The Socialist Third Party in Canada
of the main differences between Canada and the United States is the presence
of relatively successful third parties in Canada. Arguably, the Cooperative
Commonwealth Federation (CCF), renamed the New Democratic Party (NDP)
in 1961, has been Canadas most influential and idea-generating party.
How this came about may be of interest to those who wish to study whether
a possible, relatively successful, third-party movement could ever get under
way in the United States.
The Canadian federal system consisting of provinces that typically are territorially larger than most U.S. states and more regionally and culturally delineated than them has clearly encouraged third parties. The parliamentary system by tradition has no set election dates. An election may take place at any time within five years from the previous election, at the discretion of the prime minister or premier. However, when the ruling party holds fewer than a majority of seats in the legislature, an election may take place any time a more important bill termed a matter of confidence is voted down by the opposition parties combining against it.
One of the biggest illusions of Canadian politics is that the federal and provincial NDPs and the extraparliamentary left-wing coalition groups that often work with the NDP are comparatively weak and rarely able to significantly exercise power. It is true that on the surface the official NDP appears to be comparatively weak. It won a mere 29 seats out of 308 in the federal Parliament in the latest federal election in January 2006 and now holds only one provincial government (Manitoba).
In reality, however, the NDP possesses an unusual degree of ideological strength and depth rarely seen in any of the other Canadian parties. The result is that it wields more real influence than, for example, the federal Progressive Conservatives (PC) in earlier decades. Despite its minority status on the federal level, the NDP was able to bring about such major, transformative changes in the Liberal and federal PC parties (especially in social and cultural areas) that it hardly needed to be in power.
The NDP has counted on the support of tens of thousands of university professors, journalists, civil servants, dedicated social activists, and teachers all of whom wielded a far greater amount of influence than the large number of more-average people who supported the Reform Party in the 1990s or the federal Progressive Conservatives in the 1980s and before. And, quite apart from the gradual percolation of its social and cultural ideas into Canadian society, the NDP has been able to enter into highly advantageous political collaborations with the Liberal Party at critical junctures. The Liberals have largely carried out NDP policies.
The result? Most people embrace multiculturalism, high immigration, feminism, and gay rights. To a social conservative, the triumph of fiscal conservatism is all but irrelevant when compared to the cultural, social, moral, spiritual, and religious crises.
Ironically, old-fashioned social democracy (such as that represented by the CCF) could be seen as largely socially conservative. While ferociously fighting for the working class and for social programs that benefited the broad Canadian majority, it largely supported traditional notions of nation, family, and religion. Since the 1960s, however, old-fashioned social democracy has mutated into left-liberalism. While becoming ever more conciliatory to capitalism and fiscal conservatism, it became increasingly hostile to traditional notions. Its claim to represent the working-class majority became less and less credible.
The savants and elitists who represented the leadership of the NDP realized that they could exercise meaningful power within the structures of current-day capitalism. And what they increasingly cared about was not the well-being of the working-class majority but rather the trendy new issues of multiculturalism, feminism, and gay rights issues of comparatively little interest to traditional social democracy.
Today, the NDP has wrapped itself in the cloak of compassion, decency, and concern for average, ordinary people. In fact, it could be argued that the NDP has acted largely against the working majority of Canadians for decades. In places such as Saskatchewan where it has avoided the excesses of left-liberalism, the NDPs success has been largely congruent with the remnants of social conservatism. The typical impact of the NDP in Canada, however, when deployed in support of the excesses of left-liberalism, appears as damaging to society as the consumerism and globalization that it sometimes quite aptly criticizes.
Regardless of apparent return of fiscal or economic conservatism in Canada of today, the NDP has been able to fundamentally transform the social and cultural ideas and policies of the Liberal Party and most of the Progressive Conservative Party (and thereby of most of the country) away from social conservatism. Its outlooks have triumphed in social and cultural matters. At the same time, it has partially continued the traditions of fighting for a more generous welfare state whose universality is now being undermined not only by fiscal conservatism but also by the NDP-led social and cultural directions of promoting designated groups rather than the commonweal.
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