Conservative foes ramp up their plans for 2015
by Gregory Beatty
Canada and Saskatchewan both face pivotal elections in the next 18 months. The federal election is scheduled for October 2015. Under a timetable set by the Wall government, the provincial election was supposed to happen then too, but if the federal election goes as planned, ours will be pushed back to April 2016.
Both are pivotal for the same reason. If the Saskatchewan Party were to defeat the NDP it would mark the first time since the CCF/NDP formed government under Tommy Douglas in 1944 that it had been vanquished by a centre-right party in three straight elections.
As a minority from 2006-11, and as a majority since then, the Harper Conservatives have had an even longer stretch in power. And another victory in 2015 would really allow them to remake Canada in a small-c conservative mold.
Of course, Harper’s odds of winning another majority are longer than Wall’s. While the Sask. Party has experienced some rocky moments, they remain popular with many Saskatchewan voters. The Conservatives, meanwhile, trailed the Justin Trudeau-led Liberals in a recent Ipsos Reid poll by a 38 to 31 per cent margin (with the NDP at 24 per cent). As the scandals pile up, and the frustration of Canadians with the Conservatives’ dogmatic approach to government mounts, they face an uphill battle to win re-election.
Still, the Cons have a few cards to play. Come the March 2015 budget, they’re expected to announce a surplus with the possible carrot of further tax cuts. They also have a war chest of around $20 million for election advertising — which dwarfs the roughly $7 million and $3 million that the Liberals and NDP have available. They also have a dedicated, if aging, base that gets out on election day and votes.
So even though the Conservatives’ pro-business, pro-one per cent policies arguably go against most Canadians’ self-interests, they can’t be counted out.
Reminding people of the need to vote was one of the messages at the Peoples’ Social Forum that was held in Ottawa Aug. 21-24, says Saskatchewan activist Jim Elliott.
“There was clearly some stuff focused on the federal election,” says Elliott. “But there was also a workshop on what happens after October 2015. There was the sense, ‘Okay, we need to deal with the election. But we also have to keep in mind this won’t necessarily stop. We have to continue to fight.’”
The Peoples’ Social Forum was modeled after a similar gathering held in Davos, Switzerland in opposition to a World Economic Summit in 2001. The goal? To craft a “peoples’ agenda” to counter the WES’s corporate agenda.
Before the Ottawa gathering, which drew nearly 10,000 delegates from across Canada representing labour, indigenous groups, students, environmentalists and other activists, a 17-point platform was drafted under headings such as Climate, Food, Economy, Public Services, International, Gender and Knowledge.
Governance & Democracy was also addressed. For decades now, voter turnout has been plummeting in Canada. Combine that with our flawed first-past-the-post electoral system, and majority governments can be elected, as the Conservatives were in 2011, with the support of a relatively small percentage of Canadians (a mere 17 per cent of the country’s total population, in the Cons’ case).
“There clearly is the message ‘anybody but Conservative’ out there,” says Elliott. “And part of that is to get the vote out so we aren’t in a position of having 40 to 60 per cent of people not voting, because I think many of them will favour the initiatives that came out of the forum.”
To further publicize those initiatives, says Elliott, plans are in the works to draft a peoples’ platform that will set out a progressive agenda.
“There’s one aspect of the electoral process that we’ve tended to fall down on, and that’s that the people are in fact the government and we need to put forward our plan to ensure the government does what we decide they should do, whether they like it or not,” says Elliott.
“That’s a stronger message than simply encouraging people to hold their noses and vote. We want to give them a real sense of empowerment.”
Working groups were established at the summit, says Elliott, and a process was started to draft policy positions in various areas like those noted above. “My sense would be that within the next six months there would be a platform developed. Then it would be in front of Canadians before the election campaign begins.”
Some pundits have speculated that Harper may break his fixed election law, like he did in 2008, and call a snap election after the March budget. That might throw a wrench into the timetable, Elliott admits, but with many forum participants already working on issues in their own areas of expertise they’ll be up to the challenge. “If rumours got going hot and heavy for a March or April election, everybody would step forward and say, ‘Okay, let’s step our game up’.”
Once the platform is drafted, says Elliott, voters will have a valuable tool to weigh their political options.
“They’ll have the peoples’ platform, and they’ll be able to compare it with what the different parties are proposing. If one’s a closer fit for you then vote for them.”
On the heels of the national forum, a Saskatchewan Peoples’ Forum is being held at the University of Regina on Sept. 19-21.
“The areas we’re organizing around include anti-privatization, which is a huge issue in Saskatchewan,” says Tria Donaldson. “Poverty is another big issue, so there will be conversations around housing and poverty reduction. The third area people have expressed interest in is energy and pipeline issues. What we’ll be looking for is made-in-Saskatchewan solutions that work best for us.
“There will be workshops on aboriginal issues too, and many of the organizers are indigenous,” she adds. “Lots of concern has been expressed about missing and murdered aboriginal women, so that will be part of the forum.”
As with the national forum, the looming federal and provincial elections and the importance of getting the vote out will be a focus. With the switch to dedicated urban seats in Saskatoon and Regina, the federal election in particular promises to be interesting, says Donaldson.
“With the changes, there’s a chance of not having complete Conservative domination in 14 ridings outside of [Liberal MP] Ralph Goodale. There’s a huge need to develop public opposition in Saskatchewan against the policies of the Harper government.
“Hopefully this forum will help build that into a strong movement,” she says.
For more information on the Saskatchewan forum, visit sasksocialforum.wordpress.com.