#Elxn44: Don’t be fooled by O’Toole… and prepare for a fightback!

As of press time, past the halfway point in the federal election campaign, the Conservatives have surged to hold a slim, but definite lead over the lagging Liberals. This raises the very real possibility of an Erin O’Toole victory.

For Communist Party leader Elizabeth Rowley, this is the dangerous result of working peoples’ anger being manipulated by O’Toole’s clever use of right-wing populism.

“The Tories have deliberately targeted working people in this election ­– the same way that Trump did in the US. The message is similar: ‘workers are hurting, the Liberals and their fat cat friends are responsible for their pain, Conservatives know this and will put things right for workers when elected.’

“This is right-wing populism that aims to take advantage of the enormous anger that has built up across the country at the Liberals for their massive corporate bailouts and direct handouts to Air Canada, Bombardier and the oil and gas multinationals.”

Rowley notes that, at the same time as the government was handing billions to corporations, “seven million workers lost their jobs last year, ran through their savings, incurred enormous and even insurmountable debts and significant numbers lost their homes, faced eviction or are living with family or on the streets.”

So far during the pandemic, 26,000 people in Canada have died from COVID-19, 80 percent of whom died in private, for-profit long-term care homes. Millions of workers still do not have paid sick days and the country has witnessed inequitable vaccine rollouts, premature lifting of restrictions to facilitate corporate profit and school re-openings that have left unvaccinated students and staff vulnerable to new variants. “Working people,” says Rowley, “do have a lot to be angry and bitter about.”

She points to news from Statistics Canada that the economy is not recovering from the capitalist crisis and actually contracted last spring and again in July. “One million workers are out of work right now – and will be out of CERB benefits and EI top-ups next month. Add on an election that was stage managed by the Liberals to secure a majority government until 2025 and it’s clear why voters are furious and why the Liberals are in such deep trouble.”

It is also clear that there is a far-right campaign of anti-vaxxers, racists and misogynists working hard to stampede voters to the right. Rowley and the Communist Party are warning of this very dangerous development which seems to be strongly connected with Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party and, to a lesser extent, the Conservatives.

Both the Liberals and the Tories are parties of big business who will not bring about the progressive and fundamental change so urgently needed. However, Rowley insists that the Conservatives pose “the greatest danger with their militarist, pro-war and pro-NATO policies; their refusal to recognize climate change; and their determination to impose austerity policies the likes of which Canadians have never seen before, according to Stephen Harper.”

She notes that Harper has been attacking government spending on CERB, EI and benefits to workers and small businesses and demanding that the $381 billion deficit accrued be slashed immediately. “Harper is pushing for the same measures imposed on Greece by the EU and the German banks which included massive job losses and slashed wages, pensions, social programs and public services along with widespread privatization, deregulation and corporate tax cuts and attacks on labour, democratic and civil rights. This is the austerity agenda that the Tories are campaigning on to big business, but hiding from the public.”

Communists, labour and social activists and other progressives are working to expose the dangers of the Conservative agenda. On childcare, the Tories oppose a pan-Canadian childcare system and threaten to replace the Liberal’s funding plan with a completely insufficient tax credit system. Their convention in March denied that climate change was real. O’Toole has stated that he will only support limited gun control on a small number of specific assault weapons. The Conservatives promise jobs and rising living standards to workers, but this does not square with the austerity agenda of cuts and privatization which they have pledged to their corporate backers. In terms of foreign policy, Rowley describes the Tories as “warmongers and hawks that march in lock-step with NATO and US foreign policy – including on Cuba.”

She warns that working-class voters are “starting to get the smell of the real Tory agenda in this election and that they won’t be fooled by O’Toole.”

As for Liberal promises, it seems that voters simply don’t believe they will deliver. The evidence supports this doubt – the Liberals have yet to come through on their 30-year-old promise of a country-wide childcare program and have countless undelivered promises and obligations to Indigenous peoples and nations.

Minority government best for workers – but only with mobilization

In this context, the latest polls suggest a minority government is the likely outcome of this election. The Communist Party views this as the best outcome given the circumstances.

“A progressive majority is not in the cards,” says Rowley, “and therefore shackling the hands of a right-wing government to prevent it from acting unilaterally and electing as many progressive candidates as possible, including Communists, to act as a block inside Parliament is the next best option.

“A minority government that is dogged by a strong progressive bloc could result in some positive legislation as well. But this requires the labour and democratic movements to mobilize and work with progressives inside Parliament to put pressure on the government to act on urgent issues like climate change, peace and disarmament, job creation, a quality public childcare system, wages and pensions and enacting the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing and Murdered Women’s Inquiry.”

Clearly, this requires a much bigger commitment from the NDP in the first place, but also the Greens and parts of the Bloc Québecois to fight for these policies and to work together with the Communist Party and with a mobilized labour and people’s movement. “But this is what the times call for,” Rowley insists. “It’s evidenced by the crisis in the economy and healthcare, the climate crisis, by the growing threat of war and militarism and by the growth of a very dangerous and mobilized far-right movement in Canada.”

The message is a consistent one for the Communist Party. The Party says it brings to the table a commitment to build a powerful People’s Coalition that can unite the progressive forces in and out of Parliament for progressive and democratic advance and for the fundamental changes needed to curb corporate power in order to achieve those advances. Rowley says the Communist Party is a working-class party whose interests are inseparable from those of working people in Canada. “This is particularly important as more than 1 million unemployed and many more precariously employed and living on credit and the edge of disaster are facing into a very difficult winter with no government supports and increasing hardship, new waves of COVID and growing uncertainty about the future.”

Whatever the outcome, extra-parliamentary fight critical

A minority government might be the better outcome for workers, but for capital, a minority is unsatisfactory. Corporations want a majority government that will act decisively to download responsibility for the $380 billion deficit onto the working class. Rowley says it is clear that this election is not going to settle much.

“The working class didn’t create this crisis and mustn’t pay for it. This is a capitalist crisis created by the insatiable drive to increase corporate profits.” She points out that, indeed, corporations have made enormous profits throughout the last 18 months. “Statistics Canada has just reported $1.54 billion in corporate profits – an 18.1 percent increase – in the first quarter of 2021. This is on top of the billions in corporate handouts through CEWS, LEEFF and direct handouts such as the $5.9 billion given to Air Canada this summer – plus undisclosed amounts to the oil and gas multinationals.”

After this election, the struggle will continue to escalate as working people fight for their jobs, their living standards, their rights and their future. Critical to this will be the fight to build a People’s Coalition that can unite the left and progressive forces in Parliament and outside of it to counter the coming attacks from corporations and government as well as to achieve real gains for working people.

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