By Kimball Cariou
Several events during April and May point to a potential rearrangement of the electoral landscape in Canada, linked to the deepening crisis of the global environment, and the desire for governments that are more responsive to the views and interests of working people.
Most immediately, the latest gains by the Green Party on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are a signal that the next Parliament may look quite different. The Greens ran strongly in the recent PEI provincial election, gaining 30.6% of the popular vote and electing 8 out of 27 members of the legislature. Then on May 6, Green candidate Paul Manly won a federal byelection in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, with 37.3 per cent, well ahead of the Conservatives (24.8 per cent), the NDP (23.1 per cent), and the Liberals (just 11 per cent). Three far-right candidates picked up a mere 4 per cent, a strong rejection of their divisive, racist, misogynist policies.
Manly’s win was not a shocker, due to his long history of activism in the riding, and his personal track record of progressive positions, but also the relative popularity of the Greens on Vancouver Island. However, the outcome was a blow to the NDP, which has won this largely working class seat in most elections for decades, and for Justin Trudeau, a faded political star after just four years in office. It’s a long way to the Oct. 21 federal election, and campaigns contain unexpected twists and turns, but pundits will clearly be busy adjusting predictions and forecasts.
These upheavals don’t take place in a vacuum. Voters on both coasts are intensely aware of the impact of massive global climate change, which is already taking place. Rising ocean levels are causing deep concern on islands across the planet, including PEI. Communities such as Nanaimo, which rely heavily on tourism, dread the potential devastation of oil tanker spills along the west coast.
But these catastrophic (and increasingly likely) scenarios are just the tip of the iceberg. In the past month alone, highly credible scientific reports have warned that humanity has only a decade left to reverse the deadly expansion of greenhouse gas emissions, and that a stunning one million out of the estimated eight million species of animal life on earth face extinction.
Even as the planet grapples with the terrible implications of the environmental crisis, governments keep pouring fuel on the fire, spending over a trillion dollars a year on military purposes, with the US and its NATO allies such as Canada leading the way. And the widening gap between a tiny handful of mega-billionaires and most of the world’s population is increasingly alarming.
Little wonder that voters in many countries are looking at alternatives when they go to the polls. The parties which remain yoked to the myths of neoliberalism, austerity, and military spending (and this includes most social democratic parties), have met frequent defeats, sometimes at the hands of so-called “populist” (but actually pro-capitalist) right-wing forces, and occasionally losing votes to parties which challenge bourgeois orthodox positions from left or pro-environmental perspectives.
In this fall’s election, voters in Canada will have a number of such options on the ballot. The ones getting most attention in the corporate media will be those on the right, spouting their bigoted and false attacks against immigrants, Muslims, Indigenous peoples, women, trans folks, and other scapegoats.
But the Communist candidates in many ridings will also get the attention of millions of voters, largely through website searches and street campaigning. Communists will be calling for a radical new set of policies to slash greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs. The Communist Party opposes new pipelines, and calls to end the energy extraction and export policies of big capital and right-wing governments – a strategy based on theft from the territories of Indigenous peoples, destruction of the environment, and ruthless exploitation of workers.
Communist candidates will campaign for a wide range of strategies to help Canada meet its GHG emission reduction targets, such as a focus on expanding renewable energy sources (solar, wind, hydro and geothermal power), free public transit, retrofitting of homes to save energy, and support for affordable electric vehicles. Instead of leaving energy and other natural resources in the hands of private, profit-seeking corporations, the Communist Party calls for public ownership, to create the material basis for a truly sustainable economy which puts people and nature before corporations. The CPC advocates a 75% cut in military spending, pointing out that the huge carbon footprint of the world’s armed forces is mostly not even counted in national state emissions totals.
Not least, the Communist candidates will be the only ones pointing to the elephant in the room: capitalism. People everywhere are increasingly aware that the private-profit system is inherently destructive; despite some “green capitalist” innovations, this system is based on constant expansion of consumption of natural resources, and it is not compatible with survival of humanity and other species. The concept of socialism is rapidly gaining support, even in North America, and the Communist candidates will be urging working people to begin supporting this revolutionary and necessary change in economic systems.
(Kimball Cariou is the Communist Party candidate in Vancouver-Kingsway.)