Canada Today: A Fragile Stability


A Successful Strike: Vancouver Port Truckers

Compared with much of the world, Canada seems an island of stability. The economy has not been as ravaged by austerity, cuts and unemployment as most European countries or the US. There are no wars raging in Canada.

However, Canada’s stability is very thin ice. Most of the economic recovery since 2008 is based on ripping raw materials out of the ground and shipping them aboard, and the growing property bubble. Consumer confidence is still well below 2008. Canadians have one of the highest levels of personal debt in the world and many Canadians are worried their job could disappear. This insecurity, along with the lack of a positive alternative, is why there is some reluctance to rock the boat; workers seem to hope that by keeping their heads down and hanging on things will get better.

Canadian Politics

Harper has been in power for the last 8 years and, despite all the scandals, continues to cut public services, attack the environment and generally continue with his neo-Liberal agenda. It is a damning failure of the New Democratic Party (NDP), that as the official opposition for the first time ever, it has failed to build support against Harper’s attacks. Instead, it appears the new Boy Wonder, Justin Trudeau, is making all the gains. If the Liberals defeat Harper it will not end austerity, after all it was the Liberal Prime Ministers Martin and Chrétien who really launched the neo-liberal attacks in Canada.

The NDP, federally and provincially, continues to drift inexorably rightwards and has lost elections in British Columbia (BC), Nova Scotia and Ontario. Insecurity and the NDP’s lack of any program of hope and change explains the rise of the Liberals and even some of the support for right wing parties who talk about providing jobs – even though it is a lie.

The gains of Quebec Solidaire are a sign of the opportunities for the left. However, as Charles de Gaulle aptly said “Politics is too serious to be left to the politicians”; we have to make changes.

The Jobless Recovery

Following the 2008 recession, there was a sharp rise in unemployment and cuts to living standards. According to a Canadian Auto Workers’ report, Canada has lost 500,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000. Employment has still not recovered from the 2008 recession and most new jobs are part-time. According to a Globe and Mail article of July 2013, 48% of top businesses have only partially, or not at all, recovered from 2008, so “almost half of businesses are operating at an impairment relative to 2007”.

At the same time, Canadian private non-financial corporations are sitting on $630 billion refusing to invest. Former boss of the Bank of Canada, Mark Carney called this “dead money”. So much for tax cuts boosting the economy and innovative, risk-taking capitalism.

Austerity and the Public Sector

Governments across Canada continue their austerity drive, paying for tax handouts to the rich and corporations by cutting much-needed public services and jobs. If the NDP campaigned to restore public services, tackle the environmental crisis and provide a mass green jobs program all funded by taxing the rich and corporations it could provide hope for millions. Instead Mulcair is opposed to any increase of taxes on the super-rich.

Teachers and education support staff again are in firing line in BC and Ontario. In 2012-13 in Ontario, the government was able to play teacher unions against other making it easier to impose a worse contract. Labour strife is again on the horizon this fall in the education sector. In BC, the fight between teachers and government has been ongoing since 2002. The teachers’ union, BCTF, has won court battles but it remains to be seen whether their current strike will wring significant concessions from the government. The education unions need to find a strategy to win against governments that are not interested in the education of children.

Quebec public sector workers are in battle that will likely grow against government cuts to their conditions. The common front of 400,000 union members has enormous potential power.

Unions Need a Winning Strategy

In general, there has been a lack of resistance from organized labour to the attacks in the public and private sectors. A key indicator, working days lost to strikes and lockouts, dropped from a peak of 5.3% in 1987 to 0.4% in 2009.

Repeatedly governments have legislated workers back to work and the unions have accepted. The port truckers in Vancouver responded differently. They had stated they would ignore back-to-work legislation, thereby forced the government to negotiate, and so won many of their demands.

The unprecedented defeat of incumbent president of the Canadian Labour Congress, Ken Georgetti, by the more left wing Hassan Yussuff is an encouraging sign of the growing mood for change after decades of stagnant wages and union retreats. The semi-awakening of organized labour in the recent Ontario provincial election to the threat posed by the “Tea Party of the North” PC leader, Tim Hudak is another positive step. Unfortunately, the awakening was confused and was directed to support strategic voting (which mostly meant an exhortation to vote Liberal to keep out the PCs) rather than a clear program for working people. At least, it could be seen as an arousing of political class consciousness not seen since the Mike Harris days of the 1990s. The quasi-love affair that some union leaders have with the Liberals is not the way to win.

Unions in Canada have not been weakened the way they have in the US or Britain. Unions still have enormous strength with 30% of all workers in unions, over 4.7 million members. Unions have the potential to be a powerful force for progressive change.

Other Resistance

Environmental Struggles

There is growing hostility to Harper’s carbon pimping agenda of selling as much carbon as possible. There are huge looming battles over the planned pipelines. A massive green jobs program is a vital part of the campaign to win wide support for a shift to clean energy.

First Nations

At the front of many of the battles are the First Nations with a growing mood of determination to fight for their rights. Idle No More is an important shift in the struggle. Building solidarity between struggles will help us all win.


Average Canadian student debt is $27,000 on graduation, which adds up to $15 billion owed to the government. This is a tax on education. The victory in Quebec is an inspiration to all Canadians.

A Perspective for Struggle, a Perspective for Socialism
The election of Socialist Alternative’s Kshama Sawant to Seattle Council and then winning a $15 minimum wage by campaigning rather than relying on politicians and union leaders is an inspiring example to all. Militancy, organization and a correct political strategy gets the job done.

Here in Canada, the ‘island of stability’ will not last. The small and growing forces of Socialist Alternative intervene to support workers’, environmental and other struggles. We argue the case for socialism, the need to break the Labour Movement from the dead end of strategic voting and to weigh up the case for building an independent workers’ party outside of the NDP.

Posted in: Canada