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The NB NDP needs more than a new leader, they need a movement

Written by Tom Shannon on August 7, 2019


Photo by Israel Gomez Martinez.

If you have been following New Brunswick politics, you could be forgiven for thinking that the New Brunswick New Democratic Party (NDP) is on the verge of total collapse. They have had four elected leaders in the last 15 years, came in fifth in the popular vote in 2018 and their one leadership candidate has recently failed to pass the vetting process. They have now sent out a message imploring all interested to please sign up to run for leader.

In a province like New Brunswick, not
having a strong democratic socialist party as part of the debate hurts
everyone. The province that would most benefit from socialist policies seems to
be the one with the least prospect of electing any politician able to enact
them.

New Brunswick is one of, if not, the
poorest province, effectively ruled over by the Irving family that owns so much
land that only ruling
monarchs and the Pope
have more. The Irvings run large
industries in many sectors, including publishing every English-language daily newspaper.

Many New Brunswickers have spent time
working for them. In fact, my first real job was at an Irving gas station. The
current premier, Blaine Higgs, was a long-time Irving employee. Despite the
fact that Irving provides jobs through their companies, the median income of
New Brunswick is the lowest
in the country
and the
child poverty rate in
Saint
John
is one of the worst in Canada. Liberal and Progressive Conservative governments
have been ineffective at challenging their wide-ranging control over the
economy.

As reported in the National
Observer and the CBC
, the Irving group of companies do not
pay their fair share of taxes. Their crude oil import terminal pays about half
the property tax of the Tim Hortons next door and their refinery pays one-third
of the taxes paid by a similarly sized Alberta refinery. The Conservation
Council of New Brunswick produced a study that lung
cancer rates in Saint John were 40 to 50 per cent
higher
than in Fredericton and Moncton, likely
due to this infrastructure
. Taxes and detrimental health effects should
not only fall on the working and middle class.

Young people are leaving the province in
droves as much of the industry has moved elsewhere. New Brunswick is the
fastest shrinking province
due to people leaving to find work.
Education should be free for New Brunswickers who stay and work in the
province.

New Brunswick has the oldest
population
in the federation. Seniors often
languish in hospital beds on waiting lists for the few nursing home beds. Many
of their younger family members have already left the province, leaving them
isolated. The government should create a public system that would offer nursing
homes and home care for seniors.

New Brunswick has historically alternated between the two main Liberal and Conservative parties after Confederation. At their core, their policies of governing have been similar in scope on the economic spectrum, believing that creating call center jobs is the way to economic independence and defending against radical change by pointing out the large debt and deficit. The deficit and debt in New Brunswick are problems but a solution is impossible if the rich companies do not pay fair tax rates. The middle- and working-class families are already shouldering a heavy tax burden, including Saint John’s highest property taxes in the country. If all the youth leave for other provinces after graduation, we will never regain the tax base to pay for anything.

As people get tired of stagnation and the massive inequality, this should be a ripe time for a socialist party to challenge the neoliberal capitalist hegemony that leaves everyone but the top few behind.

However, if anything, the New Democrats
seem to have been going backwards. The Green Party, with its message of
fighting against the devastating effects of fracking and its focus on transparency,
has broken through to win seats in the legislature.

Green Party politics deal with our
planetary crisis but party members can confusingly be either on the left or the
right of the political spectrum. There are eco-socialist and eco-capitalist factions
that mean very different things for labour, public funding and the economy. The
Quebec Green Party, for instance, has made it clear that they are the left-wing
version to Elizabeth
May’s more centrist Greens
.

In the absence of a strong workers’
party, the right-wing People’s Alliance have been able to revive the
Confederation of Regions into a party that blames legal bilingualism as being
responsible for the dire predicament of the working class. This is an effective
distraction from the real problem of the extraordinary divide between rich and
poor in the province.

The substance of the NB NDP’s platform
swings wildly every time a new leader takes the helm. This has caused party members
to leave in droves. Allison Brewer, the former leader, joined the Green Party as
did a strong candidate in Saint John, Wayne Dryer, who is said to have a poster
of Tommy Douglas in his office. Another former leader, Dominic Cardy, is the
current Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development in a Progressive Conservative
government.

A people’s party deeply rooted in the
community should not have to change policies every time a new leader takes
over. The provincial problems have largely remained the same, as outlined above.

The provincial New Democrats have been
focused on finding the right leader to come and save them from their continued
despair and irrelevance. A democratic socialist government can be built in the
province that would allow for public housing for our seniors, free education
for those who stay in NB, and a fair tax system that takes the squeeze off
working New Brunswickers. However, these policies cannot be built from the top
down.

The NDP needs to stop its focus on
finding a messiah and start organizing in working- class, middle-class and
First Nations communities to build a movement for change. Otherwise, NB risks
losing a voice with the potential to make a qualitative difference in the lives
of regular people. Even if you are not a supporter of the NDP, the voice lost
in the legislature is a detriment to us all.

Tom Shannon, a native of Saint John, a former employee of the federal NDP, is currently a lecturer at the Beijing Language and Culture University.

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