Wednesday, February 15, 2012

NDP leadership candidates ducking biggest issue of our time

Canadian Dimension
February 14th 2012

Heading into the final weeks of the NDP leadership race, the candidates still have not debated the most important challenge facing society—the destructive force of modern-day capitalism.

How can a political party that calls itself “social democratic”, or even “progressive,” have a leadership campaign go on for several weeks without candidates—as far as I can determine—discussing the damaging force that capitalism has become?

At Davos last month, heads of think tanks and corporations called for the revamping of capitalism because of the destruction the system has wrought.

Even the normally mild-mannered monthly Toronto Life had freelance journalist Jason McBride do a hatched job on dysfunctional capitalism in its March issue in an article entitled “Something Rotten on Bay Street.”

McBride interviewed prominent economist Roger Martin, Dean of University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and author of Fixing the Game.

Writes McBride: “Martin is a great believer in business as ‘an agent of positive change,’ but he argues that business has failed, spectacularly, to fulfill this role, largely because of its misplaced faith in erroneous economic theory: specifically, that the primary purpose of any corporation should be the maximization of shareholder value.”

Why can’t the NDP speak up?

Surely if it is okay for Big Business and one of its leading proponents to slag capitalism, it should be safe for aspiring NDP leadership hopefuls to speak up and join the conversation.

In fact, the NDP itself could benefit greatly from a society-wide discussion concerning the problems caused by capitalism.

If there are no improvements to the neoliberal-style of capitalism practiced now, the NDP—if elected—will come up against the extreme right wing views of powerful corporate bodies. This includes the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, which consists of executives from all of Canada’s most powerful corporations, and the 50-member Canadian Bankers Association.

If these two bodies did not like policies proposed by a new NDP government, they could easily undermine the government’s agenda. Just ask Barack Obama.

At this stage it is highly unlikely that any of the remaining seven NDP candidates will come forward to open-up a discussion on the failures of capitalism.

Journalist Murray Dobbin, in an October 24 article on The Tyee, provided an insightful description of the positions being taken by the three leading candidates:

“If the party chooses one of the front runners, Brian Topp or Thomas Mulcair, it will cement the party’s rightward drift and pre-occupation with tactical manoeuvring at a time when world events will make drift of any kind a sideshow,” wrote Dobbin.

Dobbin is supporting former CAW negotiator and MP Peggy Nash for the leadership. He likes Nash because of her excellent grasp of economics and the fact that he believes she can bring together the various social movements the NDP will need if it hopes to defeat the Conservatives.

Even so, it is unlikely that even Peggy Nash will come out and promote the reorganization of capitalism during the race.

Instead of explaining how they would challenge the system, the NDP leadership hopefuls are playing it safe, making proposals that would, at best, reinstate some of hundreds of programs slashed by Harper. Greatly restricted by budget limitations, they also would be able to add few of their own excellent programs.

Starry-eyed by the possibility of forming the next government, the NDP is targeting mushy middle ground voters.

However, if the new leader wanted to try to really shake up Ottawa, s/he could go another way.

A little assertiveness will do better at the polls

The party could adopt a more aggressive stance and target the tens-of-thousands of angry and disgruntled Canadians, many of whom are struggling or being left behind by Harper’s neoliberal policies.

The way in which the public embraced the Occupy Movement in the beginning shows that people know they are being exploited. They are in need of leadership.

The new NDP leader could take a bold step and expand the activities of the riding associations. Most associations have never been fully utilized. They could be turned into activist groups that would, as the saying goes “get their hands dirty,” assisting groups and people in their communities who are facing difficulties.

The associations could recruit volunteers who would be able to help, say, a women’s shelter that has lost its funding because of Conservative cutbacks, or an after-school program that might need to find new facilities.

The party could recruit a lot of those young people who were so emotionally touched by Jack Layton’s remarkable letter when he passed away.

If it wanted to, the NDP even could develop its own version of the Company of Young Canadians, the Trudeau era organization that provided many kinds of support for poor communities.

The party would benefit considerably by getting involved in these kinds of activities. Such a program would allow the party to rebuild and expand its depleted grassroots networks. If the NDP is elected, it will need a wide and responsive base to support it against the right-wing attacks that are almost guaranteed.

And communities would greatly appreciate the support and, most important, there would be a good return at the ballot box. Yes, it could be the right time for the NDP to show some imagination and ingenuity that would allow it to deservedly make its mark in the 2015 election.

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