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The 'Corridor Coalition' and the 1974 Election

In December 2008, the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party proposed to  form a coalition, to replace the Conservative government led by Stephen Harper. The articles below, published in Intercontinental Press in 1974, review the disastrous results of a previous NDP-Liberal parliamentary alliance.

After the 1974 election, Trudeau’s government, in violation of its campaign promises, imposed a sweeping wage-control program on Canadian workers, using its emergency powers under the Constitution. The program was later upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada on a constitutional challenge by the unions.

Where NDP Leaders
Went Wrong in Parliament

By Ray Warden (Intercontinental Press, June 17, 1974)

[The following article is reprinted from an election supplement to Labor Challenge, a revolutionary-socialist fortnightly published in Toronto.

[The July 8 elections in Canada were called May 8, when the Conservative party joined the New Democratic party (NDP — Canada’s labor party) to defeat the budget proposal of Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.]

* * *

NDP leader David Lewis officially kicked off his 1974 election campaign in Toronto May 19. “In this campaign,” he told a crowd of cheering supporters, “we are going to pose the blunt and increasingly urgent question: Who rules Canada?

The NDP leader wasn’t long in answering his own question. “Under Liberals and Conservatives,” he said, “the corporations run Canada.” The two parties get “millions of dollars” in corporate money; they are bought and paid for.

“The corporate thumb lies heavily across the governmental institutions of our country,” the NDP leader charged.

“Canada cannot have a genuine social democracy until the power to make economic decisions is wrested from the hands of the corporations and placed in the hands of the people through a parliament and a government which have removed the corporate thumb.”

Those are fighting words. But Lewis has no criticism to make of the program and strategy his caucus pursued over the last parliament. The NDP leaders formed a voting bloc with the Liberal party and helped keep Trudeau in power for 18 months. In supporting the corporations’ government, they claimed to be “making parliament work.”

In fact, Lewis is unhesitatingly boastful about his parliamentary record. Throughout the last 18 months, he says, the NDP has shown that it is “one of the major parties in this country.” The NDP, claims Lewis, “has gained stature in this parliament.” In making parliament work, “it has proven it is a reliable and responsible party.”

Parliamentary Allies

For 18 months, the NDP caucus was the reliable ally of the Liberal party. Had they maintained their independence, in firm opposition to the government, they might have correctly cast their votes in favor of particular government measures, when these offered some benefit to working people.

But the NDP leaders purposefully maintained the Liberals in power, and gave them political support. The parliamentary caucus acted as an appendage to the Liberal party. It embellished the Liberals’ legislative program, and muted its criticism of the government.

“You cannot condemn the government for some of the things that you feel you ought to condemn it for, in a way in which you’d like to do it,” Lewis confided to a national television audience on Feb. 5, “when you’re refusing to vote it out of office.” In maintaining the government in power, the NDP leaders are forced to share responsibility for its record — and defend it.

When you’re refusing to vote it out of office, admits Lewis, “you cannot make the demands on the Trudeau government that you know he is not going to accept.” The political needs of labor were subordinated to the parliamentary bloc with the Liberals. Labor’s political leaders, so-called, allowed themselves to be bound hand and foot to the policies of the corporations’ government.

For allowing themselves to be hog-tied, the NDP leaders claim to have extracted important concessions from the Liberals. In a speech to the Peel County riding association, only two weeks before the election call, Lewis made one of many speeches full of praise for the record of the Trudeau government.

‘Making Parliament Work’

“Taken together as a package of legislative achievements,” the NDP leader said, “I have no hesitation in saying that they are greater accomplishments achieved in 18 months than any obtained by recent majority governments over four years.” They are measures “this parliament was able to accomplish with the initiative and assistance of the NDP caucus,” Lewis boasted.

Lewis showed little restraint in heaping praise on parliament’s “accomplishments.” He waxed eloquent in listing the reforms implemented over the last 18 months for his Peel County audience: increased pensions and family allowances; cuts in personal income tax; subsidies to offset increases in the prices of bread and milk; improvements in the National Housing Act; stepped-up controls on foreign investment; an export tax on oil; and controls on election spending. Lewis went on and on.

Trudeau himself could hardly have been more lavish in his praise of the accomplishments of the last parliament. The prime minister gleefully quoted long excerpts from Lewis’s Peel County speech to the House of Commons during the budget debate. “If they want an election on that,” he taunted the NDP leader, “then we’ll have an election on that.”

Trudeau claims it was his government, not the New Democrats, that “made parliament work.” As for Lewis’s boast to have “inspired” Liberal policies, Trudeau answers, “For 18 months the NDP prospered by loudly demanding things that the Liberal government was doing anyway.” The NDP leaders offered the Trudeau government support and credibility in the eyes of the Canadian workers. In return he offers them not so much as a “thank you.”

Miserly Reforms

From the standpoint of working people, whether the Liberals or the NDP leaders are “credited” with the collection of miserly reforms introduced by the last parliament is a matter of indifference. The best measure of the Liberal government — and its Social Democratic partners in “making parliament work” — is the falling living standard of Canadian workers and the profit ledgers of the government’s corporate backers.

After all, how do the pitiful increases in old-age pensions and family allowances measure up against the requirements of the aged, and low-income families? How does a five percent reduction in personal income taxes stack up against ten percent inflation? What good are minor changes in housing legislation, when buying a home is beyond the means of most working people, and the land speculators and developers reap windfall profits?

Who has benefited from the energy policies implemented by the Liberal government, with the backing of the NDP caucus, except the petroleum monopolies, and Canadian industrialists, who have been guaranteed fuel supplies at prices slightly below the international rate? Yet Lewis hails the government’s petroleum export tax as a victory for working people.

In making excuses for their voting bloc with the Liberal government, in the face of pressures from labor’s rank and file for an independent course, the NDP leaders present this rag bag of reforms as an important victory for working people. But the package of legislative reforms the NDP caucus claims to have won from the Liberal government, in exchange for its support, do nothing to stem capitalism’s voracious assault on working people’s standard of living. Their “make-parliament-work” strategy has been tested in life, to the cost of the entire labor movement.

Real wages are falling in Canada. They were falling over the entire period of the last parliament, while the corporations were making record-breaking profits. The NDP helped “make parliament work” but it worked in the interests of big business, and the Liberal party, not for working people.

A Pressure Group

The NDP was founded in opposition to “Liberal-Labor” politics. The rank and file of the trade-union movement recognized that workers needed their own party, independent of the Liberals and Tories, to pursue labor’s interests and fight for power. The NDP leaders cut across that aspiration for independent labor political action with their parliamentary alliance. In their support for the Liberals they reduced the NDP from a party striving for power on the federal and provincial levels, into little more than a pressure group groveling for crumbs from the Liberal’s corporate table.

No parliamentary bloc with a capitalist party can serve working people’s interests. The Liberals and Tories are agents of the corporations, as Lewis is saying in this election campaign. They are representatives of the capitalist ruling class, who own and run Canada’s economy in the interest of maximum profits, for every ounce of sweat they can drain from working people, at the lowest possible wage.

“Pressure” from a group of NDP MPs will not change this.

The interests of big business and labor are fundamentally irreconcilable. Every penny of capitalist profit is robbed from the workers’ pockets. Only uncompromising struggle against the capitalists and their parties can advance the position of working people.

Labor can have no truck or trade with the capitalist parties. No worker should vote for the capitalist parties at the ballot box; no representative of labor should lend them support in parliament. It is only through independent labor political action that workers can win real power.

Who Rules Canada?

“Who rules Canada?” Lewis asks. “The corporations,” he answers.

Power resides in the ownership of capital. The capitalists control Canada’s mass media, the educational system, all the means of indoctrination in capitalist ideology. This ruling class exercises power through the state machinery which they control — the army, the police, the courts, the upper echelons of the civil service, all tied to the corporate bosses by a thousand strings.

The state is administered by the cabinet, handpicked from the most reliable politicians capitalist politics has to offer. Parliament does not rule. It provides Canada’s rulers with the facade of sharing their power with working people.

How illusory, then, is the “balance of power” which the NDP leaders claim to have been exercising in the last parliament? They had no power. They were pawns in Trudeau’s game of making parliament work in the interest of big business.

But the NDP leaders fetishize parliament. They worship it, and have no conception of politics except within its confines. They attempt to make over the NDP in the image of the capitalist parties, an electoral machine at the service of parliamentarians. Rather than basing their program on the fundamental needs of working people and rallying support behind it, they adapt their policies to the lowest common denominator of media-induced opinion, in an endless scramble for votes.

Lewis rightly denounces Canada’s corporate rulers. He spiels off reams of statistics on capitalist profit gouging. But he has no serious perspective of struggling for power. His program is limited to the piecemeal reform of the capitalist system.

Attack on Working People

With the current inflationary spiral, created by capitalism to maximize corporate profits, big business has launched a ferocious attack on working people. As leader of labor’s party, Lewis has the responsibility to mobilize working people in fighting back.

The last parliament provided the NDP leaders with a big opportunity. Their illusory “balance of power” position focused public attention on their every move. But rather than use the parliamentary stage to build support for a program of struggle against the capitalists and their parties, the NDP crossed class lines to maintain the big business government in power. They tried to make capitalism work, to reconcile the interests of workers and those of the corporate bosses.

No sharp policy disagreement with the Liberals led the NDP leaders finally to break their bloc with Trudeau and vote against the government’s budget. Their capacity for collaboration with the Liberals over the past year and a half had proved almost limitless.

Rather, the NDP leaders were feeling the pressure of growing public resentment against the government, and increasing restiveness in the labor movement, fueled by the runaway cost of living. Their support for Trudeau was becoming a millstone around their opportunist necks. Rather than allow their parliamentary careers to go down with the Liberals’ falling public support, the NDP caucus decided to break the parliamentary bloc.

The Road Ahead

But in voting against the Liberals, they have not abandoned class collaboration. Just as they refused to use the parliamentary stage, now they refuse to use the electoral podium, to carry a serious fight in defense of workers’ standard of living. They refuse to use the election campaign to build workers’ struggles for big mid-contract wage increases and cost-of living escalator clauses. They refuse to campaign in this election for the nationalization of the corporate profiteers. For all their anti-corporate rhetoric, they are completely reconciled to continued capitalist rule. They will not use the election campaign to build independent workers power.

“I predict a minority government,” says Lorne Nystrom, the NDP MP for Yorkton-Melville. Nystrom’s prediction was shared by most NDP MPs interviewed by the Toronto Globe and Mail shortly after the Liberal government had been brought down by the no-confidence vote. According to the Globe’s reporter, “Some members suggested that the NDP was likely to gain an appreciable number of seats, but these rosy predictions were few.”

The last parliament “has been an unusual situation for everybody,” says Doug Rowland, the NDP MP from Selkirk. “We’ve set up some patterns of behavior that worked well, but they were new and untried.” With yet another minority government, he thinks, the “new patterns of behavior” can be consecrated.

The cause of the labor movement cannot be forwarded by crossing class lines: at strike pickets, at the ballot box, or in the parliamentary chambers. But the NDP leaders are willing to “make parliament work” again, in bloc with one of the capitalist parties.

The class-collaborationist course of the NDP leadership must be repudiated. The labor movement has no interest in pursuing some phantom “balance of power.” The ranks of labor must rally behind the NDP in this election, and demand that their leaders lead a serious fight for power. The task is to wrest real power from the corporations and their political agents on Parliament Hill, campaigning to bring the NDP to power on a socialist program.

Why Liberals Won in Canadian Election

By Dick Fidler (Intercontinental Press, July 22, 1974)

The Liberal government headed by Pierre Elliot Trudeau was reelected in Canada’s federal election July 8, winning 141 seats in parliament, 32 more than in the 1972 election. They gained in seven of the ten provinces and swept most of the major cities.

The Progressive Conservatives or “Tories” slipped from 107 seats in the last parliament to 95, smashing their hopes of replacing the Liberals in government.

The Social Credit party, based in Quebec, dropped from its previous 15 seats to 11, losing some 200,000 votes in Quebec, mainly to the Liberals, who took all but three of the remaining seats in the French-speaking province.

The biggest loser in the election was the New Democratic party (NDP), Canada’s labor party. Its parliamentary representation was halved, dropping from 31 to 16 seats, and its share of the total vote declined by 2.5 percent to 15 percent. NDP leader David Lewis lost his own seat to a little-known Liberal candidate. In British Columbia, a traditional stronghold of the NDP, it dropped from 11 seats to 2. Its representation was also reduced in the other two western provinces where it holds office, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Ironically, the main factor in Trudeau’s victory was inflation — over which he claimed he had no control. Prices are rising in Canada at a yearly rate of more than 10 percent, and the high cost of living was the dominant election issue.

According to Peter Regenstreif, a pollster, “Personal interviews showed that in some areas of the country concern about inflation was running as high as 80 per cent. In the history of polling in Canada, no issue has ever registered so strongly.”

The Conservatives centered their campaign on a promise to impose “controls on prices and incomes” — i.e., wage controls — if elected. The electorate reacted sharply against this proposal. “By the end of the campaign,” Regenstreif said, “close to half the electorate was against the proposal and barely one-third was in favor.” The election became, in effect, a plebiscite on the issue of wage controls, with the Liberals opposing such controls as unworkable, while carefully refraining from committing themselves to any alternative proposal. In fact, Trudeau argued that the government was powerless to combat inflation, that national measures could not counteract an escalation of prices rooted in world conditions.

The NDP ought to have challenged this line and advanced an anticapitalist alternative program around such demands as a cost-of-living clause in union contracts, reopening of collective agreements to provide for immediate wage increases, and sliding-scale increases in pensions and other forms of fixed incomes. All these demands have been advanced by workers in recent strikes and other labor struggles.

But the NDP, a party largely financed by the trade unions, offered no clear alternative to the demagogy of the Liberals and Tories. The NDP advocated “selective price controls” and a nationalistic “two price” system under which basic export commodities, chiefly natural resources, would be sold at world market prices abroad but at lower, subsidized prices in Canada. In practice, such a system would benefit Canadian manufacturers, while Canadian consumers continued to pay world prices on manufactured products.

The NDP was seriously compromised, moreover, by the fact that for the past twenty months — during which prices have shot upward with no response from the government — it has voted consistently with the Liberals in Ottawa to keep the Trudeau government in office. In fact, the NDP leaders were in the peculiar position during this election of favoring reelection of a Liberal government.

Much of their campaign was spent in boasting of “concessions” they claimed to have wheedled from the Liberals in return for their parliamentary collaboration. This tended to appear as praise for the accomplishments of the Liberals at the expense of the NDP. To many voters, it must have seemed that the NDP differed but little from the Liberal party.

Above all, the NDP leaders campaigned — as always — as responsible parliamentarians, with “making parliament work” their highest priority. A major theme in their campaign, aside from pro forma calls for the election of an NDP government, was the advantage of minority government by one of the capitalist parties (the Liberals, it was implied) with the NDP providing helpful advice — and needed parliamentary support.

If a minority government is elected, Lewis told a television audience, “it will be our duty to look for ways to keep parliament functioning.” And ‘not for eighteen months — but perhaps for two, three, four years,” he told an interviewer.

According to the Canadian revolutionary-socialist fortnightly, Labor Challenge, one NDP leader, Edward Schreyer, the premier of the province of Manitoba, declared his support earlier this year for “a frank and open coalition” with one of the capitalist parties, if another minority government were to be elected. When Lewis was asked during the election campaign if he would favor a formal coalition with the Liberals in the next parliament, he refused to comment.

The NDP leadership’s attack on the corporations (for “excess profits”) was more populist than anticapitalist. Lewis called for wresting decision-making power away from the corporations and placing it in a parliament and government purged of corporate influence.

In the wake of its election debacle, the NDP is almost certain to face an internal crisis. Even before the election, its membership was dropping, and there was considerable demoralization in party ranks as a result of its parliamentary collusion with the Liberals.

The Canadian bourgeoisie was elated with the election results. The Liberals’ parliamentary majority relieves them of the necessity of relying on the support of the NDP for the next four to five years, the length of their electoral mandate. This is only the second time in the six elections since 1962 that the governing party has enjoyed an absolute majority in parliament.

U.S. capitalist circles, which own about half of Canada’s manufacturing industry, were no less exultant. “Canada has given the world an impressive demonstration of the health and vibrancy of its democratic institutions and practices,” wrote the editors of the New York Times on July 10.

“At a time when democratic institutions are in retreat or under heavy pressures almost everywhere,” they wrote, “and when weak, minority governments are the rule rather than the exception throughout the Western world, the significance of the decisive outcome in Canada’s general election can hardly be exaggerated.”

A dispatch from Ottawa in the July 14 issue of the New York Times noted that Trudeau’s electoral success reinforces his government’s bargaining position in its continuing trade negotiations with Washington, which were left largely in abeyance during the last twenty months. “ . . . the relationship along the 4,000-mile border is sharply different from that of three years ago, when the Canadians tended to be supplicants.”

The New York Times noted that during the election campaign, Trudeau promised that the government would start insisting that all major new natural-resource projects, such as pipelines and mines, be owned at least 50 percent by Canadians. Up to now ownership has been predominantly foreign in these sectors.

A dispatch from Washington in the July 10 New York Times spoke of Trudeau’s “shift in recent years toward economic nationalism,” and suggested that this “may continue to pose an obstacle to the settlement of issues sought by the United States.” A key issue is Washington’s desire to modify a partial free-trade pact in automobiles and auto parts in order to allow duty-free import of U.S.-manufactured cars into Canada. Washington also objects to Canada’s subsidizing manufacturers who export to the United States, Canada’s scheduled reduction of crude-oil exports, its tariffs on U.S.-manufactured goods, and its recent ban on imports of some types of U.S. beef.

In reality, the Trudeau government’s "mandate” resulted more from popular opposition to wage controls than from anything the government has done or proposes to do. Two days after the election, Ottawa released the latest statistics on inflation, showing that consumer prices have risen 11.4 percent in the past year, the largest annual increase in twenty-three years. The editors of the Toronto Star noted Trudeau’s admission that the Liberals have their own “contingency program of income and price controls.” The editors added regretfully, “Having campaigned so adamantly against controls, however, Trudeau has made it immensely more difficult to gain the vital element of public acceptance and co-operation in a program of economic restraint.”

Despite the claim of the New York Times that “with this election, the Canadians have sharpened their identity as a united people and nation,” the Quebec national question was not a big issue in the election. No major party supports the self-determination of the Quebecois nation (almost one-third of the Canadian population).

A traditionally high abstention rate in federal elections has reflected the alienation of the Quebecois from the Canadian confederation. This year, the Parti Quebecois, a mass petty-bourgeois party that advocates an independent Quebec, called for Quebec voters to spoil their ballots as a protest against the oppression of Quebec by Ottawa. Federal authorities refused to report how many ballots were spoiled in Quebec; but in 1972, it was some 5.8 percent of the total, far more than in any other province.

The revolutionary-socialist alternative in the election was advanced by the Trotskyists of the League for Socialist Action/Ligue Socialiste Ouvrière, the Canadian section of the Fourth International, and the Revolutionary Marxist Group, a sympathizing organization of the Fourth International.

The LSA nominated Kate Alderdice, a woman worker and staff organizer of the League, to run in a Toronto constituency against External Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Mitchell Sharp.

Alderdice focused on Canada’s complicity with the Chilean junta in refusing asylum to the majority of political refugees who have applied. She called for Canadian withdrawal from the imperialist alliances NATO and NORAD (North American Air Defense Agreement). Other major themes in her campaign were the need for anticapitalist measures to fight inflation and unemployment, defense of the national liberation struggle of the Quebecois, and full support of the demands of the women’s liberation movement.

The RMG presented three candidates in Toronto, Winnipeg, and Peterborough. The three candidates stressed what they termed “a program of direct and immediate action: objectives which can broaden the scope of workers struggles and improve the relationship of class forces in favor of the proletariat; methods of struggle which unify the working class and give it experiences in self-organization and proletarian democracy.”

(The full texts of the LSA and RMG election programs were published in the July 1 issue of Intercontinental Press, pp. 875-80.)

Both organizations called for a vote for the NDP where there was no revolutionary candidate. The LSA also gave critical support to the RMG candidates.

According to incomplete election returns issued July 9, Kate Alderdice of the LSA received 109 votes. The RMG’s results were as follows: Linda Peevers (Peterborough), 207; Bret Smiley ( Toronto), 40; and Murray Smith (Winnipeg), 78. Smiley and Smith ran in constituencies held by the NDP

The Communist party ran 69 candidates around two central slogans: “Elect a large progressive bloc to parliament” in which “Communists and NDPers would play a major part”; and “Defeat the drive to the right.” The first slogan expressed the CP’s desire for an electoral bloc with the ‘non-monopoly bourgeoisie,” while the second was aimed against the Tories, the “main party of the Right.” Together, the two slogans amounted to a call for the election of a minority Liberal government.

The Maoist Canadian Communist party (Marxist-Leninist) ran 107 candidates, who denounced the elections as “a capitalist fraud.” This slogan may have referred to the $35,000 the Maoists and the pro-Moscow CP were forced to pay the government, since none of their candidates received anywhere near the required number of votes for a refund of the $200 each candidate is required to deposit in order to run. Almost everywhere, the CP outpolled the Maoists, but none of its candidates received more than a few hundred votes.

A small grouping called the ‘Waffle,” which split from the New Democratic party in 1972 around a program of English-Canadian “national liberation” from U.S., imperialism, ran three candidates in the province of Ontario. They, too, received no more than a few hundred votes. Waffle leader Jim Laxer, running in Toronto, had 669 votes.

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