Stephen Lewis claimed “social democracy” for NDP in Layton eulogy

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 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 wellCurrently, 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.

However, they would not take “generosity” to include, what Robert Fulford referred to yesterday, as fairy tale beliefs that do not fit with reality (H/T NewsWatchCanada).

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.”

28 thoughts on “Stephen Lewis claimed “social democracy” for NDP in Layton eulogy

  1. Well, I was expecting some socialist grandstander to hurl insults at our PM and was pleasantly surprised at the civility of most. But now I see by Suzuki’s comments that I was right. The old commies just can’t help themselves…


  2. All Suzuki has left is griping and grimicing, truely yesterdays man, not a has been , but a “never was”.
    Just another silly CBC “personality” with a lack of personality IMO.
    Cheers bubba


  3. Pingback: Editorial: Layton’s vision for Toronto had a cost (1) | Jack's Newswatch

  4. I realize an ultra political person died but for Lewis and Suzuki to use his funeral to drop snide or not so snide remarks seems to waft away from decency and respect, not only for the deceased but the Prime Minister of the country who did everything he could to show respect for the deceased and I believe he was sincere. The funeral/celebration of life was hardly a place for such crass opportunism.

    Shame on them. How long will they exploit this event?


  5. Thanks for the comments everyone. I just added a link to the Toronto Sun’s editorial today — thanks to the link at Jack’s Newswatch. The editorial pretty well concurs with what I said in my post. Therefore, in my opinion the left should use the term “socialist democracy” rather than “social democracy” because all Canadian governments of all political stripes have generous and progressive social programs. Put another way, the middle and the right in this country are not the opposite to progressive. Meaning, we have to take back those terms.

    Peter, I can appreciate what you are saying but it is my understanding that the NDP are not commies per se given that communism does not include a democratically elected gov’t. However, you may have a point given that China is now both capitalist and communist and where once there was no poverty, now there is. However, they still don’t have free elections. Strange isn’t that so many of those espousing the redistribution of wealth concept are rich themselves or at the very least, children of privilege — silver spoon socialists. And, even in societies like the former Soviet Union, you had the upper class who had access to products and services the lower classes didn’t.

    Socialism, particularly when combined with man-caused global warming, is truly the new secular religion, often both humanist and atheist.


  6. Joanne — I know what you mean. I had the TV on CBC the other night (an oversight obviously LOL) and Suzuki came on. I had to flip him off immediately as his hypocrisy just makes my blood boil. One of those silver spoon privileged socialists. And, I thought charities were supposed to be non-partisan. I guess that only applies to conservatives. The disdain he and his CBC buddies feel towards PM Harper is truly disgusting. In fact, they don’t even try to hide it now.

    Now that the Layton funeral is over, I think the anti-NDP backlash is going to be huge. Last week’s propaganda just went on too long for most fair-minded Canadians.


  7. Sandy I am hearing a lot of backlash today on local talk radio against Stephen Lewis and the whole political bent of the funeral service.

    They should have stuck to celebrating the man – not the party.

    O/T do you have any idea when the writ will be dropped for the Ontario election or did I miss that too? Thanks.


  8. Just thinking we also have to be careful of honing in too much on the shameless exploitation at the funeral, leading up to it, and since, not to get caught up in the same wave going the other way. Let them expose themselves, Canadians can see what they’re up too, a lot of people are talking about it.

    BTW, where is McGuinty getting all the money for pie-in-the-sky schemes, I thought we were in the red?


  9. Jo– From what I have read it must be dropped next Wednesday, Sept. 7th. So that is when Elections Ontario rules kick in and the gloves will be off — although the latest PC ad re the public sector unions is very strong.

    Anway, thankfully, Harris changed Ontario’s campaign time from five weeks to four. However, with the fixed date law, the election has effectively been for the last four years!


  10. Although this google page shows it could be as late as September 11th. So, I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Anyway Joanne — you didn’t miss much in that regard. However, the good news is that McGuinty was on CFRA last week saying — wait for it — that if re-elected, he WOULD NOT RAISE TAXES. Hahahahahahahahahaha


  11. Liz J — I agree with you about too much exposure. However, this post is not anti-Layton. It is anti the claims that only the NDP are progressive and socially democratic. Bologna. I wonder where they are getting the money as well, particularly as I just told Joanne, McGuinty is promising not to raise taxes. I won’t add the laughter track again but I know you can hear it. 😉


  12. Why doesn’t the media go after McGuinty when he “promises” not to raise taxes….well, never mind, we know the answer. I feel betrayed when lied to, can’t understand why more people in Ontario didn’t when electing McGuinty the last two elections. Guessing the thought of being surrounded by Conservatives in Ottawa and Toronto will keep them from seeking any truth from Daltylyin.

    BTW, Tim with his Changebook is out on the hustings in what he called his “changebego” we have to make sure we get that change with help not criticism, he needs our support. We cannot afford another go of McGuinty ,after two chances, he’s blown it.


  13. I don’t know what people expected. The man and his social-democratic beliefs cannot be separated. They are what he was. He ws taught by Charles Taylor, mentored by Ed Broadbent and came to the NDP as the only party to oppose the War Measures Act. Lewis’ speech was the highlight for me and most other NDP supporters.


  14. Regarding “Social Democracy” , each political party contains various tendencies. The PCs contain libertarians, old Reformers, Christian conservatives, Red Tories and so on. The Liberal Party contains “small l or progressive liberals” (Sheila Copps types) as well as rather conservative business Liberals (Paul Martin, John Manley).

    The NDP contains both ‘socialists’ and ‘social democrats’ although the latter is the dominant view, (picture the social and economic systems of Sweden, Scandinavia in general, France, other BenNelux countries). The ‘socialists’ within the NDP continue to support more ‘nationalizations’ but this view is seldom policy or platform. There are also feminist, labour, environmentalist, anti-homophobic, type tendencies contained within the NDP ‘family’.

    Each party must be a ‘coalition’ itself before it can enter into other possible ‘coalitions’ in parliament.


  15. I understand your position Doug. I have no issue with that. Even as a former sociology professor I simply don’t accept the assumptions about social-democracy. You too are one of the silver spoon socialists. In fact, the very idea that any public sector union supporter believes in a socialist society is a joke. Or, is that what redistribution of wealth means. Taxpayers give more taxes so public sector workers can get higher salaries. Simply doesn’t compute because actions speak louder than words.

    But, in the end, this whole argument has nothing to do with Jack Layton or his untimely death. It has to do with the pie in the sky ideas that Lewis, in Layton’s memory, was spouting. Surely, even athiests understand that human beings are not inherently altruistic — which is why communism and socialism doesn’t work without an iron fist approach as in China.

    And, that is what I am trying to point out. Canada already has a very generous social services and universal medicare system which continues under a “Conservative” government. Meaning, no party in Canada is truly right wing as in every person for themselves. Which means that the word progressive has been misued and misappropriated as has “social democracy.” Given your wife owns a private high school for foreign students, you obviously are not against capitalism. So, why do silver spoon socialists support a party that hates private business, the main job creators? A rhetorical question only.


  16. The bottom line Doug is I don’t want this thread to be about Layton. Let’s let the man rest in peace. His life and cause was congruent to what he believed. That I disagree with that view is irrelevant.

    But, Stephen Lewis made his eulogy political and I am dealing with the terms he used, not about Layton per se. And, as far as I can see, everyone here understands that. Moreover, if you believe what Layton believed, than that is your business.

    I just have an issue with your assumptions about socialism. Sweden and Norway and France are not good examples of how well social democracy can be since there is plenty of capitalism going on in those countries. Plus France, like Greece, is about to crumble given the entitlement culture there and the power of the unions.

    In fact, no where in the world has there been a successful socialist democratic country. While China has now successfully integrating communism and capitalism, they can only do by suppressing the population. Interesting too is that China once again has pockets of extreme poverty which means that the integrated approach is not working. Yet, the communist state could not afford to continue without wealth creation.

    Interesting that Layton’s funeral has now brought out the underlying differences in the political parties, including as you say their internal coalitions.


  17. Pingback: Editorial: Layton’s vision for Toronto had a cost (4) | Jack's Newswatch

  18. Social democracy has long accepted that the private sector is and ought to be, the dominant sector of the economy and that the public sector and the social sector (private non-profit) needs to take a back seat to the private sector but an unbridled private sector tends to run off the rails (Wall St) so there needs to be Keynsian regulation to stop abuses. France Norway Sweden ARE the world examples of Social democracy. The Socialist-Social Democrat-Labour parties win the elections about half more or less, of the time and have shaped those societies over a 50 year period. Most Social Dems would give Sweden if asked for a working model.

    BTW we DO believe that altruism is the natural state of human existance along with peace, harmony, solidarity, generosity and the commonwealth. We find greed, war, selfishness, and the like to be unnatural feelings that will slowly be bred out of society. The rate that they disappear is the measure of our forward progress.


  19. Pingback: Stephen Lewis’ eulogy leaves a bad taste | Blue Like You

  20. Doug — I have only one thing to say: greed, war, selfishness and the like have been around since mankind began. Some religions refer to it as original sin. However, religion aside, one only has to watch a two to three year old child learn to say “no” and have a temper tantrum to get their own way to understand that our natures are both good and bad and that being selfish is actually more natural than unnatural. Meaning that whether or not our best behaviour wins out is up to us.

    So, for any political, athiest or humanist movement to think that such unnatural feelings, or evidence that the human ego exists, will slowly be bred out of society is pure magical thinking. Sounds like Walden II thinking — which was an example of Skinner’s pure fiction.

    In any event, that is not what my post is about. Let’s stick with the fact that leftists do not own either the term progressive or social democracy. Rather, you and they are “socialist” democrats as opposed to “social.”


  21. I have heard from a couple of conservatives who get very upset over the terms progressive and social democracy and my suggestion that the left has misappropriated their use. Well, the reality is that many Conservative government policies are in fact progressive. I am a former progressive conservative. Meaning the current CPC is made up of a number of centre right wing coalitions. So, I would recommend Conservative supporters just relax. It was Stephen Lewis who attempted to polarize our society when he used those words, not me.


  22. I’m still wondering if it would be a good idea to drop “Progressive” from our provincial party even though our policies fit the moniker? The Liberals and New Democrats are identifiable under the same name across the board.

    It’s noteworthy how quickly and repeatedly the Liberals and NDP grabbed onto it when the federal party dropped it in a rush to take ownership. However, I really think it’s impossible to be a Leftist/Socialist and progressive.

    Should the New Democrats and the Liberals get married how they’d fit “progressive” into the name would be interesting. We maybe should have some fun choosing a name for them!


  23. It’s funny you should mention that Liz J re the word “progressive.” Like how the word Kleenex is used for all facial tissue, Progressive with a capital “P” has become synomyous with the NDP or left wing.

    Yet, I refuse to simply give it up. IMO, it’s not a bad word.

    For example, the former Alliance/Reform and the federal PCs had discussions that “progressed” to a single party. Social policies like the universal day care program and old age security are progressive — with the former recognizing that some families choose that one parent stay at home. In other words, to some, it is progressive for some women to “choose” to work in the home full-time. I mean, in the late 1960’s that was what feminism was about, that we should be able to choose, parenting full time, parenting most of the time with some part-time work outside the home or a full-time career and parenting. I chose full-time parenting until the kids were 3 and 4. Then, I found myself a single parent and worked full-time from then on.

    However, to get back to your point, I just don’t think Canada as a whole is ready to go fully conservative. Why? Because many of us, me included, sit in the middle.

    I have worked in education in some form or another all my adult life. I went to teacher’s college in 1971 when “progressive” methods were first introduced. So, I am a product of my time. I also have an adult son with disabilities so I know the necessity of progressive social policies. I also ran my own private special education private practice, being a small business owner and a counsellor and parent advocate. So, I fought government bureaucracy for funding for parents who needed extra help. in other words, I am a progressive as well as a conservative — socially progressive and fiscally conservative.

    I do not believe that government should stay out of our lives in all situations. I do not believe the private sector is the answer to everything, any more than the public sector is. Yes, I recognize excellence but I also know that kids with intellectual and learning disabilities need opportunities to succeed which might mean modifying the curriculum slightly.

    In other words, I don’t believe in an all or nothing approach to government, whether it is on the left or the right. One extreme is collectivism and communism, the other is facism and state control of wealth creation.

    I believe that PM Harper represents the balance I feel comfortable with. Removing progressive from PC is, therefore, moving too far and too extreme to the right for folks like me.

    Just sayin.


  24. As things are now it wouldn’t be surprising should the Left get “married” “Progressive” would be included in their name.

    For sheer nonsense how about the Progressive Democratic Liberals?

    However, having the federal party Conservative and the provincial party Progressive Conservative does denote a difference in ideology even though most supporters couldn’t abide either Liberal or NDP ideology.


  25. Yes, thanks Catherine, I saw yesterday that this and my Kinsella posts are on NWC. I noticed the latter because I visit there at least once a day. I appreciate the link because I am no longer on the BT aggregator.


Comments are closed.