Harper defeated, youth struggle against the corporate agenda continues

Central Executive Committee, YCL-LJC

October 2015

The Young Communist League of Canada welcomes the defeat of the Harper Conservatives in the federal election, but recognizes the immediate need to intensify the youth and student struggle against the new Liberal version of the big business agenda.

The majority of Canadians, after almost 10 years of Conservative rule, correctly recognized that the Stephen Harper government represented the biggest danger to working people. They have been the most right-wing, pro-war, anti-environment government in Canadian history, at least since the 1930s. Over 11 million voted against the Harper government, with the highest turnout in a federal election since 1997, including a large increase in Indigenous people voting. The Conservatives ran on a campaign of lies and fear, attempting to channel anger over peoples’ increasingly precarious lives towards racism and xenophobia.

The Tories were electorally defeated, but the they held on to their base of votes from 2011, they retain their majority in the Senate, and still hold a sizable portion of support from the bourgeois establishment, as demonstrated by the corporate media’s endorsement of them during the campaign. Harper’s anti-democratic electoral changes remain, as well as the First-Past-The-Post system, which is partially to blame for his hold on government for the last decade. This election has also demonstrated that there is still a lot of work to do to renew anti-racist and anti-fascist organizing in order to roll-back the far-right forces that gained ground opened to them by the Tories.

There was a strong anti-Harper sentiment in this election. This translated mostly into votes for the Liberal Party, which won a majority government, while receiving fewer than 40% of the votes. The Liberals’ main message was modeled to look like a progressive one, pledging deficit spending and denouncing austerity, and even co-opting the ‘99% vs. 1%’ language of the Occupy movement. Their slogan of ‘real change’ repeated by the relatively young Justin Trudeau appeared to stand out from Harper’s racist politics of fear. But the truth is that these are both parties of big business, and while some may have been tricked, much of the new government’s support comes from an “anyone but Harper” outlook.

For youth and students, we can be guaranteed that without immediate action there will be no brighter future under a Liberal government. Bay Street is still driving the steamroller; it may have just slowed down slightly.

No honeymoon for the Trudeau Liberals

This new government has been elected at a time of economic crisis globally, where capital internationally is on the offensive to drive down wages and living standards, spread imperialist war, and expand environmental destruction. There is every reason to believe that the Trudeau Liberals will continue down this path. Their ‘anti-austerity’ rhetoric was tied to infrastructure spending, most of which will end up in the hands of capital through the usual Liberal strategy of public-private partnerships. Their recovery agenda is designed to benefit capitalism, not the people.

Internationally, Canadian imperialism will not be reigned in. The new government supports a restructuring of the illegal Iraq and Syria mission, with military training and arms shipments to replace bombing, and there is no criticism of NATO and US imperialism coming from Trudeau. Nor will we hear an ill word towards Israeli Apartheid and its ongoing war crimes and illegal occupation from the new PM. He says no F-35 fighter jets, but the $30 billion will still be spent on the Navy, not social housing, healthcare, or education. Trudeau has said one of the most dangerous attacks on civil liberties and democratic rights in Canadian history, Bill C-51, is here to stay.

The Trudeau government has no solutions for young people

As with previous elections, there was very little offered to youth and students during the campaign. This reflects the corporate agenda’s inability to offer a future to our generation. The Liberal platform was no exception.

The Liberals promised to increase funding to the Canada Student Grants Program through reshuffling funds from tuition and education related tax credits. They also promised to increase grants to low-income and part-time students. While the student movement (and the YCL-LJC) call for an expansion of grants to replace loans, increasing grants does nothing to alleviate the root causes of the student debt crisis: skyrocketing tuition fees. Similarly, eliminating interest payments after graduation if a graduate is earning less than $25,000 per year, does not remove the need to take on more and more debt.

We have seen time and time again at the provincial level that grants do not keep up with tuition fee increases. The real solution at the federal level can only be a substantial increase in funding to Post-Secondary Education. The Liberal Party’s platform stands in stark contrast to the Communist Party and the Green Party’s policy to eliminate tuition fees across Canada. The YCL-LJC reiterates its support for a federal Post-Secondary Education Act making education a right and increasing transfer payments to eliminate tuition fees across Canada.

For young workers, there is also little hope in the struggle for work and better pay. The promise to spend $1.3 billion to create 40,000 youth jobs each year is inadequate and amounts to subsidizing business, begging them to hire young workers. Waiving EI premiums for new full-time youth hires is also a break for business. Similar youth employment programs at a provincial level have failed to create many youth jobs. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that the Liberals will stand up to multinational corporations. In fact they want to sign more free trade agreements.

The YCL-LJC demands the elimination of youth unemployment and underemployment. We demand an end to pro-corporate trade deals (NAFTA, TPP & CETA) and a massive public investment in public green energy, affordable housing, infrastructure, social services and arts and culture to create jobs.

There is no Liberal plan to stop unpaid internships, no plan to increase unionization rates and no talk about raising wages. The Liberal criticism of the NDP’s platform to raise the federal minimum wage to $15/hr had some truth in that it would have very limited results, only applying to federally regulated industries. However, the Liberals opposed raising wages for even these workers, saying that higher wages would cost jobs. This is the voice of big business and it’s what we should expect from the party that scrapped the federal minimum wage in the 1990s. The YCL-LJC continues to demand a living wage of $20/hr at the federal and provincial level, while supporting the ‘Fight for $15’ movement.

A large majority of young people not only face exploitation as young workers, but also other forms of oppression. The Harper government’s contempt for women, racialized communities, and Indigenous peoples became widely understood by the time this election was called. We are happy that the anti-choice lobby and anti-women Christian fundamentalist forces will likely have their direct access pass to the PMO revoked. But for young people oppressed by systemic sexism, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and ongoing colonialism, Trudeau’s pledge to have gender equity in the cabinet and the fact that women’s participation in Parliament increased a percentage point (now in 48th place internationally, from 50th), does not mean the government is moving in a pro-equity direction. There is no solution to the childcare crisis or pay equity, and Trudeau supported the racist and xenophobic “Barbaric Cultural Practices Act” only a few months ago. The defeat of the openly bigoted Tories is a cause for celebration, but policies that get to the material root of systems of oppression will not be put forward by the current government.

Lessons from defeating Harper

The YCL-LJC is proud to have been part of those organizations and activists that helped defeat the Harper Conservatives. People’s movements should get a lot of the credit for turning the tide. Key struggles, such as the actions against the Tar Sands and proposed pipelines, Idle No More, the fight against EI cuts in Quebec and in the Atlantic, the Save Canada Post campaign, the fight against C-51, and many others, all contributed to the on-the-ground opposition to the Harper agenda. Young people were at the forefront of many of these battles.

This election also showed how weak the major opposition parties were in terms of directly confronting the Conservatives. The NDP could not provide a fundamental alternative on key issues of free trade (coming out late against only the TPP), the tar sands (supporting their expansion and some pipelines), corporate taxes (proposing a rate the Tories used only a couple years ago), and foreign policy (uncritically supporting Israel, and never criticizing NATO and US imperialism). Even the Green Party does not make clean break from market based solutions to the major crises we face.

The campaigns of the main parties lacked answers to the real problems created by capitalism, allowing the voice of capital to steer the debate which ultimately privileges the parties of Big Business; the Conservatives and the Liberals. The best the NDP could do were vague appeals to the ‘middle class’, which does not seek to raise class consciousness towards the necessary fightback against corporate power, instead dividing the working-class and obscuring our shared interests in winning this fight. At its best the campaign of the NDP was too weak in confronting capital and could not distinguish itself from the Liberal party, at its worst, it channeled the fightback of labour and other People’s movements away from political action outside parliament that could have strengthened those forces fighting for fundamental change.

Some movements continued to mobilize during the election and have their demands heard. We salute the climate justice movement in particular which disrupted several leaders’ rallies in support of climate justice and against tar sands expansion. Indigenous communities also continued mobilizing with their demand for an inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. No One is Illegal and other activists supporting refugee and immigrant rights also organized to break through the narrow ‘debate’ set by the leaders and the corporate media.

The young Communists’ role in the election

The YCL-LJC Central Executive Committee salutes the hard work of its members across the country during this election campaign. Seven members of the Young Communist League stood as candidates for the Communist Party of Canada in this election, and many more YCLers and young people were involved with the campaign. We would like to recognize comrades Tyson Strandlund (Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke), Brent Jantzen (Burnaby North-Seymore), Tristan Dineen (Guelph), Mariam Ahmad (Toronto Centre), Drew Garvie (University-Rosedale), Marianne Breton Fontaine (Hochelaga) and Adrien Welsh (Outremont) who as candidates made the YCL-LJC very visible across the country.

Over 1000 voters in these ridings cast their ballots for these young candidates, showing that despite the undemocratic First-Past-the-Post electoral system, many people voted to send the clearest message that fundamental change is necessary and worth fighting for. In total the Communist Party of Canada’s 26 candidates increased votes from the 2011 election by 1,500. Although the total number of votes (4,382) is relatively modest, there were many more who supported the Communist Party’s ‘People’s Alternative Platform’.

The Communist Party’s campaign was not given coverage in the corporate media, so it was up to candidates and campaigns to fight to raise this fundamental alternative. Thousands heard candidates speak in local debates across the country, hundreds of thousands received the Communist Party’s election flyer, thousands more interacted with the campaign on campuses and in the streets, and approximately two million had a Communist candidate on the ballot. We are proud of our YCL clubs across the country that were part of this campaign and demonstrated that it is possible to raise the red flag and demand fundamental change. With young fighters for socialism visible during this election, we have already grown as the YCL-LJC and helped to build the Communist movement. Building our movement helps to build the broader fight for a youth and student agenda.

Increasing militancy and unity in the struggle is the only way forward

The change in government cannot be used to subdue people’s movements. There is an immediate need to build and unite struggles against the ongoing corporate agenda of austerity and war.

To name a few: solidarity with Quebec’s striking public sector workers and soon workers at Canada Post, the ‘Fight for $15’, a cross-Canada fightback against tuition fee increases and privatization of Post-Secondary, against the TPP & CETA, for climate justice at the upcoming COP 21 meeting, for a Mixed-Member Proportional Representation electoral system, justice for Indigenous women now that an inquiry looks to be in the cards, for a free Palestine and the growth of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, and for the immediate repeal of Bill C-51. All of these struggles are already ongoing or are about to heat up.

In many respects, the political situation has improved to win these struggles with the defeat of the Harper government and his especially harsh anti-democratic and repressive tendencies. However we need to start organizing now, and shed any illusions about the real pro-corporate character of the new Liberal government.

Towards the end of the election campaign it was formally announced that the world’s richest 1% now own over 50% of global wealth. The immediate future will be characterized by imperialist war, climate change, economic crises and an accompanied attack on the working class globally and here in Canada. This larger radical political reality has not changed due to this election and radical solutions are necessary. Young people demand a future. The future is socialism!