New Democracy - Saskatchewan Style

By Jons, J. J. | Canadian Dimension, June 1992 | Go to article overview

New Democracy - Saskatchewan Style

Jons, J. J., Canadian Dimension

Out of the decade or more discussion of the crisis of 20th century socialist theory and practice, and the shock of the collapse of Communism, one conclusion seems universal. Both the explanation of the collapse and the prescription for renewal of socialism centres on the issue of democracy. Democracy was stifled under Communism. It must flourish under socialism if socialism is to win the support of the people. This is the judgment of everyone who has written on the subject, from whatever perspective.

Yet despite the string of NDP victories in Canadian provincial elections, there is no flourishing of democracy. Throughout its thirty year life the NDP has maintained a standard of internal democracy superior to that of its two principal competitors, both of which, it should be said, remain bastions of elitism equal to any bourgeois party in the industrial world. Yet such is Canadian political culture that even the NDP remains resistant to the changes that might just bring doubting activists back into a political party from the issue-based organizations where they now work.

Of course the NDP is not at all uniqe among social democratic parties. The rise of the Green Party in Germany reflets the conservatism and undemocratic tendencies in the Socialist Party over the nuclear question, militarism and industrial development standards. The centralist, bureaucratic authoritarianism of Neil Kinnock toward the Left in the British Labour Party in notorious. In every social democratic party in Europe, including Sweden, silencing left wing criticism is standard practice.

The past decade, characterized by the populist style and elitist governance of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher saw the reversal of many democratic gains won during the long Cold War era. Courts over-turned or denied individual liberties, group advocacy attempts and empowerment initiatives to the advantage of state or corporate power. Voter participation fell in many jurisdictions in reflection of popular cynicism over governments. Electoral rules and procedures were often slanted against community or class composition. Devices such as referenda and initiatives were manipulated by corporate or pressure group funding to thwart the original popular principle of one person, one vote. It was a decade of evident arrogance of the rich and powerful both in the economy and in the political arena.

And while the NDP was not a perpetrator of this attack on democracy, neither was it immune from the effects. During the past decade is was largely in opposition, ideally placed to advocate and defend democracy. Its record was not stunning.

Patriarchal leadership

Saskatchewan has the longest history of successful left wing government in North America. It is also deeply imbued with populist political culture. As with other NDP parties, Saskatchewan is putting more emphasis on placing women in winnable seats with the result that ten of its fifty-five elected members are now women. Four of the eleven cabinet ministers are women. It should be said that the previous Tory government boasted the most women of any Saskatchewan government to that time.

Yet the choice of constituency candidates is subject to central office supervision, and cabinet selection remains firmly a patriarchal leader's prerogative. During the life of the CCF control over nominations was sought by David Lewis, M.J. Coldwell, Tommy Douglas, Stanley Knowles and many lesser figures as part of the struggle against Trotskyists, Communists and related left wingers. The practice of engineering candidates was used effectively to freeze out Wafflers at the start of the Blakeney regime and continues with the Saskatchewan NDP central office.

Even though the Cold War is over there remains a staunch manipulative imperative within NDP leadership. The small clique of old friends and colleagues as well as law partners of Roy Romanow constitute a dominating elite of no more than six who can overrun party standard of democracy. …

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