Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Whither the Left? Reflections on the Eve of the Peoples' Social Forum

Magazine article Canadian Dimension

Whither the Left? Reflections on the Eve of the Peoples' Social Forum

Article excerpt

ARE THE OLD INSTITUTIONS of the left, including the trade unions and parties of social democracy, still up to the task of confronting capitalism and the state? Are they able to imagine and create pathways to alternatives? Or are they irreversibly compromised and moribund?

In the recent Ontario election, Andrea Horwath's NDP campaigned on government waste, deficit slashing, Liberal corruption, and populist, vote-targeted chequebook pledges little different from the Harper game plan of 2006--all under the rubric of "a plan that makes sense," language echoing the Harris Common Sense Revolution and feeding into Tim Hudak's campaign for aggressive austerity. The NDP proposed no major progressive reform, and had no policy to address deindustrialization other than neoliberal "incentives and retraining." Their campaign was rhetorically well to the right of the Liberals', who assertively made the case for taxation, public sector jobs, and investment in infrastructure, though their fine print promised the same deficit-slashing austerity as the NDP. This right-leaning NDP campaign came after months of NDP shilly-shallying on the minimum wage, and after their rejection of a moderately progressive Liberal budget without articulating a policy rationale; and it followed a 2011 campaign in which the NDP campaigned against the Liberal carbon tax without presenting any viable alternative.

Everywhere we look, it seems, social democracy has embraced right-wing populism as the only viable path to power. Earlier this year in Quebec, the PQ went down to defeat after introducing the racist Charter of Values and highlighting union-busting business heir Pierre Karl Peladeau as a star candidate. Articulating an alternative social vision is left to small parties like Quebec Solidaire, which campaigns on a platform that incorporates elements of classical social democracy.

Ironically, given their reputation for fiscal conservatism and business-friendliness, it was only the Greens in the Ontario election who proposed new universal social programs (guaranteed annual income and universal student nutrition) and major social reform (ending separate schools), and refrained from making contractionary deficit-elimination promises. …

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