The shocking death this past summer of Canada's newly-elected Leader of the Official Opposition, Jack Layton, forced me to put the following article on hold. Mr. Layton's sincerity, persistence and bouyant optimism in the face of encroaching cancer was inspirational even to his political enemies. Nothing could attest more to his universal appeal than the fact that a state funeral was held in his honour. Nevertheless, respect for the man should not mean that criticism of his policy direction should be suspended or that his ideology---the ideology of his party----should enjoy indefinite immunity from critical examination.
Growth is OK if its "benefits" are shared
For those who do not follow Canadian politics, the New Democratic Party is now Her Majesty's Official Opposition, thanks to its stunning success in the recently held federal election. On the weekend beginning June 17, 2011, the triumphant party held a national convention in Vancouver, and party leader Jack Layton once again attempted to present the NDP as a clear alternative to the reigning Conservative government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The main order of business, it seemed, was semantics.
Mr. Layton assured party members that the proposal to rid the preamble to the party constitution of the word "socialist" reflected the intention to merely modernize the language of the party---- not revise its values. The NDP would still be the party that would restructure Canadian society in a fundamentally different way. But what way would be fundamentally different? Consider this prominent portion of Layton's speech (emphasis mine):
"You are the reason that New Democrats are Canada's Official Opposition – fighting for the values we cherish.....Canadians elected the NDP to be the Official Opposition, but also to propose ideas, not just to oppose the government.It's up to all of us in this room to live up that responsibility – to provide Canadians with a positive alternative and to build a strong and united country. To grow our economy, create new jobs, and always put the needs of everyday families first." http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2011/06/17/pol-ndp-friday.html
This stated party objective was something that Layton has repeated on numerous occasions, including his victory speech on election night when he vowed that "We must focus on economic growth and environmental sustainability". Some three years ago—in a speech given on May 22, 2008 to “The Shepherds of Good Hope”, Layton had declared that the problem with growth was that its benefits were not fairly and equitably shared. “Today we are seeing a very disturbing trend in Canada: the growing gap between the rich and everyone else. More wealth (sic) is being generated than ever before—but that does not mean that everyone is better off. In fact, the opposite is true. The reason is pretty clear---the benefits of economic growth (sic) are not being shared equally among all Canadians.”
Doublespeak is a long-standing NDP tradition
It is a theme that provincial NDP leaders have emphasized as well. Then BC NDP leader Carole James told delegates at the party convention in Penticton in November of 2009 that we needed to "grow the revenues" to support the social services that the party hoped to extend and maintain for the benefit of the province. The current leader, Adrian Dix, remarked during his bid for the leadership that the NDP were better economic managers than the incumbent Liberal government because the growth rate was higher during its decade of office than was the case under the last ten years of Liberal rule. Former Saskatchewan NDP Premier Lorne Calvert had peddled the same line, arguing that growth was needed to grow the tax base and that the party's mission was to ensure that all citizens benefited from the process. Of course, all of this economic growth could exist side by side with "strong environmental protection", a contention made less credible by his government’s record. After seeing his province’s Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 60% since 1990, Calvert still had the cheek in 2006 to promise his audience that “while continuing to grow the Saskatchewan economy, we will stabilize the absolute level of GHG emissions by 2010.” The Manitoba NDP, for its part, once declared on its website that "We want Manitoba to be a place that promotes sustainable growth and a place that recognizes our lakes, rivers, and forests as our greatest assets." Great assets to be preserved---or developed? Since then, they used the 2010 throne speech to brag about the province’s “unparalleled growth”. http://todaysndp.ca/search/node/sustainable%20growth For New Democrats, as for other parties, growth is the measure of success.
Ironically, following Layton's speech, a TV interviewer spoke to the party's environment critic, MP Fin Donnelly of New Westminster. He spoke of his determination to stop oil tanker traffic down a sensitive part of the BC coast, but when asked about the contradiction being opposition to the tar sands development and the party's commitment to protect the jobs of "working families", he admitted that the issue was difficult and then launched off into an explanation of how it was important to develop a "sustainable" energy policy. Too bad Doris Day is not still alive to sing the NDP's theme song. "Growth and the environment, growth and the environment, go together like a horse and carriage---- you can't have one, you can't have one, no you can't have one without the other."
Deceit by semantics
No doubt further research would yield a hundred other examples of this kind of double-talk. Initially it was my belief that it reflected a sinister attempt at manipulation and obfuscation, but then it struck me: Canada's social democrats have swallowed their own greenwash. They have no idea that they their statements are oxymoronic. The NDP has indeed, as Jack Layton said, "modernized" its language. It is the language of confusion and deceit. The language of people who are, in the most profound sense, ecologically illiterate. People who believe that we can put one over on Mother Nature simply by changing our language. Not comfortable with "economic growth"? Fine, then we will call it "sustainable" growth. Don't like that? OK, then we have sustainable "development" waiting on the bench ready to jump over the boards and join the play at any time. As Garrett Hardin said, in “sustainable development” growth-mongers have won a moratorium from the painful process of thinking.
The truth is, the NDP wouldn't know what "sustainability" was if it leaped up and bit them on the ass. The "alternative" vision which they represent is the vision of the 1960s, when conventional wisdom had it that "the environment" was a luxury, an externality that would be nice to have as soon as we could "afford" it. Only by growing the economy, and becoming "prosperous", can we afford to "clean up" the environment. "Hey honey, look. I know you would like us to buy new furniture and paint the house, but we have to finish the addition first, and pay down the mortgage." This line follows the same kind of logic that would argue that only by fostering a strong tobacco industry can we gain the revenues necessary to build cancer clinics.
Equity isn't the main issue
Look Jack, whether you call yourself a socialist or a social democrat is of no relevance. If you say that you want to make things ‘fair and equitable’, we’ll take your word for it. The issue, however, is not how we can grow the pie and divide it equitably, but that the pie is shrinking while you’re inviting more diners to the table. At least the father of Canadian socialism, J. S. Woodsworth, understood that you need to turn the immigration tap off when the economy is in a tailspin. Adding more consumers to the stew will not grow the supply of cheap non-renewable resources. And as Dr. Peter Victor of the University of York observed, growth is not particularly effective at eliminating poverty, creating full employment, or safe-guarding the environment either. Since 1976, as both the GDP and the greenhouse gas emissions have gone up consistently, levels of unemployment and poverty have bounced around.
Here is a news flash for socialists--- Oops, I mean "social democrats" (by all means let’s be modern): The economy is a fully owned subsidiary of the environment. No environment, no economy. (Eg., no cod, no Newfoundland cod fish industry). At what point in history will that truism sink in? We don't expect Conservatives to get it. After all, they are Conservatives. They are in love with capitalism, and debt-capitalism and growth work hand in hand. But the NDP is the “Opposition”, and don't we elect opposition parties for a reason? Aren't they supposed to offer an another option? A genuine choice?
Continuing growth is not possible---get it?"
For some, continuing economic growth may seem necessary, even desirable---if you don't care about undercutting our life-support system. But what New Democrats don't understand is that even if continued economic growth is necessary and desirable, it is not possible. Our industrial economy depends on the unsustainable use of finite non-renewable natural resources, which by definition, cannot be used indefinitely. That is why they are called "non-renewable". "Renewable" energy cannot be scaled up to anywhere near our requirements. To believe otherwise is to reveal a kind of mystical thinking which is informed by a blend of shallow research, wilful ignorance and false hope. A dozen credible sources could be cited but a local one will do. Just read what Canada's foremost energy expert, David Hughes, has said. His motto? "Beware of scale".http://www.walrusmagazine.com/articles/2009.06-energy-an-inconvenient-talk//?ref=2009.07-environment-an-inconvenient-talk&page=
There are lots of alternatives on the drawing board, but they won't take us where we need to go. Not even close. And even if energy needs could be met, no replacements could be found for all of the 69 metals and minerals that analyst Chris Clugston identified as critical to the operation of an industrial system and which have already ‘peaked’. Metals and minerals which, like oil, will always remain in the ground but which at some point soon, will not be able to be affordably extracted. In other words, at some point, there will be a net energy loss in procuring them. http://www.wakeupamerika.com/papers-and-essays.html
We are entering an age of what Clugston calls "continually less and less". Our industrial economy will keep shrinking. Economic "stimulation" will only feed the demand for increasingly scarce and expensive natural resource inputs whose rising, prohibitive cost will eventually choke the economy. In other words, these "job-creating" efforts will only accelerate our remorseless drive to the cliff. Them's the facts, m'am. And what is First Officer Jack Layton's advice to Captain Edward John Smith (aka Harper) on the HMCS Ecological Titanic? "Full steam ahead sir. We can go faster if the ordinary working people in Third Class are given a fair share of the perks on board this great vessel. And by the way sir, we need to pick up more passengers---at least 340,000 immigrants a year---to keep this ship ‘vibrant’ and growing.”
It is astonishing that even an articulate man with a PhD who claims to represent a brand new change of direction for the country is evidently unaware of our extreme predicament. Don't politicians spend any time reading and thinking outside the CBC Matrix? Or are they content to believe their own bullshit? Apparently.
The NDP is NOT an "alternative"
New Democrats are not an "alternative". They are what Jan Lundberg described as "Team-B"---a “group of cheerleaders for a different shade of growth mongering. In this camp are some politicians and organizations that many progressive people would prefer to love unconditionally. After all, fundamental change, however overdue, is nice to put off or to pretend that it might be smooth....Accommodating more people as part of population growth or immigration solves nothing, but fattens the wallets of the growth industries responsible for urban sprawl and increased consumer spending.” http://www.culturechange.org/cms/content/view/197/65
It seems that everyone has heard about petro-collapse except the politicians and the media. No one can talk about the impending collapse and the reckoning except, as Lundberg puts it, “on fringe websites or in our living rooms. Or at the bar. Or in the woods. In the streets.” Certainly not, however, in Canada’s House of Commons or on the CBC. And obviously not in the NDP caucus.
Put on a happy face. Think positive. Wishful thinking and wilful ignorance will banish those recession blues forever. The New Jerusalem that Tommy Douglas spoke of awaits you. We can have our cake and develop too. It must be true---I heard on the CBC.
June 19, 2011