temperature below 2 degrees C, all of the bitumen included in the projected plans of the existing oil corporations operating in the Alberta tar sands must stay in the ground!

There is a mountain of scientific studies reporting on the extreme dangers to the planet posed by climate change brought on by the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There are endless news reports which show real changes happening right now. One can understand why most governments make only empty pledges to take action. But it is hard to understand why intelligent people do not take the issue seriously. It does seem to me, as a political economist with an historical orientation, that it is a reflection of the reality of the triumph of liberal individualism and the defeat of the democratic tradition of community solidarity.

The apocalypse:

(1) On the Beach (1957 film)

This film is based on Nevil Shute’s 1957 novel of the same name depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. Unlike the novel, no blame is placed on whoever started the war; it is hinted in the film that the threat of annihilation may have arisen from an accident or misjudgment.

(2) Planet of the Apes (original film, 1968)

American astronauts land on strange planet where they find that evolved apes rule and dominate a smaller mute human population. Film ends when Charleton Heston, the captain, discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty and realizes that they are on Earth which has been nearly destroyed after humans engaged in nuclear war.

(3) The Road (2009 film)

A man and his young son struggle to survive after a global cataclysm has caused perhaps by climate change. There is no living environment. They scavenge for supplies and avoid roaming gangs as they travel on a road to the southern coast in the hope that it will be warmer. Based on the novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, one of my very favourite authors. This novel won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006.

(4) The Last Policeman (trilogy by Ben H. Winters, 2013. )

The trilogy is a combination of a crime novel and science fiction. The world faces extinction as a large object from outer space approaches. How people react is the theme. As refugees approach the USA men turn to guns. Winters, it seems to me, is describing how Europeans are dealing with desperate refugees from the Middle East. The Pentagon study of the effects of climate change predicts American refugees (in the millions) fleeing to Canada.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Which Road for the New Democratic Party?

The other day I received an invitaion to take out a membership in the New Democratic Party. The Saskatchewan NDP is to choose a new leader on March 3. There are two declared candidates: Trent Wotherspoon and Ryan Meili. Both are elected members of the provincial caucus.

I was a member of the NDP in the 1970s when there was an open caucus within the party, known as “The Waffle,” the organization committed to an independent socialist Canada. Since then I rejoined from time to time to support individual candidates for leadership of the provincial party.

The Popular Base of the Original Party

The NDP traces its history back to the farmer-labour and democratic movements in the province in the early days of the last century. The Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) party was formed in 1933 and elected government in 1944 with Tommy Douglas as premier. They governed for 20 years, building a progressive political economy in a hinterland area of North America. They were always the “good guys,” representing the common people. The “bad guys,” were first the Liberal Party and then the Conservatives the representatives of the capitalist interests based in central Canada and the United States. The Liberals under Ross Thatcher ran the province from 1964 – 1971.

The Election in 1971 Reflected Major Political Changes

The 1970s were new times. The civil rights struggle in the USA had led to political movements which had their supporters in Canada. There was growing opposition to the Canadian government’s support for the US government’s unpopular war in Vietnam. At the same time voices were raised against the political economy of continentalism and the domination of Canada by branch plants of American corporations.

In general the Waffle movement was very influential in Saskatchewan. It had a significent following in the NDP. In addition the Saskatchewan Farmer’s Union, the Saskatchewan Federation o Labour and the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation were growing in strength. University students were becoming politically active. Public opinion was moving to the left. Under the leadership of Allan Blakeney the NDP won the provincial election in 1971.

The Blakeney Government, 1971 – 1982

The new NDP government was determined to change the direction of the development of the province. This required a major shift to socially progressive tax policies based on ability to pay. The resource extraction industries, heavily dominated by large foreign corporations, were challenged. The resource royalties they paid were raised substantially. A Heritage Fund was created and royalties were used to expand local ownership of the resource sector. The Saskatchewan Mining and Development Corporation was created and invested in the North. Part of the potash industry was nationalized. The Saskatchewan Oil Corporation was created.

These policies paid off. For example, social assistance rates were raised from the poverty level to the basic needs level, the highest in Canada. New social housing was built. Low income renters received support, as did low income seniors. Unemployment dropped to the lowest level in Canada,

Nevertheless, the Blakeney government was defeated in the 1982 election. A new right wing provincial party, the Conservatives, under Grant Devine, formed the government and moved the province in a different direction. They were guided by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her team and pursued a right wing liberal free market agenda. The NDP kept Allan Blakney as leader until after their defeat in the 1986 election. Roy Romanow, a Saskatoon lawyer, was selected the new leader. He represented the right wing of the party. The progressive left in the party failed to put forth a candidate.

Grant Devine’s government pushed through programs and policies that confronted the progressive social democratic culture established by CCF-NDP governments. Roy Romanow’s NDP limited their opposition to debates in the provincial legislature. But they were greatly aided by the actions mobilized by the Saskatchewan Coalition for Social Justice. Across Canada similar coalitions were formed to oppose the free trade agreements being actively promoted by big business organizations. They included a wide range of popular groups including labour, farmers, church organizations, students, women’s organizations, the Environmental Network, etc. The crunch came when the Devine government began to privatize the large Crown Corporations.

The 1991 Election Resulted in a Major Victory for the Political Left

NDP supporters expected a return to the Blakeney policies. NDP candidates promised as much during the campaign. However, a major battle erupted when the Romanow government brought forth its first budget. It was a right wing liberal budget which raised regressive taxes and cut programs. It followed the precedent of the Labour governments in Australia and New Zealand, the neoliberal model of social democracy. The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Coalition for Social Justice urged the Romanow government to follow the path of Tommy Douglas’ government: pay off the provincial debt over 20 years and keep pushing programs that benefit the majority.

But the neoliberals were in control. TheNDP government completed the privatization of the Crown corporations in the resource sector. They privatized the Lloydminister heavy oil upgrader. They shut down the Heritage Fund. They privatized the natural gas industry created by Sask Power. They froze social assistance rates for eight years!

The NDP managed to win re-election in the election in 1995, but voter turnout fell from the normal 77%-80% to 57%. By 1999 voters began to rebel. With a 56% turnout, the vote for the NDP fell to 39% and they had to form a coalition with the Liberal Party to continue as government. NDP memberships had declined from 46,000 in 1991 to only 8,000in 1999. Roy Romanow resigned as Premier and in 2001 Lorne Calvert took over as leader of the NDP and premier.

From the Natural Governing Party to a Weak Opposition Party

Calvert continued the general neoliberal direction of the NDP. The most significant action was to further reduce the royalty rates for natural resource extraction. The right wing Fraser Institute declared the Saskatchewan NDP to be the best provincial government in Canada. Their survey of corporate directors concluded Saskatchewan was the best place to invest, with the lowest taxes and few government regulations. In the 2003 provincial election the NDP got 39% of the vote; only 58% of eligible voters cast a ballot. In the 2007 election the NDP vote fell to 37%, while 60% voted.

Calvert’s government even repealed the Blakeney government’s popular legislation protecting Saskatchewan’s farmland from froreign and corporate ownership.

Lorne Calvert resigned, and in desperation the NDP called Dwaine Linginfelter back to lead the party. He had been Deputy Leader under Romanow but had quit politics for a top job with an oil corporation. In the 2011 election the NDP received only 32% of the vote, and voter turnout fell to 51% In the 2016 election the NDP vote was only 30% with a voter turnout of 53%.

The Choice on March 3
Ryan Meili and Trent Wotherspoon

The two candidates for the leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP follow the script that has been developed by social democratic parties over recent years. There have been several televised debates, which I have not watched. The media has reported that there were few differences in policy. Both want to improve social programs, reduce poverty, find housing for the homeless, create a pharmacare program, end corporate and union political donations to political parties, and work to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Both are committed to defending the remaining Crown Corporations, and both want to see a shift to green energy.

What is notable is their refusal to confront the major social democrat policy shift to the right beginning with the Romanow government. There is no pledge to a return to a progressive taxation program. Why should social democrats be satisfied with foreign ownership and control of the resource sector? Why should they be satisfied with resource royalties that are lower than those set by Sarah Palin’s Republican government in Alaska?

The NDP does not want to examine why their vote has fallen so far. They don’t want to ask why so many members have quit. They don’t want to ask why 50% of voters now stay home on election day.

Ryan Meili will most likely be the next leader of the party. But it seems highly unlikely that with this liberal platform he can win the election in 2020. I will sit this one out.