The federal NDP has shattered its credibility as an opposition to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in the wake of its deal to support the Liberal minority government until 2025. At a time of growing anger against the establishment, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has instead chosen to defend the status quo. In doing so, he has handed a gift to the right. Any criticism of the Liberal government by the NDP now rings hollow for millions of Canadians who will correctly ask: “Then why are you supporting them?”
That is precisely what right-wing politicians and pundits have been doing since the signing of the Liberal-NDP deal, gleefully tying Singh’s NDP to Trudeau’s government at every opportunity. And why wouldn’t they? National Post curmudgeon Rex Murphy offered a case study in his May 12 column—responding to a Singh tweet that criticized big oil companies for gouging Canadians as CEOs make record profits in the face of high gas prices. “Liberals and Conservatives have rigged the system,” Singh had written. “When you pay more – their well-connected friends make more.”
Singh’s criticisms are correct in and of themselves. But in the context of his deal to support the Liberals, Singh left himself and the NDP open to an obvious counterattack. Murphy was all too happy to oblige: “Well, Jagmeet if you mean these things why, oh why, are you in league with them?” he wrote. “Why have you made your party their prop and support? Do you not follow the logic of your own thoughts?” Murphy points out that while the opposition Conservatives have little say over policy, the NDP—as the minority government’s main support in Parliament—”has great sway over what the Liberals do.”
Twisting the knife in further, he continues:
Singh is either confused or lazily glib in his pronouncements. Or perhaps totally invulnerable to the damning ironies of condemning the Liberal party and its leader while offering himself and his party as their buttress, their shield, their scaffold and support. If the Liberals are “rigging” the system, they are giving the Liberals cover. Strange posture for the NDP.
Right-wing populist MP Pierre Poilievre, current frontrunner in the Conservative Party leadership race, has mocked Singh in a similar manner. On April 23, Singh tweeted about ordinary Canadians struggling while vast sums of wealth are transferred to billionaires, writing: “Under a Liberal and Conservative system – rigged in favour of the rich – inequality has grown in the pandemic”. Poilievre responded: “Yes the ‘system’ is rigged for rich but you ARE the system Jagmeet. Your coalition’s policies inflate wealth of rich & living costs of the rest. You crush the working class NDP used to champion. Own it or end your coalition now.”
To be clear, neither Murphy nor Poilievre advance real solutions to the problem facing working people. Murphy appears to live in a Bizarro Canada where oil billionaires are weak, powerless, and have no influence over policy; and where Justin Trudeau—the same prime minister spending $21.4 billion on an oil pipeline and giving massive subsidies to fossil fuel companies—is a radical environmentalist pushing “anti-Canadian-oil policies.” Murphy urges the NDP to “lobby for a couple of pipelines”, as if the entirety of the Canadian ruling class is not already moving heaven and earth to build more pipelines whose main beneficiaries will be bosses, not workers.
Poilievre for his part is a demagogue whose right-wing program, such as it is, will only further enrich the wealthy while inflicting even greater economic pain through austerity on poor and working class people. Nevertheless, by supporting the Liberals and failing to provide an anti-establishment left-wing alternative, the NDP has left a political vacuum which has allowed right-wing populists like Poilievre to paint themselves as the main challengers to the status quo.
The most effective demagogues include within their lies a kernel of truth. Poilievre may not offer real solutions, but he is correct when he says that the system is rigged for the wealthy, and that the NDP has identified itself with this system that makes the rich richer while crushing workers. He is correct when he says that policies such as the carbon tax fall disproportionately on workers and the poor—though of course he cannot acknowledge that real solutions to the climate crisis are impossible under capitalism.
The truth is that without breaking from capitalism, there is no solution to any of the crises battering ordinary Canadians. Under the current system, workers have the “choice” to pick their poison: they can either see their standard of living eroded through inflation, or they can see their standard of living eroded through higher interest rates and austerity measures.
The only solution is to put forward a bold socialist program to fight the conditions of capitalism that are responsible for inflation and the erosion of living standards. That means nationalization and workers’ control as part of a socialist plan of production. It means seizing empty properties and construction companies to build publicly owned social housing. It means universal public health programs free at the point of use, including dental, pharmacare, optometry, and mental health services. It means free education and cancelling student debt; a sliding scale of wages and a national minimum wage of at least two-thirds the average wage. Such a program would provide a genuine alternative to the misery and decline in living standards which are all that capitalism and its defenders have to offer. It would undercut support for the right-wing populists by providing a voice for the 35 per cent of Canadians who favour moving away from capitalism (compared to only 25 per cent who oppose that idea). Until the NDP puts forward this kind of socialist program, it will continue its slide into irrelevance. Only by presenting an alternative to capitalist rule can we solve the problems of Canadian society and permanently improve the standard of living for all poor and working class people.