Statement Archive

#UsToo: Uprooting assault, harassment and the culture of silence in the NDP

Recently a young member of the NDP came forward with the story of her rape. Her predator? A former Saskatchewan NDP provincial candidate and party vice-president.

What happened in Saskatchewan

In her account, she details the years of sexual harassment that she endured, beginning prior to the 2015 federal election, shortly after her assailant was nominated. She talks about the suggestive text messages that she received, asking her—a teenager—for nude photographs, which then led to her assault this past August. It is an intimate and heartbreaking look at how her pain went undetected (or, perhaps, unacknowledged) by the party she’s cared so deeply for and the people, primarily men, in positions of power in the Saskatchewan NDP.­

Unfortunately, it is also because people are sometimes afraid of hurting the Party, or the reprisals they will suffer if they do

It’s important to recognize that a network of young activists were aware of this particular survivor’s harassment, and they are aware of the harassment that other, specifically young, members of the NDP have been subjected to. But out of fear of the reaction of their colleagues and higher-ups, they don’t come forward. This is certainly not because they don’t want to, but rather because they don’t feel that their experiences (or the experiences of others) will be believed until someone is brave enough to blow a whistle and the story hits the media circuit and blows up.

Unfortunately, it is also because people are sometimes afraid of hurting the Party, or the reprisals they will suffer if they do. Within political parties, the message most often given to victims of abuse is gaslighting, telling them to swallow it, or at the very most deal with it internally. Anything taken up in public or through the judiciary system amounts to the thing that political operatives avoid at all costs: bad press for the Party.

The Party

From a multitude of cases known by Courage members alone, abuse and violence is often covered up by people who value protecting the Party and its politicians more than justice for less “important” Party operatives. We feel confident extrapolating from these repeated stories that this problem is endemic, that the NDP has a role to play in ending the hierarchal structure that perpetrates rape culture and enables abuse, and that this statement’s function as a “call out” is valid.

Sexual assault and harassment do not exist in a vacuum. When the status of people in powerful positions as candidates, Members of Parliament, elected Party officials, or management-level political operatives are valued more than the voices of volunteers, riding association members, and lower level political staff, we create a political culture that perpetuates fear and fosters silence. The reward for silence in the political world is a clean reputation, career advancement, or the opportunity to maybe, hopefully, seek out an electoral nomination in the future.

Next to the culture of silence, a sexist and racist political culture ensures that there are very few female and Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) candidates to begin with. When people do decide to put their names on ballots they are often subject to egregious scrutiny, misogyny and racism. Which is to say, if you are a woman, queer, trans or BIPOC and you want to be a politician, you are more afraid of political reprisal than white straight men are. Also, there will often be a powerful male in the Party machine who is taking credit for your rise, and who is congratulating himself for “carving out” space for you.

We do not agree that the Party can say that it has adopted a feminist, human rights, or labour rights based approach…

It is important to note that this culture is not specific to the NDP. We know it to be replicated among all Parties and other intensely hierarchical structures that value loyalty. However, it is also important to state that the NDP is a party of professed feminists, labour rights advocates, and human rights defenders. Notwithstanding accusations of hypocrisy, the Party has done almost nothing to entrench systems and processes in respect to these principles within its own structures. In short, while we agree that these may be the “politics” of the Party, we do not agree that the Party can say that it has adopted a feminist, human rights, or labour rights based approach until it develops systemic ways to protect against violence, violations and abuse. This is part of the reason Courage foregrounds and values a return to grassroots democracy, and transformative power shifting within the NDP.

#UsToo

This is an important moment. Women, trans, and nonbinary folks have been peppering social media with the hashtag #MeToo, sharing personal stories of assault and harassment en masse. While this recent movement is in response to the allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, it is crucial that we address toxic masculinity where we experience it. We are declaring #UsToo (referring to our members who know this abuse from within the Party) and actively pursuing solutions that will eliminate sexual violence from our collective experiences as non-men and members of the NDP.

Of course, men also suffer harassment, abuse, and the negative impacts of cisheteropatriarchy. (Although it is important to note that femininity and the feminine are oppressed by patriarchy while the masculinity and the masculine are privileged.) We are aware of many stories where mens’ labour rights are being abused, or they are suffering harassment from their bosses within the Party and those abuses are also covered up. However, Courage believes that the intersections of misogyny, racism and transphobia compound to make politics less safe for women, trans and nonbinary people than for cis men, and less safe for BIPOC than for white people. To deny that this is a gendered problem is to deny the problem altogether.

Unrealistic expectations

Space must be made by Party officials for non-men and BIPOC to express ourselves and speak to the sexual violence, harassment, and abuse that we encounter as members of our political movement. Our accounts must be believed and swift action taken to mitigate future threats of violence within the political sphere. “Everyday” sexism, misogyny, and racism must be treated seriously and training to detect and deal with that oppression must be routinely mandated at every level of operations, especially among managers and politicians.

Meetings, retreats, and conventions are not safe places for those of us who experience threats, violence and harassment

Anti-harassment policies are only effective so long as they are acted upon; however, we must go even further and dismantle the patriarchal systems, such as the “old boys club”, that promote misogyny and sexism, and sustain problematic patterns of harassment. Simply put: meetings, retreats, and conventions are not safe places for those of us who experience threats, violence and harassment to engage in freely without consequence. Older men monopolize convention and council microphones, and use condescending terms like “sister” to bully women into submission and discourage dissent. Those who do speak up at conventions are reprimanded, either by not being voted into executive positions, having slates brought together to make sure they cannot be elected, or having other riding executives told to try and get them back into “the Party line”. Caucus meetings happen concurrently, forcing folks who identify with more than one equity-seeking group to choose which is “more important” for them to attend.

Parliaments, legislatures, political offices and campaigns are also tremendously unsafe and unregulated spaces. Parliament is not subject to the labour code of Canada and no harassment policy exists to protect staffers from sexual abuse. The only reprisal offered is court, which is very public, particularly when a politician (perhaps a beloved one) is the perpetrator. When cases are brought to court, politicians can use “parliamentary privilege” to defend themselves from charges of labour violations. Interns have no protections at all. Campaigns are notorious for running on the inhumanely long hours demanded from campaign staff. The emotional, frenetic and panicked nature of campaign spaces often overshadows the needs of staff and volunteers all in the name of the “greater good”.

As women, trans and nonbinary people, we are constantly aware of our surroundings, and actively avoid the men our whisper networks tell us are dangerous. Some of us, usually staff, are recruited to play interference in protecting known predators from public reprisal. Within these halls of power, we are routinely “tested” on our ability to be “one of the boys” and to act aggressively in a conflict-driven profession. Our complaints are routinely devalued within a workplace that demands absurd displays of masculine strength in the “fight” against opposing Parties. This must change.

Taking responsibility

Our toxic political culture is experienced, but too often goes unnamed.

The onus is not on us—labourers, volunteers, and interns—to control our environments. Responsibility lies at the feet of the NDP to ensure that the places in which our work is done are safe, are free of violence, and are friendly to young women, older women, trans, nonbinary folks, and parents. To imply that we need to dress a certain way to be respected, or that we must conduct ourselves inauthentically in political spaces to be treated with dignity is to blame and shame the victim. To sweep reported and rumoured instances of sexual violence under the rug is to allow predators to escape unscathed, reputation intact, and deflate the validity of our experiences.

It comes as no surprise to those Courage members with years of experience within the NDP, that a woman was raped on the Saskatchewan NDP’s watch. Our toxic political culture is experienced, but too often goes unnamed. If rank-and-file New Democrats fail to believe that the problem even exists, then they haven’t been listening.

It’s the job of the Party, and every person who holds power, no matter where they stand on the organizational “ladder”, to recognize and validate us and fix the problem. Otherwise the NDP risks losing a variety of talented, diverse activists to movements that will allow us to speak up. Additionally, they will be exposed.

As society itself becomes more comfortable with public exposures of rape culture, violence and other violations, that were until recently unheard of, it will be only a matter of time before the NDP finds itself the focus of historical and current-day scandals and cover-ups.

Courage wishes to take this moment to invite all NDPers who have suffered abuse, and who agree with our Basis of Unity to join our movement, and we wish to say three simple but meaningful words to all NDPers who have experienced abuse: we believe you.

Singh’s victory is historic, but this is no time for wait-and-see

Jagmeet’s Singh’s decisive victory in the New Democratic Party leadership race is unquestionably an historic event. Never before has a major federal political party in this country been led by a person of colour. Furthermore, Singh won by mobilizing thousands of people who before, might never have seen themselves as taking part in the NDP.

If members cannot democratize the party and empower the grassroots, the presence of thousands of new members will be meaningless.

If the party can build on that resonance, and embody the aspirations of those tens of thousands, it could be powerfully revitalized as a political force in this country. However, the “if” is a big one. Singh’s victory is also a victory for the party establishment’s status quo, which is dead-set on running a deeply centralized and anti-democratic party. The bellwethers here are Brad Lavigne, who recently cashed in his relationships with BC politicians to become a lobbyist, and James Pratt, who was charged with removing mildly pro-Palestinian candidates in 2015 through intimidation tactics.

Singh’s appeal can win the NDP a few new seats, but if members cannot democratize the party and empower the grassroots, the presence of thousands of new members will be meaningless.

Promises worth remembering

Jagmeet Singh campaigned on several encouraging promises, many of which he was pushed to make thanks to the work of social movements and activists from all campaigns. These policies were popular amongst an NDP membership hungry for democratic socialist policies, and we should hold Singh to these promises, which include:

As we know, because something is promised in a winning leadership campaign doesn’t mean that the party will use its considerable media platform and election campaigning to actually promote those policies.

It will be a vigilant and organized membership that will ensure that the boldest proposals actually become the core of the NDP’s identity.

Quite the opposite. Jack Layton, for example, won a similar first-ballot victory in his leadership contest while agreeing with the spirit of the New Politics Initiative (and with the backing of some of the NPI’s key proponents), which called for deep democratic reforms to the party. Instead, once Layton took the reigns, the party became even more centralized, undemocratic and disconnected from its membership, leading to current and ongoing crisis of member involvement.

It will be a vigilant and organized membership – not a wait-and-see attitude or a deference to the leadership – that will ensure that Singh’s boldest proposals actually become the core of the NDP’s identity.

The necessity of a transformative agenda

There are many key issues where Singh’s campaign has been less visionary and more vague.

The NDP must make up for these gaps. Transitioning  to a post-carbon economy, decommodifying housing, and enacting redistributive policies that tackle income inequality — these tasks cannot be left to the whims of party leadership.

The NDP must be a serious voice in pushing for the needs of our political, economic and ecological moment:

The bad news

And then there are issues where Singh must be held accountable. These include:

  • A total lack of a plan for party democracy (unlike Ashton, Angus, and Courage)
  • The presence of individuals who presided over the party’s drift to the right and worse
  • His silence about Tara Hart’s account of her assault by Wab Kinew, and Kinew’s denials (Update: Singh now says he believes Tara Hart, but has not said if that changed his position with in relation to Kinew.)
  • His alignment with the retrograde views of the NDP’s foreign policy critic
  • His proposal to scrap Old Age Security (OAS) in favour of a means-tested benefit understandably raised serious controversy within a party committed to universal social programs. Any proposed changes to pension benefits will require more thought and discussion among party members to ensure both broad coverage and sufficient financial support.
  • Opposition to privatization does not appear once in Singh’s campaign materials. Stopping the Liberals’ billions in infrastructure bank giveaways ought to be a priority, and the NDP should campaign to reverse the privatization of the last few decades.
From the beginning, it was clear that no single leadership candidate was going to do everything that needed to be done.

With that said, it is important that criticism of Singh, when required, be rooted in verifiable facts and his policies. We should aspire to not only abstain from invoking racist ideas, but actively challenge any dog-whistle rhetoric around religion, culture or skin colour. The leadership campaign showed us that there is a lot of learning to be done among NDP supporters around how to be effectively anti-racist. We all have a role to play in making left-wing and NDP organizing a welcoming space for everyone.

Organizing: the way forward

From the beginning, it was clear that no single leadership candidate was going to do everything that needed to be done. Nor could they; the establishment would be too powerful to overcome without the help of an organized force promoting an alternative agenda.

The reason we started Courage was because we knew that we – NDP members; the left at large – had to do it ourselves. We plan to.

No matter who you supported for leader, if you want to help build the power of social movements and an activist, grassroots, democratic, and solidly left and progressive party, then join us! 

To find out more about becoming a Courage member, click here!


The NDP leadership race

Our analysis

In July of this year, Courage members voted in an internal referendum to determine how best to intervene in the upcoming federal NDP leadership election. Options on the ballot were: 


1. Endorsement: recommendation of a particular candidate

2. Scorecard: a ranking of each candidate against Courage’s Basis of Unity

3. Analysis: a neutral examination of the candidates against Courage’s Basis of Unity

The results of the vote were close, but the majority of the membership did favour Option 3: Analysis. It is in recognition of that decision that we present our analysis of the NDP leadership race, measured primarily against Courage’s ‘Basis of Unity’, as well as on a broader leftist perspective. Our Basis of Unity comprises the core values that Courage’s members agree upon and support, and includes such demands as; democratic control over our economy; a society which includes and empowers all people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or class; environmental sustainability; international solidarity with oppressed people everywhere, including the Palestinian people and all migrants and refugees; decolonization and self-determination for Indigenous peoples everywhere; and inclusive and asymmetrical federalism. We offer our survey of the four leadership campaigns as interpreted through this unique lens. This analysis will not however address issues of personality such as popular appeal and charisma, as it is our feeling that these aspects have been given adequate coverage in other sources. It is important to note that our survey is not exhaustive—it leaves out policies for all of the candidates—and as it is the work of a collective it will not align perfectly with the views of any one member.

A note on foreign policy: at the time of writing none of the campaign platforms contained significant foreign policy, nor has there been a debate dedicated to the subject; a glaring oversight on the part of the candidates and also the party. An area where there is some distinction between the candidates is on the subject of Israel and Palestine. As the plight of the oppressed is of special interest to Courage, and as pro-Palestinian candidates have been known to be “turfed” by the NDP, a decision was made to limit our foreign policy analysis to where the candidates stand on this issue. We feel it necessary to point out that criticism of the State of Israel does in no way equal anti-semitism, and that Courage stands strongly against racism in all its forms.

Charlie Angus

Charlie Angus is the veteran in the NDP leadership contest, elected as an Ontario MP in 2004. Being the second to declare (after Peter Julian, who has since dropped out) and thought to be the initial frontrunner, the Angus campaign has presented its candidate as a champion for the typical Canadian, the worker: Charlie “has your back.” Angus does have a solid history organizing for social justice—particularly in championing Indigenous issues—that backs up this claim.

On the environment, Angus would like to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel industries, and legislate a “hard-cap” on emissions over a five-year period, but has not taken a particularly hard stance against pipelines, with the Hill-Times identifying him as the “most pipeline friendly candidate” in the race. This conclusion, however, is contradicted by his passionate advocacy for Indigenous peoples, his commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to not oppose Indigenous rights in court. Angus also aims to promote Indigenous child welfare, work to hand over programs to Indigenous communities and improve access to housing and education.

Angus’ platform offers no specific gender-based or LGBTQ+ policy, and while thin on migrant rights, he does promise to fund EAL programming, employment assistance and other services. On Palestine, he has criticized Israel on the issue of settlements, supports the labelling of goods originating in the occupied territories, and opposed parliamentary condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, though it should be noted he does not support boycotts or sanctions against Israel.

Apart from not presenting a taxation plan, Angus has advanced strong economic proposals, pledging to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, introduce anti-scab legislation, and—of particular interest to Courage—to create a program which would make it easier for urban neighbourhoods to set up democratically controlled cooperative enterprises. Among other progressive housing initiatives (a $1.1 billion low income housing benefit, $2 billion to social housing) he also pledges to expand cooperative housing, promoting democratic control of local resources and community land trusts. We view cooperatives as a key element in the transition to a democratically controlled economy; any program that encourages their development is something that we support. [*]

While Angus has made a return of the party to its grassroots base a central promise of his campaign—commendably promising to hire regional organizers for example—some in the party have alluded to a troubling tendency toward autocratic rule during his time as caucus chair. This potentially represents a weakness in what one could reasonably expect to be Angus’ strongest area—intra-party relationships and support. Additionally, given Courage’s stance on improving internal democracy within the NDP, any notion of a ‘top-down’ leadership style is cause for concern.

Niki Ashton

On the issue of strengthening the internal democracy of the NDP, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton has pledged to make the NDP a ‘bottom-up’ organization in which left-wing grassroots organizations and activists have a greater say in policy and direction of the party. The candidate in the NDP leadership race to most vocally identify as a democratic socialist, Ashton’s campaign messaging and rhetoric has for the most part supported that label.

Ashton supports public ownership and democratization of the economy through the nationalization of key sectors—though she has not been thoroughly specific on her plans to do so. Likening herself to Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, Ashton has also promised free post-secondary education, offered positive gender-based policy such as a well-funded national action plan on gender-based violence, and plans to take “decisive action” on employment discrimination against gendered, Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ+ persons. It should be noted here that some have found Ashton lacking in her allyship; during and after the Victoria debate, the issue of Ashton’s blatant cherry-picking of quotes to misrepresent candidate Jagmeet Singh’s stance on LGBTQ+ changes to Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum was the subject of critique from both party members and the media.

Ashton’s tax reform plan is ambitiously redistributive, seeking to close loopholes and ensure corporations and the wealthiest 1% of Canadians pay a commensurate rate by limiting capital gains tax exemptions and increasing wealth and estate taxes. She also proposes the creation of a Postal Bank, and an end to corporate giveaways and trade deals which benefit executives and corporations over workers here and across the world—though again without a great deal of specificity. Through aggressive taxation and a plan to end corporate subsidies, Ashton proposes a robust climate justice plan, including green job guarantees, retraining for oil sector workers, a national retrofit strategy, phasing out the sale of gas and diesel vehicles by 2040, and the creation of a new crown corporation to lead a green energy transition.

On support of oppressed peoples, Ashton has been vocal on Indigenous rights in Canada—particularly around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), increasing funding for Indigenous education, and issues of access in the North—and has taken a bold position on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. While Ashton has not officially endorsed BDS, she does support it, and we acknowledge her strong defence of the Palestinian people. She also maintains a clear pro-migrant rights and pro-refugee position, and opposes military expansionism.

Guy Caron

The role of economic steward has been assumed by Québec MP Guy Caron in this campaign, who has made his Basic Income Guarantee the signature component of his platform. A guaranteed basic income as implemented by a Caron-led government would be a supplement provided by the state, serving as a top-up to help low-income Canadians reach the so-called ‘low-income cut-off’ (LICO) line. Guaranteed basic income is regarded with mixed opinions on the left: there are some who see it as ameliorative; a good first step toward alleviating some of the cruelest effects of income and wealth inequality. Others view it as possible ammunition for conservatives to point to as justification for cutting—or even eliminating entirely—the broader social support offered by the state. It should be noted that Caron has gone on record stating that his approach is definitively ameliorative, however more clarity is needed with regard to how his Basic Income Guarantee would interact with other social programs such as daycare or tuition-relief. Further to the economy, Caron also promises an ambitious taxation plan which aims in part to net $2 billion from a new inheritance tax and $12 billion from a new wealth tax.

Caron has pushed electoral reform to the top of his campaign’s agenda, promising that the first piece of legislation in a Caron government would be to institute Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) as Canada’s new electoral system. While we applaud this, it should be noted that MMPR has been promoted by all of the candidates as the system with which they would replace Canada’s current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, and that doing so is already official NDP policy.

Often overshadowed by his Basic Income Guarantee, Caron’s environmental plan is significant. He opposes the Kinder Morgan, Energy East and Keystone XL pipeline projects, and like the other candidates, he plans to end fossil fuel subsidies. Caron also wants 50% of vehicles on the road by 2041 to be electric, and would create a Secretariat to coordinate this electrification strategy by incentivizing electric vehicle purchases. Additionally, Caron promises that a government under his leadership would invest in green infrastructure projects, immediately begin accepting climate change migrants, and would align the National Energy Board with the Paris Agreement and UNDRIP. Further to UNDRIP, Caron pledges to implement it as law in Canada, as well as adopting and implementing all the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). He also plans to reset and modify the National Inquiry into MMIW and seek a new nation-to-nation dialogue with Indigenous peoples around revenue sharing from resource extraction, which are all positive efforts. Caron’s stance on Palestine earns mixed reviews from the left, in that while he voted against a Parliamentary motion to condemn BDS, he remains unsure that it is a constructive method of intervention. Lastly, the Caron platform has offered no specific LGBTQ+ or gender-based policy.

In August, the Caron campaign released a Québec policy platform that pledged to respect the Québec legislature’s “authority” to pass laws on secularism, citing an alleged emerging consensus from both the left and right in that province on legislation that would impose limits on religious clothing, such as niqabs and burkas (candidate Niki Ashton also initially agreed with this approach before later changing position, calling restrictions on clothing “a line in the sand”). It is worth noting here that a theory held by many in the pundit class that Thomas Mulcair’s position against the niqab ban ultimately cost the NDP Québec in the 2015 federal election. We must be clear: Courage absolutely condemns the process of “othering” in any case, and doing so in a misguided attempt to gain political favour in a particular province or region is no exception to this condemnation.

Jagmeet Singh

A frontrunner in the campaign even before he declared, Singh has been called the candidate to beat—that observation seemingly borne out by his being the frequent locus of the most heated leadership debates. Initially, the national press’ interest in Singh tended to be based more on style than substance, presenting him as an NDP answer to the Liberal’s Trudeau. That thought was of little comfort to many on the Canadian left, some of whom were already concerned that Singh would skew towards centrism in a bid to power. This concern momentarily appeared warranted early in the campaign when Singh refused to rule out support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, though he did eventually release a climate change plan that opposes both the Energy East and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects, and more recently has also come out against Keystone XL. Singh’s climate change plan includes a Green Building Compact, the phasing out of coal, a new tax on high emission vehicles, fossil fuel worker retraining and a commitment to UNDRIP. It should be mentioned here that other than his commitment to UNDRIP, there was a notable lack of any other Indigenous policy in the Singh platform until after online voting began [*], and Courage would also like to see a clearer policy on immigration/citizenship from his campaign.

The strongest policies in Singh’s platform are in the area of justice, as one might expect from a former criminal justice lawyer. For example, his Racial Justice Agenda calls for a federal ban on racial profiling and street checks (‘carding’), the uprooting of systemic discrimination within the criminal justice system, and an examination of the collection of race-based data—all actions that Courage agrees are long overdue. Singh’s Criminal Justice Reform Agenda is equally ambitious, with key plans being the full decriminalization of all drugs and the decriminalization of sex work. The Singh platform contains a number of positive LGBTQ+ initiatives such as repealing the blood ban and requiring LGBTQ+ training for the CBSA and RCMP, and has recently added a gender-based violence policy [*].

It has been mentioned that as the campaign has progressed, Singh has moved leftward in his policy decisions, recently promising free post-secondary education being one notable and welcome example. As well, his pledges to increase the capital gains tax from 50% to 75%, to impose an estate tax of 40% on assets over $4 million dollars, and to introduce higher tax brackets on incomes of $350K and $500K are welcome efforts at redistribution. On the issue of Palestine, Singh spoke out against a motion in the Ontario Legislature to condemn BDS, citing it as an attack on free speech and criticism of government. He also supports a labelling regime on goods imported from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Finally, it is no secret that Courage in its earlier incarnation—Renewal—was a key player in the grassroots-led ouster of Tom Mulcair as leader of the NDP at the 2016 party convention in Edmonton, and tentative embrace of the Leap Manifesto. That move pitted us against the will of the NDP establishment. With that and our commitment to restoring internal democracy in mind, the presence of party establishment figures (e.g., Brad Lavigne, James Pratt) among Jagmeet Singh’s supporters remains an area of concern to us.

Racial discrimination in the leadership campaign

Before closing, it is profoundly important that we highlight the racism Jagmeet Singh has been forced to endure during this campaign, both from outside the party—such as the infamous racist verbal assault at a campaign stop in Brampton, Ontario—but also from within. We must be clear that Courage will not tolerate racism in any form, be it in the form of race-baiting campaign tactics, or in letting racism, xenophobia or Islamophobia slide in an ill-advised desire to appeal to “the Québec vote.” We also reject the notion that racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are problems that are somehow unique to Québec—these despicable traits are present in all corners of Canada and must be fought and educated against with urgency. We must be loudly and actively anti-racist.

Toward a better world

Widening global economic inequality, civil war, famine, cataclysmic weather events, hideous demonstrations of fascist politics, mass killing in Yemen, the Philippines, Myanmar—each day reinforces that we as a species face critical, structural crises. In response to these, we are given two options; we can devour one another in a desperate scramble to hoard what resources remain, or we can revolutionize our systems of social organization and interaction to create a world wherein wellbeing and prosperity are truly shared among all.

If there was ever an appetite for unabashed leftism the world over—and a truly leftist NDP in Canada—this is it.

[ * After this document was finalized for review by our membership on September 18, several campaigns have released new policy that could alter elements of our analysis. Due to time constraints, we were not able to analyze the further information, but areas that we highlighted include the Charlie Angus campaign with a new Justice policy, and the Jagmeet Singh campaign with a new Indigenous policy as well as a new Gender-Based Violence policy and encourage readers to link to these additions ]


Indigenous Land Rights

Toward real nation-to-nation relationships

Canada’s government has used words like “nation-to-nation relationship” and “reconciliation” with regard to Indigenous nations. However, the government has continued the same colonial policies as its predecessors, albeit with a change in rhetoric. Recently, Canada’s policies have earned it condemnation from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

A true nation-to-nation relationship requires Canada to completely rethink its approach to how decisions are made about land, and who controls it. Though much of the country is governed by treaties, and much more land is unceded, Indigenous nations control a mere 0.2% of Canada’s land mass. We arrived at this result through violence and treachery. Treaties were broken, or were never intended to be honored. Lands were stolen through violence displacement of entire populations. All this was legitimized by the ridiculous story that Canada was an “empty land” – a Terra Nullius – when it was “discovered”.

A true nation-to-nation relationship requires Canada to completely rethink its approach to how decisions are made about land, and who controls it.

Even as reconciliation has become one of the government’s top buzzwords, terra nullius remains to this day the core of its policy toward Indigenous land and who makes decisions about it. As the late Arthur Manuel put it, “the land issue must be addressed before reconciliation can begin.”

Respecting Indigenous sovereignty would benefit all people in Canada. It’s our best chance for committed long-term environmental stewardship of the vast lands within Canada’s borders, and the best way to ensure that long-term economic development respects ecological limits while protecting and expanding the value of interconnected watersheds, human systems, and plant and animal life.

Making fundamental changes to Canada’s approach to Indigenous land rights – as outlined below – would bring government policy in line with these stated values, and the treaties and alliances to which the country owes its existence.

Many non-Indigenous people in Canada are only now beginning to understand the violence of Canada’s colonial policies, as residential schools, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the Sixties Scoop, the Millenial Scoop, and other injustices become more widely understood. As parts of our history become more widely known, we run the risk of becoming satisfied with only a partial understanding of what happened.

Colonialism was always about land

These injustices were not the result of mistakes or outdated thinking. Instead, these and other violent actions by the Canadian state, corporate interests and settlers themselves were part of a coordinated assault on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the land.

In many European cultures where settlers come from, centuries of unspeakable violence were required to separate people from land… a legacy embedded in settler values.

In many Indigenous nations, culture, way of life, and identity are inseparable from the land. One cannot exist without the other. It’s actually remarkable to have a large population separated from its relationship with the land. In many European cultures where settlers come from, centuries of unspeakable violence were required to separate people from land. From enclosures to witch burnings, many European-descended people living in Canada are still living with the legacy of that violence, which is embedded in settler values.

The belief that land is a commodity to be owned and exploited is deeply embedded in the culture and language of Canada’s settler population. By actively attacking Indigenous nations’ relationship to the land, settler governments and corporations have attempted to destroy the basis of culture, identity, and governances for entire peoples. Stopping these attacks, unlearning the values that drive them, and understanding the violence that created those values is part of settler Canada’s path to decolonization.

Colonialism at its core is about erasing Indigenous nations’ sovereignty over their lands.

Canada doesn’t follow its own rules

Canada’s corporations continue to acquire billions in profits from colonial policies. From Hudson’s Bay Company to Inco, from Barrick Gold to Syncrude, colonial violence has been directly and indirectly sanctioned by the Government of Canada to weaken and divide Indigenous peoples so that corporations can generate profits from land without concern for the well-being of the people who live on it.

In both Treaty and Unceded territories, when Indigenous people stand up for their rights, they are forced to fight in court, in many cases spending millions on legal fees (while the Canadian government hires battalions of lawyers with taxpayer dollars to fight them), as appeals drag on for ten years or more. (If a court challenge is lost, First Nations sometimes must pay the legal fees of their opponents). These costs divert resources from social services in the essential fight to make the Canadian government respect its own laws.

For decades, the federal government has used structural violence as a bargaining chip.

When communities take action to prevent the government from breaking its own laws, the result is often overt violence from the police or even the army.

Every Indigenous community experiences some form of structural violence, whether it be chronic underfunding of education (children on reserves receive 30% less funding on average), denial of access to healthcare, racist policing, or lack of access to food and housing. They’re also subject to tight control by the bureaucrats at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, who can use their authority to simply take away the nation’s ability to govern itself.

Indigenous nations face impossible choices

For decades, the federal government has used these forms of structural violence as a bargaining chip. When it comes to land rights, the approach of both Conservative and Liberal governments has been to force Indigenous nations to “terminate” their claims forever.

Indigenous leaders are often faced with a horrific choice: give up their (and their future generations’) rights as a nation in exchange for funding that could help their communities escape the effects of the federal government’s violent policies. The federal government controls the rules of the game, ignores the law at will, and plays to win.

Sovereignty over land is the fundamental issue. As long as Indigenous nations are relegated to what Arthur Manuel called the “0.2% economy,” their people will remain in a state of dependence. “I found out very early,” Manuel wrote, “how futile it is to tinker with programs and services within the 0.2 per cent land base.” Land rights and true nation-to-nation relationships that reject terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery are how we break that cycle.

First steps toward real nation-to-nation relationships

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has an extensive list of recommendations (published 2015) for how to begin to reverse the damage done to Indigenous people and nations. However, it doesn’t discuss land rights in any depth. And yet, who governs and has access to land is both at the heart of why colonization happens, and is the way we will reverse it.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (passed by the General Assembly in 2007), which Canada nominally adopted in 2016, speaks directly to land rights. The UNDRIP is a very important international framework for protecting the lands, lives and cultures of Indigenous nations. However, the broad framework has been watered down by 25 years of negotiations, and does not provide any Canada-specific vision or recommendations.

Despite initially claiming to uphold UNDRIP unconditionally, Trudeau’s Liberals have, since they took power, placed conditions on its implementation. These conditions amount to an attempt to “domesticate” Indigenous people by subordinating their rights to the government’s laws and policies.

For a look at what Canada would like like if it truly respected the spirit and letter of its own laws, a robust source and foundational starting point is the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, convened by the federal government in the aftermath of what is known in colonial Canada as the Oka Crisis. It published its extensive recommendations in 1996.

Decolonizing: some first steps

While some policies were acted on (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was originally an RCAP recommendation), many of the transformative demands have gathered dust. These include:

  • Abandon terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery. The legal concept that the Canadian government’s orientation to the territory within its borders is still based on is the offensive, dehumanizing and inaccurate claim that when Europeans “discovered” Canada, that it was an “empty land”. (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also demanded this in #46 and #49 of its “calls to action”.)
  • Take responsibility for all colonial policies of the past and present. Recognizing the damage of residential schools was an important first step, but the full range of colonial policies, including significant parts of the Indian Act and the current land claims regime are ongoing.
  • Replace the Indian Act with legislation that makes inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous nations the law of the land. Nations would not have to fight endless decade-long legal battle to assert their rights if the government respected them. The Indian Act protects inherent and treaty rights in limited ways, but is also the main instrument of colonial oppression. New legislation created with extensive consultation and the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations, Métis and Inuit would expand recognition of inherent and treaty rights while dismantling colonial control.
  • Move from toothless “consultations” to shared governance. On treaty lands, Indigenous nations should be integrated into decision-making about land use and equipped with veto powers, not treated as a group that can be nominally “consulted” and ignored thereafter.
  • Establish, strengthen and expand Indigenous self-government. Through funding for training and other resources, the Federal government should help create the capacity to devolve social, cultural, economic, housing, health, and educational services to Indigenous governments. The commissioners make a convincing case that these investments would pay for themselves. Control of a vastly expanded land base would make self government effective in the long term.
  • An immediate freeze on extraction projects that don’t have the consent of the title or treaty holders. We shouldn’t wait for any of these major policy changes to implement free, prior and informed consent using existing powers.

Implementing all of the above is not a complete answer to Canada’s legacy of colonialism or a complete reversal of its current colonial policies. It would, we believe, represent a step towards a true nation-to-nation relationship between settlers and Indigenous nations.

Art by Dustin George

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Courage invites Indigenous people and groups to share their responses to this statement (email us at info@couragecoalition.ca), which will appear below.

Kaella-Marie Earle:

In addition, many non-Indigenous people do not understand the inherent identity crisis involved in land theft of Indigenous people. Anishnaabe amoung many other Indigenous nations have very culturally significant views on land. All beliefs are wholistic in connection with nature.

Indigenous people do not believe land can be owned and made private. The land and waters are very sacred and part of a circle of life in which people are also a part. Shkagamik kwe (Mother Earth), is the mother of all life. However Shkagamik kwe is treated is how the people are treated; however Shkagamik kwe is sick is how the people will become sick.

Indigenous people have a deep understanding that humans are made of the earth. Anishnaabe people know they are made of the earth and will go back to her when they die.

This belief leads Indigenous people to hold the land in the highest regard. The land is where the Creator can be found, where every bountiful thing is given, and where healing can be had. Every single life lesson and method of learning and teaching youth is land-based. Every plant and animal has a story, and each story has either cultural or wholistic scientific significance. Every word in many Indigenous languages has land-based significance. The Anishnaabe word for medicine, “mshkiki”, has the word “ki” in it twice. This is the word for “earth”. The word “biimadziwin”, meaning “life”, has the word “bi” in it, meaning water. “Biinojiinh” (baby) also has the word for water in it. The connection to the land in plentiful ways provides Indigenous people with cultural and personal identity.

Traditional Indigenous governance also takes root in the land and removal of land further contributes to violent colonialism. Every governmental role is related to the role and responsibilities of different animals.

Different animals in nature teach Indigenous people different things about their identity and life role, and provide a structure of family and community. The loon communicates with both land and water animals so is often the leader role. The bear is strong and patient so takes on the role of protecting and policing the people. The eagle flies the highest and so provides wisdom and insight. The clan animals as identity markers (last names) also act as supporters of biodiversity within Indigenous populations. No one marries within their clan. All within the clan are considered family and welcomed as such when travellers go through communities.

Taking the land and treating it as a reductionist commodity to be raped and sold is extremely offensive to the Indigenous people, resulting in violent genocide of Indigenous culture and identity.

Economic and Social Equality

Why we can’t have one without the other

The world’s five richest people (all of them men) now own as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s people. That’s one car load of people that control as much wealth as half the world combined.

Here in Canada, our two wealthiest citizens control the same amount of wealth as the bottom 30%—that’s about eleven million people—combined.

The growing body of research on material inequality tells us this: the economic and material context that we live in shapes us—our motivations, our identities, our health, and thus our society, dramatically.

A summary of the points that follow:
  • Material inequality shapes who we are in profound ways.
  • Unequal distribution of wealth fosters, maintains, and reinforces cultural myths that legitimize oppression in our society, such as racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, or ableism.
  • Economic inequality concentrates power in the hands of the few. An increasingly powerful few are therefore increasingly able to define the political centre and to propagate their views, including particular kinds of nationalism and religiosity (or even bigoted anti-theism) that both distract from and maintain elite power.
  • Canada is a major driver of global inequality, facilitating the extraction of material resources and labour from the Global South and participating in violent repression of Indigenous resistance.
  • Canada’s immigration policies deny basic rights to migrant workers, which creates a permanent underclass.
  • Indigenous land rights challenge growing inequality, but today Indigenous peoples live in deep poverty as the result of government policies. Meanwhile billions of dollars of natural resources are extracted from their lands.
  • Gross inequality is a barrier to democracy, and to democratic solutions to existential threats like climate change.
  • Policies that deepen inequality pave the way for right wing populism—even when they’re implemented by so-called ‘progressives’.
  • Tinkering with the pace that inequality grows is not an acceptable solution: We need policy solutions that actually reverse economic inequality.
  • To reverse inequality, the left must work to redistribute wealth, but also to democratize economic policy, leadership of businesses, and day to day management practices in the workplace.

The effects of inequality

Highly unequal societies produce more greed and status obsession. Ironically, however, unequal societies have the least social mobility: the economic ladder is harder to climb when the rungs are farther apart. The lives and lifestyles of the rich become increasingly inaccessible, as does the world of representative politics: low voter turnout is closely related to income inequality in democracies across the globe. When wealth is concentrated, so is power, and this results in democratic choices that are of increasingly little interest to the poor.

When wealth is concentrated, so is power, and this results in democratic choices that are of little interest to the poor.

A relationship has also been demonstrated between income inequality and the unequal distribution of basic political information in rich capitalist democracies. This increasingly uneven distribution of basic political information has been found to produce more self-identified centrists. It is the Left who suffers most from an unequal distribution of political information, for the wealthy rely less on the political information distributing mechanisms that are in decline in the more materially unequal societies: public education, unions, and social capital.

When the wealthy, and the corporations they own, control how ideas and news are shared, our political imaginations are constrained. This pulls the political centre ever-rightwards, and degrades our democracy.

The political spectrum can polarize rapidly when economic crisis is added to the mix. The rise of right wing populism is a symptom of deep inequality that has become economically and politically unstable. The maldistribution of political information fostered by a narrow range of accessible political options and opinions is exploited by the radical right, even as elites hang on to the old status quo centrism.

Years of corporate-driven politics have moved the centre to the right and set the stage for a mounting political crisis. In the USA, for example, polarization is happening around a centre that was already way out in right field. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and other forms of bigotry were decisive forces in the American election—forces now emboldened by that election’s result—but we must recognize that material inequality is the fertile soil in which they have grown.

The Intersections of Inequalities

Class, as an identity, should not take priority over other identities in anti-oppression struggles. Thanks to the work of pioneering Black feminists, the fact that identities intersect, amplify, and complicate one another is a well-established feature of our world; oppression is ultimately not reducible to one root-source. Nevertheless, class must be recognized as being inherently intersectional, such that our struggles always name and account for specific measures to combat specific inequalities. Class is not the property of whites; it is a social and material structure that exploits all who are alienated from the full fruits of their toils, remunerated or otherwise.

The class structure of our society provides the material foundation upon which our identities, and our perceptions of others, are formed.

All types of oppression, including class, may have an identity component which is not exhausted by relations to capital, but none are completely separable from material and economic reality. The class structure of our society, and its current calibration, provides the material foundation upon which our identities, and our perceptions of others, are formed. We must also recognize that combating identity-based inequalities is requisite to achieving greater material equality, for Othering and exploiting popular bigotry are the most effective ways elites can avoid redistributive demands. Recognizing this represents an immense opportunity to build solidarity and anti-oppressive coalitions on the Left.

What we believe about each other can either help or harm efforts to redistribute wealth, but we know that material inequality also shapes what we believe in the first place. American political scientist Frederick Solt, for example, has identified a strong relationship between income inequality and the prevalence of both ‘ diversionary nationalism’ and elite-driven religiosity within the populations of countries all across the globe. In other words, a nationalism and a religiosity increasingly shaped and defined by the powerful appears to grow alongside inequality.

A survey of countries across the globe identified a strong relationship between income inequality and the prevalence of authoritarian sentiments. Research has also connected diversionary nationalism and authoritarian sentiments to a greater acceptance of intolerance towards minority groups. Authoritarian sentiments have been shown to be related to a greater acceptance of anti-democratic behaviour. Trump inciting violence at his rallies illustrates this pattern. The more relatively powerful elites become the more we are susceptible to their self-serving ideologies, and the more our democracy suffers.

Because people who experience oppression based on their identities, e.g. racism, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia, or ableism, are disproportionately affected by material inequality, we know that economic justice through redistribution means increased justice for identity-based struggles. Economic justice in Canada, then, should look something like equal pay for equal value work, universal childcare, and an end to the chronic underfunding of Indigenous communities.

Global Inequality: A Canadian export

Inequality is even more profound on a global level, and Canada plays a major role in both keeping it that way and deepening it.

Canada plays a major role in both maintaining and deepening global inequality.

A recent analysis showed that a net $40 billion in wealth leaves the continent of Africa every year. Since Canada is the global capital of the mining industry, it plays a huge role in the resource theft from the continent. “There’s such a powerful narrative in Western societies that Africa is poor and that it needs our help,” as one campaigner put it. “This research shows that what African countries really need is for the rest of the world to stop systematically looting them.”

Governments that attempt to keep wealth in poor countries often face violence and coup d’états from the west. Canada has backed many of these efforts to keep the wealth flowing from the poorest to the global elite. Recent examples include Canada’s active role in overthrowing democratic governments in Haiti and Honduras, replacing them with corporate-friendly puppets.

Through supporting coup d’états and more subtle measures, Canada and other western countries have a long history of imposing an extreme version of neoliberalism on the Global South. These policies deepen inequalities both locally (creating elites aligned with the global corporate class) and internationally (by extracting mineral wealth and exploiting cheap labour).

Importing inequality: Neoliberal immigration policy in Canada

By denying undocumented and temporary “unskilled” migrants access to the same rights enjoyed by residents, Canada’s governments are creating a growing underclass that is being systematically exploited. Temporary foreign workers, for example, often have their right to live in Canada tied to their employment status with a single employer. If they leave their job, they have to leave the country. This opens the door to abuses of power that are not possible when workers are free to seek other employers, and puts downward pressure on the wages and working conditions of Canadian workers.

Why are people desperate enough to risk living in Canada without papers, or tolerate being abused by employers? It’s often because their home countries have been ravaged by the violent techniques with which Canada imposes inequality abroad, whether through war, coups d’états, or coercive institutions like the IMF or World Bank.

Colonial policies and Indigenous poverty fuels inequality in Canada

It is often pointed out that Indigenous people in Canada live in poverty at shockingly high rates. What is less often discussed is that billions of dollars worth of natural resources are extracted from Indigenous lands, driving a large portion of Canada’s economy.

Indigenous nations largely missed out on the redistributive effects of long-term funding for public services that drove much of Canada’s economic development before the neoliberal era. Indeed, Canada’s federal government has been systematically under-funding services on reserves for decades, a policy that continues with today’s Liberals.

The wealth of Canada’s elite is being subsidized by the poverty of Indigenous peoples.

Meanwhile, repeated Supreme Court decisions granting decisionmaking power over land use to Indigenous nations have been ignored, while even recently-signed treaties are broken. The systematic impoverishment of Indigenous peoples is also the unconscionable disempowerment that makes this behaviour possible.

Canada’s banks and one percenters profit disproportionately from mining and the oilpatch domestically. In a very real sense their wealth, and the inequality of Canadian society, is being subsidized by the misery of Indigenous peoples.

Inequality, Health and Wellbeing

As rich capitalist democracies like Canada become more materially unequal, they become dysfunctional in other ways, and this is reflected not only in our politics, but also in the general health and wellbeing of our society and the people in it.

This has been most effectively demonstrated by the work of epidemiologists Kate Pickett and Richard Wilkinson who convincingly identify a causal relationship in the rich capitalist democracies (including Canada) between income inequality and negative outcomes by a number of measures, including: level of trust, community life, mental illness (including drug and alcohol addiction), physical health, life expectancy, infant mortality, obesity, children’s educational performance, literacy rates, teenage birth rates, levels of violence, homicide rates, imprisonment rates, social mobility, the status of women, and more.

Negative outcomes on the above measures impact those on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder the most, but the prevalence of these negative outcomes is also increased (albeit to a lesser extent) on every rung, all the way to the top. This means that the constituency that the Left is most concerned with is most impacted by an increasingly unequal, and thus dysfunctional, society. Yet it also means that even those at the top are increasingly damaged in this context.

Inequality changes how we understand ourselves, and even how we understand human nature. And in a sense, it changes human nature itself.

What is it about inequality that makes our lives worse in so many ways? Pickett and Wilkinson suggest it boils down to environmental factors like stress, anxiety, depression, and ‘threatened egotism,’ which increase alongside material inequality, and put a strain on social relations. Threatened egotism (aka narcissism), in particular, is associated with characteristics such as tendencies to violence, to racism, insensitivity to others and dysfunctional personal relationships.

Material inequality enhances the presence of these environmental factors, because it increases status insecurity, status anxiety and status competition within society, alongside the material, social, and even geographical, distances between groups of people therein. As social creatures, this inhibits all of us from flourishing.

It is crucial that we understand the big picture of the profound impacts that material inequality has. Material inequality re-wires who we are as a society and as individuals. It changes how we understand ourselves, and even how we understand human nature. And in a sense, it changes human nature itself.

Responding to Climate Change: Inequality as Existential Threat

It’s not just our human nature that is impacted by growing inequality, but our chances for organized human existence to continue on our planet. Social and natural scientists have agreed that material inequality, alongside climate change, pose an existential threat to humanity, and that these two phenomena are, in fact, connected.

Canadian archaeologist Ronald Wright, for example, illustrates how ideological pathologies, like our carbon-concentrated conception of progress, can be made stubbornly static by social structures in which “power and wealth rise upward and the many are ruled by the few,” and argues that “our present behaviour is typical of failed societies at the zenith of their greed and arrogance.”

Material inequality disempowers the majority from taking collective action to address climate change and other existential threats through our political systems. Pickett and Wilkinson contribute to this argument by pointing out that the more unequal rich capitalist democracies tend to have the weakest responses to climate change (as well as the most bellicose foreign policies). In short, ever-greater material inequality is a recipe for societal collapse.

A Courageous Response

Transforming our society in a democratic egalitarian direction also means transforming ourselves. A more equal society promises a stronger, more functional, and less alienated Left, but it also promises a more decent and less distant Right.

The neoliberal politics of the last 40 years have wrought the material conditions that have made the election of people like Trump infinitely more possible. The neoliberal agenda is not inevitable, but it has permeated our political imagination. Conservative, Liberal and even some NDP governments have all had a hand in implementing it.

Trump was not inevitable, but neoliberal policies made it increasingly likely that someone like him would come to power in America. A Clinton presidency would have deepened that likelihood even as it delayed it.

It is the ‘progressive’ neoliberal politics of our political class that has paved the way for the rise of right wing populism that we are currently witnessing in Canada. The latter is the former’s dark reflection. Our political class has long comforted itself and claimed enlightenment through symbolic concessions to identity-based equality, while causing the material conditions of the majority of people to stagnate, now people like Kellie Leitch are giving expression to their fascist soul.

Neoliberal governments, with or without a veneer of ‘progressive’ values, will not prevent the rise of right wing populism in Canada. Instead, they will only serve to enhance the material and social conditions conducive to it. Trump was not inevitable, but neoliberal policies made it increasingly likely that someone like him would come to power in America. A Clinton presidency would have deepened that likelihood even as it delayed it. The Trudeau government is busying itself increasing the likelihood of the eventual success of such a vile politics here in Canada by coupling Trudeau’s hollow brand of progressivism with an assault on the material well-being of Canadians.

Hence we cannot allow for Trudeau, or other progressive neoliberals like France’s Emmanuel Macron, to be perceived as the antidote to Trump. That will only play into the kind of dysfunctional polarization we are seeing within the boundaries of America’s false dichotomy of a political spectrum. Our response to Right wing populism must challenge the spectrum itself, and the material conditions that shape it.

Now more than ever we need a full-blooded political response to neoliberalism. We must focus on meeting people where they are and organizing with them toward democratic victories. This means a rejection of sectarian and siloed Leftism—itself a trend that reflects the shape, trajectory and dysfunction of global capitalism. We must work towards building vital political organizations that can articulate a clear analysis to a broad audience, while embracing diverse approaches to political strategy. We can’t become neoliberal insiders, and we can’t just protest and attempt to create alternatives on a small scale. Our efforts must build solidarity and mutual accountability between social movements and electoral efforts, and across issues.

Changing the Material Landscape

There are plenty of ways that a Canadian government, namely an NDP government accountable to and directed by its membership, could reverse this trend of growing inequality and redistribute wealth in Canada. We should judge the policies of a government not by whether they represent a slight improvement, but by whether they would actually reverse the trend of growing inequality, and by how quickly that reversal would take place.

Many of the policy proposals long held dear by New Democrats would have redistributive effects if they were to be funded through a progressive tax system:

  • a national housing program
  • universal Pharmacare
  • universal dental care
  • universal childcare.

These kinds of programs also redress inequality by causing losses for those who currently profit off of services that should be considered public goods, while providing an economic boost to those who currently struggle to afford what should be considered their economic and social right.

These programs could actually reduce state expenditures and promote economic growth in the medium-to-long term by lessening the burdens on (for example) hospitals and prisons, increasing consumer spending, increasing employment opportunities, and increasing income tax revenues.

An NDP government should seek to change the tax system to be progressive. As it stands, the highest income earners in Canada pay less in tax, as a proportion of their income, than Canadians in the lowest tax bracket. We can resolve this imbalance by introducing several reforms to our system of taxation:

  • Income taxes could be raised on the wealthy, and new tax brackets introduced to target the wealthiest.
  • Corporate tax rates could be hiked to a level that brings in significant revenue, but is still relatively competitive internationally. It has been empirically demonstrated many times now that cuts to the corporate tax rate do not actually result in an increase of investment.
  • A luxury tax could be introduced that targets the status symbols of the super wealthy.
  • An inheritance tax could be introduced, and could encourage greater social mobility.
  • A financial transaction tax could be introduced at minimal cost to those participating in financial markets, and could have a stabilizing effect on that sector of our economy.
  • The capital gains tax loophole could be closed, with exceptions made for those who do not derive a significant portion of their annual income from capital gains. Other tax loopholes and other avenues of tax evasion could also be closed off.
  • An NDP government could go after tax havens, ensuring that Canada’s wealthy can no longer opt-out of paying their fair share.
  • Selective tariffs could also be introduced to target corporations whose internal structures are grossly unequal, or whose burden on our environmental commons is significant.
  • A progressive wealth or capital tax could be introduced.

Recently, NDP leadership has shied away from the essential issues of taxation and revenue generation. This was on full display at the federal level during the last election. Thomas Mulcair, instead of calling out Trudeau’s income tax proposal for the insignificant shift of income from the top 1% to other upper income earners that it was, told Canadians that it would cause our doctors to leave our country and that an NDP government would never raise income taxes.

The NDP must be bold enough to address the issues of taxation and revenue generation in earnest. When the NDP fails to do this, our promises of increased social spending and new social programs sound disingenuous (especially when coupled with a promise to balance budgets during a recession).

It’s not enough to change who has money at a given moment. We must also change who has power within the economy.

To address inequality in a lasting way, it’s not enough to change who has money at a given moment. We must also change who has power within the economy.

To have a courageous response to inequality, the NDP must return to what used to form the core of its political vision: increased social ownership of the economy.

The creation of new crown corporations could essentially take profits out of the hands of major corporations and redistribute them to Canadians in the form of more affordable goods and services, and in the form of increased public revenues that could be spent on valued public programs.

  • Air Canada could be renationalized. It shouldn’t cost Canadians who want to visit their family in another part of the county (or even province) the same amount it costs them to take an all inclusive vacation down south.
  • Bombardier could be renationalized; Canadians already pay to keep this corporation above water, why not direct it serve the public good and socialize the profits?
  • Petro Canada could be renationalized, giving Canadians greater control over, and ability to benefit from, their oil resources.
  • Control over our ports could be taken back into public hands
  • Various types of public insurance could be established
  • A public telecom company, like the successful Sasktel, could be launched at the federal level.
  • Postal banking could be introduced. This would challenge Canada’s bank oligopoly and end the scourge of payday lenders.
  • Crown corporations that develop and manufacture green technology
  • Crown corporations that compete in the beer and alcohol markets, as well as the soon to be established cannabis market.

We don’t just need crown corporations, however, we need workers to have more democratic power in the economy.

Labour relations reforms are needed at the provincial and federal levels to make unionization easier (e.g. card-check legislation) and breaking unions harder (e.g. anti-scab legislation). One of the best predictors of a low level of income inequality in a given society is a high rate of unionization.

Co-operatives, too, are likely to have a redistributive outcome due to the fact that their one member, one vote principle, evens the playing field. Studies have shown that cooperative businesses last longer, are more stable, and are more likely to protect the environment. An easy way to boost cooperative businesses would be to bring back a more robust version of the Cooperative Development Initiative, which provided startup funding to co-ops. A more radical step could be something like the Swedish Meidner Plan, a policy that turned excessive profits of corporations into worker-owned shares in the company. Other steps could include tax credits and subsidies for co-ops, or even a Ministry of Co-operative Development (something that was established in the CCF’s Saskatchewan in 1944).

An NDP government could also strive towards the implementation of various other policies, such as a debt jubilee, a basic income, a reduced work week, a guaranteed employment policy, quantitative easing for the people, and other measures that would see a redistribution of wealth in our society and a shift in the balance of social forces. Greater material equality should amount to greater freedom: a greater ability to control the direction of our life’s activities.

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