Working people spoke their verdict in the April 19 Manitoba elections, handing the NDP government a massive defeat. Last fall, Prime Minister Harper tried to say Canadians weathered the economic crisis better than in other countries, and he too failed in his re-election bid. With great determination, working people are prepared to defeat any political party who says their future is secure and hopeful, when it clearly is not.
The Manitoba NDP vote dropped nearly half (44%), yet there was a lack of enthusiasm for the other parties, signified by a relatively low voter turnout in an election involving a change of government.
The Tories won 40 seats compared to 14 for the NDP and 3 for the Liberals. The Tory vote rose 42,000 compared to 29,000 for the Liberals and 12,000 for the Greens. Four thousand people officially declined their ballot, a 900 per cent increase.
The Communist Party was not the beneficiary of the NDP’s implosion, but registered a modest increase in votes, averaging 1 per cent for its six candidates.
The election was a referendum on the condition of the working class in Manitoba, not Greg Selinger’s leadership or the notion that the NDP was old and worn out. The Manitoba NDP upheld a system of unrestrained, neoliberal capitalism and oversaw the deep impoverishment of workers.
Working people are now in crisis or near-crisis conditions, on reserves and off, coping with a youth suicide epidemic, trying to keep the banks from repossessing their homes, one-sixth of workers at or near $11 an hour, worried about their children being seized by Child and Family Services (Manitoba has the highest apprehension rate in the world). People are realistically fearful about what will happen in the next economic downturn, about their future.
The Communist campaign correctly grasped the depth of the crisis and advanced genuine solutions that would curb the corporate establishment’s power and profits and boost the economy and conditions of working people. People were not yet ready to vote in large numbers for these policies.
In the last two years, the NDP blithely hiked the regressive sales tax and carried out a failed campaign for higher property taxes in Winnipeg’s civic election. An attempted coup in the NDP broke out 48 hours after that last failure. These tax hikes, carried out or not, were direct aid to the capitalist class. And they came in the wake of a two year public sector wage freeze.
Working people may have been more hopeful about their prospects in the 2011 election, shortly after the 2008 economic crisis, but they are now recognizing their precarious position, in Manitoba and across Canada.
Working people accurately perceived that the Manitoba NDP was pushing them deeper into debt and poverty. Yet one of the NDP’s main messages in the campaign was that workers were better off. The NDP government’s official slogan was “Better Jobs, Steady Growth.”
A large part of federal NDP MP Daniel Blaikie’s constituency covers Transcona which shifted heavily towards the Pallister Tories.
A day after the election, Blaikie said the election was “a referendum on Greg Selinger’s leadership.” He argued in support that “Manitoba fared very well compared to other provinces in a difficult economic time. I believe the investment-based, people-oriented policies of the NDP were an indispensable part of that success.”
Numerous facts contradict the view that the condition of the working class has improved or that private investment is helping Manitoba, especially the acute jobs crisis and the election result.
Working people voted for the Tories who pledged to drop the sales tax hike. It was an actual sane policy by the Tories, who also demanded for two years that the NDP raise the welfare housing allowance, a rate not raised since 1992. (This was really advocacy for the slum landlords, who will pocket the entire increase.)
The Tories came across as a moderate party, as friends of the poor and workers, and the NDP did not.
Under the Pallister Tories, people are not going to get the change they want, expect or need. How long can the enormous level of deception in Manitoba politics last? Probably not long.
The main test of theory is practice, and once people raise the level of activism and confront the corporate agenda in Manitoba on the streets and on the picket line, then clarity will grow at a mass level.
That struggle started during the election campaign itself, which saw a definite upswing of protests and large issue forums: a living wage rally (200 people), a poverty forum (300; the Communist Party was excluded), a disability forum (1,000), the occupation of the Indian Affairs office, an anti-racism protest (150), a student issues “grand slam” (50), an environmental forum (150), and so on.
There is no alternative except to building the struggle for jobs, education and social rights after this election in Manitoba, and that mean confronting corporate power and profits.