May 2 Elections: Can Voting Bring Real Change?

By Louise Jones

As the election nears, Canada’s three major parties all claim they’ll take action that will help workers and their families. But the track record of these parties tells a drastically different story.

The Conservative Party

One of the first things the Harper minority government did when it came to power in 2006 was to withdraw billions of dollars from Aboriginal communities, even though the Kelowna agreement guaranteed these funds. His government also eliminated the Status of Women Canada, a federal agency focused on promoting women’s equality, illegally defunded KAIROS, a faith-based charity organization critical of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza and spent more than one billion dollars to violently quash dissent in Toronto during the G20 protests. And that’s just to name a few of the current government’s memorable moments.

These symbolic manoeuvres fall in line with the larger conservative policy trend to divert taxpayers money away from social programs. This money is instead spent on security at home, to better protect the political and economic elite, and abroad, where a handful of corporations make a literal killing from imperialist occupations. The current conservative government allocates $30 billion for fighter jets and $13 billion for what mainstream media have termed “US-style mega prisons.”

While it was a Liberal government that first sent troops to Afghanistan in 2001, the Conservatives extended the mission two times, most recently saying Canadian soldiers will remain in the country in a “training capacity” until 2014. Testimony from Afghani people and Wikileaks documents revealed that NATO forces fund warlords and even the Taliban themselves as they attempt to establish a west-friendly regime in a land rich with minerals.

The Liberal Party

Historically, the Liberals have dominated parliamentary politics in Canada. The Liberal Party was in power for 17 of the last 30 years alone. During this time, the richest one per cent of Canadians nearly doubled their wealth, from 7.7 per cent in the late 1970s to 13.8 per cent today, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Meanwhile, according to the United Way of Greater Toronto, the number of those living in poverty in Toronto has doubled since 1990, to nearly 30% of all families.

How did the Liberals facilitate this massive shift of wealth from the poor to the rich? Like the Conservatives, they cut taxes on corporations, privatized state assets and axed social spending. Paul Martin slashed corporate tax rates from 28 per cent to 21 per cent when he was in government and as leader of the party in the 1990s, Jean Chrétien severely restricted access to unemployment insurance and privatized CN Rail and Petro Canada.

The Liberals, as with the NDP, portray themselves more progressively in opposition than when they act in power. For example, Michael Ignatieff’s announcement of a $500 million childcare plan is a stripped down version of unfulfilled pledges for national childcare programs that Liberal leaders have made since the 1980s. (On the childcare note, despite repeated calls from women’s and anti-racist organizations, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have bothered to address the abysmally low pay, exhausting hours and violence faced by the overwhelmingly Filipino women in the federal Live-In Caregiver (LCP) program.)

New Democratic Party

The NDP has never won at a federal level but the party has won many provincial elections across Canada. Although the party tends to oppose corporate tax cuts during campaign time, NDP leaders have actually given corporations tax breaks at the provincial level. In the last decade, NDPer Lorne Calvert reduced the corporate income tax rate from 17 per cent to 12 per cent in Saskatchewan and Gary Doer, the former NDP premier of Manitoba, cut the rate by nearly 30 per cent to “provide business with a competitive environment,” as he put it.

Despite being the party of choice for major unions like the Canadian Auto Workers, the NDP does not treat the working class radically different than other parties. When Chrétien cut 45,000 public sector jobs, current NDP leader in Ontario Andrea Horwath responded by saying, “everyone knows that times are tough…[public sector workers] have to do their part as well.” Bob Rae, the NDP premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, imposed a wage freeze on public sector unions. Michael Harcourt, who ran the BC government in the 1990s, cut off welfare to some of the province’s most impoverished, referring to them as “deadbeats and varmints.” Although the NDP has introduced some legislation that aims to cushion the blow of capitalist exploitation, the response of the NDP to the pressures to promote economic growth is to fall in line with the other two parties, by cutting corporate taxes and social spending.

From a foreign policy standpoint, the NDP is now critical of the war in Afghanistan but the party didn’t raise any objections until 2006, when the occupation was more than four years old. In Nova Scotia, the provincial NDP government has partnered with Lockheed Martin in energy development and frequently praises the company for employing Atlantic Canadians in producing military technology. Lockheed Martin is one of the biggest military contractors in Afghanistan and the Palestinian occupied territories. Like the other two parties, the NDP responds to pro-Israeli lobbyists in Canada. NDP MP Svend Robinson was stripped of his Middle East portfolio when he accused Israel of war crimes and many NDP condemned the use of the term “apartheid” to describe the gross injustice Palestinians face. Most recently, on March 20, 2011, the NDP lined up with the other parties in supporting the imperialist military aggression against Libya.

Vote with your feet?

None of the parliamentary parties in Canada truly represent the people as they all prioritize the needs of investors and so-called “security” over the needs of the people both in Canada and abroad. In a true democracy, we should be able to actually influence the economic, environmental and education policies that affect our everyday lives. Instead, we’re given the option to vote for one of a handful of pro-capitalist parties every four years.

For this reason, a coalition of anti-capitalist groups has launched a boycott campaign to draw attention to the lack of real democracy in Canada and inspire a conversation about how we can fight for a truly egalitarian and democratic society. After 150 years of this so-called democratic system, the boycott campaign is calling on Canadians to organize for real people’s power. For more information, please see: boycott2011.ca.

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