New Democrats do not own the terms or the values implicit in the words “progressive” or “social democracy!” Yet, during the state funeral for Jack Layton yesterday, Stephen Lewis gave a eulogy that referred to Layton’s final letter to Canadians as a manifesto about the generosity of “social democracy” and how he (Layton) had wanted to create a better Canada.
Interestingly, as soon as Lewis said that, people in the audience clapped and stood up — including Prime Minister Stephen Harper who would have done so, not only out of politeness for the occasion, but because he no doubt believes in some of the values inherent in the concept.
Yet, for some reason, some so-called progressives like David Suzuki, who according to Linda Diebel, found it funny that the PM had to stand up with the rest of them. (H/T BC Blue). Why? Clearly, there is an incredible arrogance in the notion that only NDP supporters, or social democrats, want what is best for all Canadians. I can assure them that conservatives, whether small “c” or capital “C” want a better Canada as well.
So, let’s look at where our differences lie. Who is more of a social democrat, an NDP MP or a Conservative MP? Or, might they, and their leaders, all want as generous a society as is realistically possible?
For example, let’s look at some selected quotes from the canadianencyclopedia.com and then compare them to Conservative values (with my comments shown in italics):
(1) Social democrats “are resolute in their defence of individual rights and constitutional methods, and in their repudiation of the Marxist concept of the dictatorship of the proletariat.”
Clearly both the NDP and the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) repudiate the notion of a “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Similarly, unlike the NDP, I believe the CPC would not only believe in individual rights and constitutional methods, they would expand those rights to include individual responsibilities.
Specifically, one of the CPC’s founding principles is the “belief that it is the responsibility of individuals to provide for themselves, their families and their dependents, while recognizing that government must respond to those who require assistance and compassion.”
In other words, PM Harper would not have had any disagreement with this aspect of social democracy.
(2) Social democrats would “argue that political democracy (e.g., equal right to vote) needs to be expanded to include social and economic democracy (i.e., equal right to an education, medical care, pensions, employment and safe working conditions).”
I assume the CPC would agree with these concepts as well. Currently, everyone in Canada has an equal right to an education, medical care, pensions and unemployment insurance, regardless of which political party is at the federal, provincial or territorial levels of government.
So, I assume that like the first item, PM Harper would have no difficulty supporting this aspect of social democracy.
(3) Social democrats believe “in the power of education and persuasion, and the potentially benevolent power of the state to redistribute wealth [by providing] extensive social security assistance to the less privileged.”
This is where the NDP and Conservatives would differ, but not as much as some NDP think. The Conservative federal government contributes towards social transfers to provinces and territories that provide for welfare, disability benefits, free elementary and secondary education, subsidized post-secondary education and access to universal health care.
Nevertheless, PM Harper could still agree with this supposition, just not the degree of redistribution that would be considered generous by Layton’s and Lewis’ standards.
(4) Social democrats “are defined by their “opposition not only to capitalism but also to communism.”
Ah ha, so here we have the primary difference between the NDP and Conservatives with the assumption that a state, any state, can exist without private wealth creation. It can’t. In fact, the former Soviet Union failed for just that reason. And, now, even China has incorporated capitalism within its communist model.
Crux of the Matter:
So, apart from the faulty assumptions implicit in item (4), PM Harper was right to stand up yesterday. This is Canada. We already have a progressive and generous society — including even when there is a Conservative majority government in power.
In other words, the NDP do not own either the term “progressive” or “social democracy.”
Updates: (1) See also Lorrie Goldstein’s take in the Toronto Sun on related issues. However, I totally disagree with him that the NDP is the social conscience of parliament, although, like Fulford, I agree with him that NDP hold hopes and dreams simply don’t reflect reality. I also agree that their full redistribution of wealth ideas, or only looking at root causes for crime, would more harm than good (e.g, we only have to look at the result of Labour’s decade in power in England and the fact that some 600,000 youths have never had to work a day in their lives because they receive generous welfare benefits).
(2) Here is the Toronto Sun’s editorial for Monday, August 29th. It pretty much sums up what I have been saying but in a financial practical sense. Like England, the City of Toronto spent money on welfare and social programs that haven’t made a dent because they simply enable people to remain homeless or poor. Mike Harris is hated by the left as heartless and mean. Yet, his first government got 100,000 Ontarians off of welfare and into jobs. I remember that well because I worked for one of his MPPs.
In the summer of 1995, welfare rates that had been put in place by the former Bob Rae NDP government were so high that they took away all incentive to work — which is what too much generosity can do. For example, with prescription and dental benefits, they were more than if someone worked a 40 hour week for minimum wage without benefits. So, why would people look for work?
So, the new PC government cut general welfare by 21% (although this Wikipedia article says it was 22%). But, being an EA and Communications Assistant for a Harris MPP, I remember the numbers very well. I also remember that recipients were promised that if they found part-time jobs, they could keep the first 21% before benefits were reduced dollar for dollar.
Harris knew that those who had never worked a day in their lives needed to learn “how” to work. And, the approach succeeded! The corporate and personal tax cuts also worked too as investors flocked to Ontario. By the end of the first mandate in 1999, the 700,000 jobs they had promised in the 1995 election campaign were a reality. Yet, somehow Harris was the enemy of the left?
Therefore, the term “social democracy” should not be synonymous with “socialist democracy.”