The Western Socialist
Vol. 36 - No. 271
No. 5, 1969
In a surprise election upset the New Democratic Party became the government of Manitoba on June 25, 1969. The Conservatives, led by Premier Weir, had two full years to run before an election became necessary, but as the Liberals and New Democrats both had leadership conventions on their hands he gambled on a snap election vote before his opponents could get properly organized. (This is possible in the Canadian electoral scheme and differs in this regard from the periodic voting system in the U.S.A.) So Weir took a chance. If he won he would be home for another five years. It looked like a safe bet. But he and his advisers miscalculated and the attempt to sneak an election backfired.
Most politically wise analysts ruled out the chances of the Liberal Party in the province. The Trudeaumania which swept the Federal Liberals into power a year ago has lost much of its charm in Western Canada, where one billion bushels of wheat remain unsold and another 600 million bushels are growing in the fields. Trudeau's message to the farmers that he is not a wheat salesman has reflected adversely on the prairie Liberal cause. Then, too, the Manitoba convention selected an elderly Liberal of the old school over the threats of youthful delegates to go over to the NDP if it did so.
Liberals and Conservatives have alternately governed as the reform parties of capitalism in most provinces in Canada since Confederation in 1867, but as the problems of the aging system increase and become more complex, the competition among politicians advocating solutions also grows. Hence the rise of new and "hungry for office" reform groups like Social Credit and the New Democratic Party.
The calling of the election left the NDP with only three weeks to elect a new leader and organize campaign strategy. Its convention, pushed ahead from a later date, became big news, and received full coverage from the press and television. Interspersed with the 1300 odd delegates were mini-skirted usherettes and banner-wavers, adding the necessary spice to modern bourgeois gatherings of this kind. A 32-year-old federal NDP parliamentarian (who rightly claimed never to have lost an election) , good looking and with TV voice and appearance, won the convention vote as the new leader on the first count of the computer. In his acceptance speech Ed Schreyer lost no time in assuring the delegates, amid scenes of wild acclaim, that the NDP would be the next government of Manitoba, that its first move would be to cut Medicare monthly payments by at least half, that it would institute a 10-cent bus fare for the indigent and elderly in place of the present 25 cents. And he also lost no time in assuring the TV audience that he disavows any socialist connection for his Party and wants to be known as a social democrat. There are, however, many in the NDP who claim to be socialists and Sidney Green, Schreyer's opponent for the leadership, said he has been a socialist most of his life.
PROMISES "BUSINESS AS USUAL"
A week after the convention, Mr. Shreyer accepted the services of an evening by-line program to answer calls from businessmen and to discuss his party's relationship with the business community. These exploiters of the laboring class were given assurances that the motto under NDP government will be "business as usual." They were also assured there would be no overall increase in taxation in the immediate future. Answering a questioner who wanted to know where the money to finance the medicare scheme would come from when payments are cut in half as promised, he replied that his cabinet must first take a close look at the present provincial tax structure to see what could be done. He spoke loosely of a "rearrangement" of taxes that would be more equitable and based, perhaps, on an ability to pay. Cutting medicare monthly payments involves the loss in government revenue of roughly thirty million dollars. To get this back a percentage or two could be added to the present five percent sales tax, or the provincial share of the federal income tax might be increased, or something else. But the money would have to be recovered if government bills are to be paid, and whichever way it is done it will resemble an elaborate shell game played by a circus confidence performer. Not that it can make much, if any, difference to the working class since they will continue to receive wages which will be based, ultimately, upon the cost of producing and reproducing their labor power.
Many ties, family, social and cultural, remain between Britain and Canada. Early immigrants brought their unionism and their Laborism with them, and it could be expected that a Labor Party, such as the NDP, would spread through Canada as it did in Britain. But workers everywhere should learn from the lessons of history and the mistakes of others. The British Labour Party has held political power on four occasions in Britain, and each time has brought disillusionment and despair to its supporters. It has already, in its present term of office, been in open conflict with the unions, threatening to chop them down to size. It has had cabinet revolts and resignations, devaluation of the currency, and loss of voting support in civic elections all over the country. In other words, the Wilson government has gone from one crisis to another.
The NDP is bent on travelling the same road. Its propaganda tells its supporters — mostly workers -- that it can operate the capitalist system in the workers' interest, and at the same time tells the employers, to use Premier Schreyer's own words at an address to the Canadian Manufacturers' Association dinner: "That the goals of the Manitoba Government and the business community are identical . . . it is our mutual objective to ensure a high quality of life for the people of this province." (Winnipeg Free Press, Aug. 1, 1969.) So the new NDP government of Manitoba will endeavour to ride two horses at one time — the workers and the bosses. It will be interesting to watch.
The Socialist Party of Canada says that the capitalist system has fulfilled its historic function. It has now become a hindrance to further progress. It brutalizes the only useful section of society by speed-up devices on the job, by war and desolation, by unemployment and poverty, and by waste and pollution. Only the working class, the majority of the population, can bring it to an end when it understands and demands socialism.