marxism 2011 program notes: prospects for the left under a harper majority

These are my notes from the 2011 Marxism conference in Toronto. The series starts here.

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This was just weeks after the 2011 election, and is very interesting to think about at the one-year mark of Harper's majority. Given what we know now - Jack Layton's death, the NDP's election of a centrist leader, the continued revelations of Conservative election fraud, the extreme ideology of the Harper government - what would we add to this today?

Prospects for the Left under a Harper Majority
Panel Discussion, May 28, 2011

Monique Moisan, Quebec Solidaire

The election results from Quebec amazed everyone. We knew there was an “orange wave” but no one knew how big it was! Quebec is clearly anti-Harper. We know what Quebec doesn’t want!

This was not an anti-Bloc vote, as many think. It was a statement that sovereignty is not an issue for most Quebec voters. The issues are was Layton talked about: public services, health care, pensions. Economic security.

The Bloc formed in 1993 as a strategy for the referendum. Now, having sovereigntists inside the House of Commons serves little purpose.

She voted yes in the two referenda, but when the BQ broke the health care system, she realized it was good Canadian laws that protected public health care. She decided after that she would vote no.

She never voted bloc, always voted NDP, but always believed in the rights of Quebecers to choose their own government.

The Bloc fell because it it couldn’t stop Harper from getting majority. People realize there's no point for now. National unity will not divide us. We must focus on health care, public services, preserving social safety net.

Now there is a new opportunity to talk together - right or left, national unity is no longer an impediment.

Will this effect the provincial election in Quebec? We don't know, but there will now be much more interest in QS.

Derek O’Keefe

The election brought unexpected, unpredictable results. The NDP won more seats in Quebec than the Bloc ever held! And the demise of the Ignatieff Liberals is a cause for celebration.

The results were the rejection of duopoly.

Quebecers remembered Ignatieff’s history on Iraq - and on Harper.

This election was not the end of the Quebec sovereignty question. But the anti-sovereignty strain in the NDP is now in the minority. Figuring out the new political terrain will entail much discussion and debate.

The youth vote went NDP. This is very significant! We should look at where the energy in this election campaign came from and push the NDP to STAY LEFT.

Carolyn Egan

This election produced contradictory results. There was only a tiny gain in Conservative support, and huge gains for the NDP. There was a repudiation of strategic voting. We see an openness to alternative to parties of business. This signals an opening to progressive politics.

We must mobilize, but so many people switching their votes from one party to another is an indicator that Canadians want progressive change. That's an opportunity for us to move that desire for change into the streets, into workplaces, into schools, into our communities.

Yes, we have a majority Conservative government. But there's no room for pessimism. We must be inspired by this opportunity and get to work!

The postal worker fight was the classic austerity budget tactic.

“We don’t want the NDP to see their role as 'making Parliament work'. . . . There is no parliamentary road to socialism. We must look beyond the confines of electorism to the possibility of transforming the means of our economy."

We must learn lessons from the abortion fight, and the fight against the Iraq War, and not assume that the Harper majority means we cannot win.

How do we build a renewed left in Canada? By reaching out to a wide range of communities affected by the austerity budget.

The working class worldwide is in the process of being radicalized by the neoliberal agenda. And Canada is not immune.

"When the unions move, they have real power."

The stakes are very high, as what transpires will shape the landscape for many years to come. The ruling class is out to reshape Canadian society to further interests of capital, to make greater profits at the expense of working class.

They want to make one-time changes that drive deep into the social safety net. But it's risky for them. It's not a given that they will achieve their goals. People are looking for alternatives.

We must learn new ways to organize, to build at our base, to build resistance, to build solidarity.

Selected audience comments

National unity may be very important because Conservatives will continue to play on that division.

“Class politics has come to the fore."

"We must hold the NDP's feet to the fire on fighting Harper."

We must reach out to left in Quebec.

Many people voted for Conservative based on the economy. If the economy tanks, support for Cons can quickly erode.

More groups need to include QS, the way IS does.

There is a danger in seeing Parliament as the only vehicle to power, on the “exclusive focus on parliamentary power”, danger of the NDP becoming more moderate to court power. But we also shouldn’t assume they will do that.

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