Between the Sun & the North Wind

As People’s Voice readers and progressive-minded folks across Canada head into the New Year, we are looking at a different political landscape.

Last week, a friend of the Communist Party here in Montreal sent me a cartoon they had drawn with their interpretation of the change. It showed Stephen Harper holding a Guy Fawkes-style mask – bearing the face of new Liberal Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau.

A catchy image. But is it entirely correct? To be sure, the “new boss” is “same as the old boss” in terms of class agenda. But people’s forces should take heart in the defeat of Harper. The Liberals very carefully and consciously crafted their campaign in response to the public sentiment generated from nearly a decade of popular struggles, which should not be short-changed.

To back up this claim, consider this anecdote from the Canadian Club. (No, not the whiskey: the elite Toronto organization that holds “opinion-shaping luncheon discussions.”) Trudeau spoke here in May, and was quick to acknowledge that he was addressing a crowd that included millionaires and billionaires.

“I know people in your position get asked for a lot, and, as evidenced by the thriving and generous philanthropic culture in Canada, you step up,” he said, pitching his tax hike on the rich. “Your contributions to Canadian society have been appreciated. I’m asking for one more.”

Never mind how perverse is the framework of taxes as charity. Trudeau was talking about the need to shift away from Harper’s austerity agenda and instead adopt infrastructure spending to combat the capitalist economic crisis and “secular stagnation.”

This economic theory deserves a whole other article, but what is interesting is Trudeau’s sales pitch: “If we don’t deliver fairness, Canadians will eventually entertain more radical options. All the time I spent with Canadians tells me that the status quo is not sustainable. Change is coming, my friends. What we need is leadership and to plan to shape that change responsibly for the benefit of us all. Either we choose to act now or we will be forced to react later.”

Since the election, Trudeau’s “responsible change,” or “real change,” has been re-branded by the media as “sunny ways.” The phrase is not original. Justin Trudeau borrowed it from Sir Wilfred Laurier, aka the Liberal Prime Minister on the five dollar bill, who liked to recount the story of The Wind and the Sun as a political parable. Found in the folklore of both ancient Greece and India, it is a fable worth recounting.

The North Wind and the Sun are competing to see who is stronger. The challenge? Make a passing traveller remove his cloak. The North Wind blew and blew. But the traveller only wrapped his cloak tighter to keep warm. Then the Sun shone. The traveller, overcome with heat, soon took his cloak off.

In Laurier’s time, the fable meant that persuasion was better than force. So, for Trudeau, are we up against the sun, or the north wind?

A lot has been said about the Liberals’ nation-to-nation approach to Indigenous peoples, and their policies on climate change and refugees. All these questions are important for the working people, and whatever has been achieved should be attributed to mass campaigning. Less attention has been given to other class issues. Considered these notes:

In November, Trudeau surprised many by becoming the first Canadian Prime Minister since Diefenbaker to meet with the Canadian Labour Congress. He received a standing ovation, promising to repeal Harper’s most vicious anti-labour laws.

A few weeks later, Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade, and MaryAnn Mihychuk, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour, met again with a select group of CLC-affiliated labour leaders about the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

It is worth noting that Freeland’s ministerial mandate letter calls for such consultation, and to “Implement and expand Canada’s Free Trade Agreements globally.” Mihychuk’s mandate letter also states, among other things, that she is to “Amend the Canada Labour Code to allow workers to formally request flexible work arrangements from their employers.”

In December, Judy Foote, Minister of Public Services and Procurement, quietly announced that the Liberals will not restore all home mail delivery. Foot’s mandate letter simply calls to “Undertake a review of Canada Post.” While phase-out of home delivery is currently suspended, 300,000 more addresses were converted into “superboxes” hours before the announcement.

Finally, a day before Christmas Eve, the government announced it will take no action on enhancing the below-poverty Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and instead consider options in the upcoming year, including to “do nothing.”

Making sense of this new political landscape is an important challenge. No doubt it will be at the heart of the discussion at the end of January, when the Communist Party of Canada’s Central Committee launches preparations for the 38th Central Convention.

After all, the creative application of Marxism-Leninism to today’s conditions and the elaboration of the way forward is probably the Party’s most powerful qualitative contribution to our class in its struggle for socialism.

Johan Boyden is the Central Organizer of the Communist Party of Canada.


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