Thirty-six days and over $600-million later, the 2021 election has delivered an almost identical result to the 2019 election. Liberal prime minister Justin Trudeau has failed in his mission to win a majority as he had no credible argument as to why he needed one beyond a desire for personal power. The most notable aspect of the campaign was the massive disconnect between the issues of concern to working class Canadians, and what the politicians wanted to talk about. It was as if the candidates were living in a fantasy world where thousands of people hadn’t just been killed by a virus, where there were no mass movements against racism and Indigenous oppression, and where the capitalist economy wasn’t in crisis. This election solves nothing and makes nobody happy.
The Liberals called a pandemic election not because they wanted to put through their program, but because they wished to abandon their program and wage a campaign of austerity. Their Bay Street backers need a strong majority government that can push through unpopular measures and make the working class pay for the crisis. They planned a repeat of the 1993 election where Jean Chrétien campaigned on a series of reforms, but in power instituted the most severe austerity program in Canadian history.
Having called the election, Trudeau struggled to explain why he needed a majority. People saw through the self-serving cynicism of the ruling party and refused to give them the power they desired. Trudeau had no big ideas, which merely accentuated the disconnect between the parties and sentiments of the electorate. Mail-in ballots are still being counted so it is not clear what exactly the final result is, but there is sure to be a historically low turnout as none of the parties gave people anything to be enthusiastic about. There was also significant voter suppression with the closing of polling stations serving students and Indigenous communities, leading to line ups of over three hours on voting day.
The main parties could not connect with the very real anger in society, leading to mass apathy. This anger is the result of a system where the wealthy have enriched themselves while the majority suffer. The top 10 per cent of Canadians now control 56 per cent of all wealth, in contrast to the bottom 40 per cent who survive on 1.2 per cent of wealth. During COVID, Canadian billionaires increased their wealth by $78 billion dollars while millions lost their jobs or faced infection in essential employment. This has resulted in widespread radicalization
The Conservatives also could not make a breakthrough and won a similar number of seats as before. New Tory leader Erin O’Toole lied to the party faithful during the leadership election and presented himself as a “true-blue” Conservative. But in leadership he moderated the party’s image and presented a fake pro-worker message. This Liberal-lite approach blunted many of the Liberals’ wedge politics, which previously had been used to great effect to present the Tories as knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. But in the final analysis, people saw through the Conservative wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing act and kept the party in second place. The fact that O’Toole’s fake left turn failed to win a great breakthrough now puts him on a collision course with the social conservative right wing of the party, who will be looking to kick him out of the leadership in the coming months. It remains to be seen whether they will be successful.
The New Democratic Party under Jagmeet Singh also failed to make any more than modest improvements. While Canada’s labour party campaigned on making “the ultra-rich pay their fair share”, the majority of their time was spent on promoting the personality of their leader. Such content-free personality politics garnered no enthusiasm and led to a stalled second half of the campaign. Additionally, their proposals to tax the rich are far too modest to make a fundamental difference. Optimistic estimates predicted that their tax measures would bring in about $30 billion per year, while there is a structural deficit closer to $150 billion.
The NDP bureaucracy is completely allergic to adopting socialist policies and uncompromising actions that could mobilize a mass movement. They say that radical politics are unpopular, but the facts say otherwise. Polls have shown that 70 per cent of Canadians believe that large corporations and the wealthy do not pay their fair share, and 53 per cent say that the economy needs to be radically transformed. By being wedded to the status-quo, the party could not mobilize the forces necessary to surge forward.
The Bloc Québécois campaign was almost an exact repeat of 2019, and ended in a similar result. With the right-wing CAQ government still riding high on the basis of identity nationalism, the Bloc copied their strategy. They portrayed themselves as the voice of all Quebec and utilized a question in the English language debate over the discriminatory religious symbols ban to present themselves as the only defenders of the Quebec nation. The Bloc’s right-wing campaign alienated many, and Blanchet was accused of arrogance, but the English debate question helped them to regain support. Identity nationalism will sooner or later be cut across by big class battles, and both the CAQ and the Bloc are destined to be hated by the youth of Quebec.
The Green party faced a total collapse of its vote from 6.5 per cent in 2019 to 2.3 per cent. New leader Annamie Paul suffered a humiliating defeat and came fourth in her riding. The reason for this embarrassing showing is that the party is split between an anti-Palestinian right wing that merely wants to promote green liberalism, versus an ecosocialist left that gained 45 per cent of the vote in the last leadership election. Paul is sure to be forced to resign in the coming days, opening up the possibility of another confrontation between left and right in a new leadership election. If the ecosocialists aren’t bureaucratically kept off the ballot it will be very interesting to see how they do in the leadership vote. But even if they win they will face a right-wing party bureaucracy and MPs who will likely do everything to sabotage and split.
The only party that can boast any kind of real improvement is the far-right People’s Party of Canada under former Conservative cabinet minister Maxime Bernier. By mobilizing anti-vax sentiment and the anti-immigrant right the PPC boosted its vote from 1.6 per cent to 5.1 per cent. Additionally the PPC boasted the largest rallies of the campaign, with upwards of 5,000 people coming out to protest pandemic healthcare measures.
Thankfully the reactionaries of the PPC did not win any seats, but there are important lessons coming from their rise. Firstly, anybody who takes the PPC vote as a harbinger of coming fascism is blowing things out of proportion. The PPC is not a fascist party; it is a right-populist formation similar to Le Pen’s National Rally in France. Secondly, it is completely wrong to present the PPC vote as indicative of any sort of right-wing turn in society. It is practically a law that whenever there is a crisis, society polarizes to both the right and to the left. But while the leaders of mass working-class organizations moderate, the leaders of the right are unapologetic and are not afraid to mobilize people.
All history shows that the only way to beat the anti-establishment far right is to confront it with anti-establishment left-wing politics. This is because, in a crisis, the parties of status-quo liberalism become discredited and people begin to look for radical answers. If the left and the unions ally themselves with the Liberals, they will become associated with the failing establishment and be rejected by those looking for answers to the crisis.
While Bernier has been able to tap into the anger in society, and has even attracted a layer of anti-medicine people who formerly voted Green, the sentiments of society overwhelmingly swing left. The tragedy is that this left sentiment currently has no organized expression. A new poll recently showed that 35 per cent of Canadians support moving away from capitalism. This may not sound like much, but it is more than twice the vote that the NDP garnered, and a larger percentage than both the Liberals and Conservatives won. This 35 per cent opposing capitalism becomes even more significant when we consider that the same poll showed that only 25 per cent support the system of production for profit. The middle ground is undecided.
Currently none of the parties put forward an anti-capitalist perspective that could organize and mobilize the 35 per cent who oppose the present system of exploitation. The PPC shows, from the opposite political perspective, that the way to grow your support is to mobilize people on the streets and at the ballot box. There is massive anger over the fact that while workers suffered, and the right wing attacked the meagre supports given to people during the pandemic, billions upon billions were doled out to the capitalists. Upwards of $750 billion was made available to the big banks and corporations to bail them out, and now these same corporations are demanding that workers pay for the crisis. Corporate Canada has amassed a reserve fund of $1.66 trillion and yet they have the gall to say the workers must accept less. If the unions and NDP mobilized people over these issues they could win the support of the 35 per cent and then go on to win over the undecided. This is what needs to be done if the current impasse in society is to be ended.
The capitalists and their parties have failed in their mission to install a majority government that can make the workers pay for the crisis. This will not make the crisis go away, it only means that the decisive confrontation will be kicked down the road while the situation gets worse. The question of “who pays” cannot be permanently avoided. That capitalist politicians are living in a fantasyland was shown by the fact that both the Liberals and Conservatives based their election promises on an average three per cent growth rate over the coming decade. There is no hope of them reaching these levels of growth, as shown by a surprise 0.3 per cent GDP decline in the second quarter of 2021. Inflation is also heading up beyond four per cent. Therefore massive struggles to decide which class foots the bill for the crisis are on the horizon.
We do not know exactly when there will be a social explosion, or over what issue, but it is certain that the explosion is coming. This crisis could be solved far more quickly and easily if the leadership of the mass organizations did their job and expressed the anger in society. But the crisis of leadership means that literally any issue could blow up in the coming months and years. It could be a return to the Indigenous struggle—which was criminally ignored in the election, despite the discovery of thousands of dead children at former residential schools, and the popular support for tearing down statues symbolizing colonialist oppression. It could be an outburst of the anti-racist struggle, or the environmental struggle. Or it could be a classic economic confrontation between the unions and the bosses. Sooner or later there will be a crack that bursts the dam.
Canada’s 2021 election solves nothing. This minority parliament will bumble along as the contradictions in society continue to accumulate. Our task is to organize workers, youth, and the oppressed, to prepare for the coming confrontation. Only the ideas of revolutionary socialism can show a way out and end the impasse of capitalist society.