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Pitch to seem ‘respectable’ backfires on leftist NDP in Canada’s election

This article is over 6 years, 2 months old
Jesse McLaren and Pam Frache argue the Tories’ defeat will strengthen the movement for the battles ahead
Issue 2477

The Tories were booted out in Canada last week after nearly a decade in office. 

Their federal election defeat comes after five years of movements from below challenging their austerity and racism. 

But the Labour-type NDP also lost heavily, while Justin Trudeau’s Liberals came out on top.

This was the NDP’s wasted opportunity. It shows what can happen to left wing social democrats when they turn their back on the movement to seem “moderate” or “respectable”. 

Tory leader Stephen Harper managed to mobilise his party’s base by ramping up racism against Muslims. 

The Tories had already pushed through the sinisterly-named Zero Tolerance for Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. On the campaign trail he claimed that the niqab is “rooted in a culture that is anti-woman”.

But three million more people cast their ballots in this election, determined to end Harper’s rule. People voting for the Liberals were rejecting his austerity and Islamophobia. 

Resistance to Harper, including by organised workers, continued throughout the campaign.

Mass rallies to welcome refugees greeted Harper’s attempts to use the crisis to drum up support for imperialist war. 

In the midst of the campaign, public sector unions in Quebec launched a series of one-day strikes. 

First 37,000 primary and secondary school teachers struck on 30 September. A few days later, the unions mobilised 150,000 onto Montreal’s streets. 

In the last general election in 2011, the NDP became the second largest party for the first time.


Their historic rise came off the back of widespread disillusionment with the Liberals and a growing mood of resistance. 

People were inspired by the Arab revolutions and the occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol Building, just south of the border, by US workers fighting union-busting laws. 

Many hoped the NDP would be swept into office for the first time. The party was ahead in the polls by a wide margin, campaigning for a $15 an hour minimum wage and against new draconian terror laws. 

But sensing a big win its leader, Tom Mulcair, lurched to the right to attract the “centre ground”. This put him into direct conflict with the movement the NDP had ridden. 

Particularly damaging in Quebec was the NDP’s commitment to “zero deficits”. In 2011 the NDP had won 59 out of 75 seats and sustained a high level of support. But it lost all but 16.  

Public sector unions in Quebec are battling the regional government’s own “zero deficit” policies. The NDP’s policy put it in opposition to the 150,000-strong demonstration. 

The Liberals have historically been the Tories’ staunchest allies, but the NDP’s rightward shift gave them an opening. Whenever Mulcair lurched to the right, the Liberal tacked to the left.

Trudeau rejected “zero deficits” and even warned that the NDP would bring austerity.

While Trudeau campaigned for real change, the Liberals and their corporate backers want to carry on the Tories’ legacy.

Using left rhetoric on austerity, the Liberals have still supported Islamophobic terror laws. But booting out Harper will boost the movement’s confidence—and strengthen it for the battles ahead. 

Jesse and Pam are members of the International Socialists


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