Electing 29 New Democrats in the 2006 federal election was a great improvement from two years earlier, but many felt we could have done even better, especially considering the massive unpopularity of both Stephen Harper and Paul Martin.
The 308 candidates throughout Canada who carried the NDP banner ran good campaigns and should be thanked for their hard work and determination. The party leadership, however, seemed absent when it came to confronting economic inequality, unemployment and corporate power, as well as generating a long-term, democratic and socialist vision for the future.
There was virtually no discussion from Jack Layton on rising oil prices or prescription drugs, the huge gaps that exist in social spending, or growing inequality and poverty. Likewise, there were no policy alternatives put forth by the NDP Leadership to combat these fundamental problems – ideas like full employment, reforming Bank of Canada monetary policy, social ownership and democratic control of the oil and drug companies, fair trade that puts workers’ rights and the environment first, and a reduction of the workweek to give the unemployed work and the overworked a break.
Staring now, the party can no longer ignore that little ugly thing called economics. If we can’t explain how we’re going to create jobs, eradicate homelessness and poverty, and close the ever widening gap between the rich and the poor, how do we expect voters to put us in power?
The NDP Leadership shouldn’t have run away, as it did in 2006, from important policies like an inheritance tax. In fact, for a party that is consistently criticized for not being clear about how it intends to raise revenues to pay for increased social spending, higher taxes on the wealthy should be inscribed on the opening pages of our campaign booklet – and proudly.
Yet some in the party still believe that there is a difference between running on a progressive, workers’ agenda on one hand and being electable on the other. This is where we always go wrong, because these two choices are not on opposite sides of the fence – they’re one and the same.
When more working Canadians are voting Conservative or Liberal than NDP, we’re doing something very wrong. Moving to the middle and trying to squeeze a couple more votes out of the middle class isn’t worth losing potentially hundreds of thousands more from working Canadians and the poor, who have been turning away from polling stations for years because of a lack of real alternatives.
In order to win government, the NDP needs to bring them back to the voting booth. And to do this, we need to run on a platform that challenges the failures of our economic system and puts forth alternatives that will change the way people work and live in Canada.
Another reform long overdue is to stop campaigning for only a slightly greater number of MPs each election and start running for an NDP government that will work in the interests of wage-earners, small business owners, the unemployed, students, women, people of colour and seniors.
People want to elect a winner, and we better start acting like one if we want to get anywhere near power. In politics, if you want a foot, you’ve got to ask for a mile. Unfortunately in the last election, Layton asked for a foot and got even less.
The NDP needs to connect with disenfranchised voters like never before by taking aim at the liars and criminals of corporate Canada, their control over the political system, and the business-dominated media that accepts and sustains their unwarranted rule.
It is this boldness, along with the party’s outstanding candidates and hard working members, that will one day lead to a federal NDP government – and a much better future for us all.