A Political Viewpoint from the Manitoba Election

Campaigning with our comrades in the Manitoba election, I was struck by the cynicism as voters prepared to go to the ballot on April 19 – or not. After all, at the last election in 2011 which returned an NDP majority, only 56% of Manitobans did find the time to vote.

By the time this People’s Voice gets to readers, the election results will be known. Our analysis of the outcome will appear in a later issue. But the voices we heard on the streets sounded something like this: “For the first time in thirty five years, I’m not voting”; “I want nothing to do with the election, they’re all rubbish”; “I’m not interested, they’re all the same.”

Even Dave Sauer, President of the Winnipeg Labour Council, simply appealed to his meeting that, while he knew of many sisters and brothers in the room who had not got what they wanted from the current government, the Tories could be much worse.

Sauer was correct, of course. But unlike the NDP, the six Communist Party candidates in the Manitoba election were campaigning on a positive message of a pro-people and pro-working class alternative agenda – not just fear.

In the campaign I worked closely on the streets with our new candidates Paula Ducharme and T.J. Petrowski as well as Darrell Rankin, Party leader, and Frank Komarniski, who are both experienced at elections.

Not withstanding the usual naysayers, once we overcame the election angst, we got a very good response – whether it was campaigning among new parents, students and young workers at River and Osborne, or at the Indigenous Family Centre across from the Bell Tower in the North End. Voters were happy to talk with a working class party that hadn’t drunk the Neo-liberal Cool Aid.

Wherever we went, however, there was one election that people in Winnipeg were very keen to discuss: the US primaries. (From what I can tell, Hillary would have a hard battle to win a Manitoba primary – but both Bernie and Trump certainly have their followers.)

I already knew that film crews shoot movies at the windy corners of Portage and Main to re-create wild scenes of rum-running gangster-era Chicago. But, to be sure, neither interest in the US elections (even overshadowing our own politics in Canada) nor the strong socio-economic links to directly south of the border, are unique to Winnipeg.

Reading the federal budget you get the strong impression that, like the corporate agenda of Harper before Trudeau, the Liberals desire to continue re-orienting the export side of the economy towards the “developing nations,” especially the Asia-Pacific region, through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.  But, at the same time, signing the TPP would not be a re-orientation away from the United States.

Chinese economic commentator Wu Sike, writing in the world edition of the Huffington Post, is not the only analyst to describe the TPP as “economic NATO” aimed towards China. He writes how, on the one hand, the TPP creates a “‘de-Sinicized’ industrial chain” where certain countries provide raw materials, others countries manufacture goods and, in terms of sales and marketing, a zero-tariff zone is created.

On the other hand, Wu Sike says, unlike previous trade deals, the TPP features the opening of the financial sector: “the partnership aims to construct a core financial system that will be dominated by the US dollar, so as to guarantee the future position for the [US] dollar in the world.”

Both tactics aim to significantly challenge China.

Interwoven with this mix, and adding pressing energy, is the decline in commodity prices (especially oil and gas) and the continuing slow growth in the Eurozone. Indeed, the global economic crisis is key to unlocking the logic behind the 2016 federal budget, which runs much deeper than just federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s favorite quotes by the IMF.

For example, take this quote in the Budget, from the IMF and G20: “near term fiscal policy should be more supportive where appropriate and provided there is fiscal space, especially through investment that boosts both the demand and the supply potential of the economy.”

The Liberals consider that there is several billion dollars of “fiscal space,” but scientific advances in construction and the post-NAFTA economy means that major infrastructure projects don’t hire as many workers as they did sixty years ago. How many jobs will actually be created through the mere $11.9 billion spent on “social infrastructure”?

And, as we learn now from the Parliamentary Budget Office investigation: are the numbers which the budget is based upon even real?

Meanwhile, people in Manitoba are calling out for affordable housing, more jobs and higher wages. Many, it seems, have a strong gut sense that the neoliberal Kool-Aid has not been working. Yet foremost in the Kool-Aid mix is the claim that “There Is No Alternative.”

As working class and progressive forces continue to struggle to forge a way forward in the new context of new governments, “TINA” is a fallacy the Communist Party is well suited to combat — not just in terms of the latest economic crisis, but in regards to the fundamental problems: capitalism and need for socialism.

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