BACKSTAGE

THE NEW THIRD PARTY Can farmers and labor get together?

BLAIR FRASER August 29 1959
BACKSTAGE

THE NEW THIRD PARTY Can farmers and labor get together?

BLAIR FRASER August 29 1959

THE NEW THIRD PARTY Can farmers and labor get together?

BACKSTAGE

AT OTTAWA

BLAIR FRASER

CANADA’S NEW political party, which the Canadian Labor Congress and the CCF have been incubating for a year and a half, is still a long way from hatching but is beginning to make audible rattles in its shell. On the last weekend in August about five hundred people, some of them delegates of labor and CCF groups and some invited guests speaking only for themselves, will meet in Winnipeg for a three-day seminar to discuss the name, nature and purposes of this embryonic party of the left.

The seminar will have no authority to make decisions but its advice is earnestly requested. The CCF and the CLC have had a joint national committee at work for more than a year trying to draft a platform and constitution for the new party. So far it has produced nothing for publication, and nothing very definite even in private. The task is proving unexpectedly difficult.

Part of the trouble is the extreme wariness of Canadian farm organizations. The avowed goal of the new party is to be the political arm of “labor, farmers, the CCF and liberallyminded individuals." Labor has endorsed the idea repeatedly—every provincial federation except one has endorsed the CLC resolution in favor of a new party, and the one that refused was Newfoundland. (Since Labor’s fight with Joey Smallwood in the island province, Newfoundland unions are now the most enthusiastic of all.) All CCF provincial organizations have also approved the new party by resolution; there have been more misgivings expressed in CCF than in labor meetings, but they have always been those of a minority. The powerful Saskatchewan group did add a rider stipulating that there should be a chance for further discussion before any final decisions are made, but with that reservation it is backing the idea. As for “liberally minded individuals,” i.c.. private citizens affiliated neither with the Labor Congress nor the CCF. some fairly eminent ones will be attending the Winnipeg seminar.

Farmers are the glaring omission. So

far no farm organization, not even the left-wing Farmers' Union, has given the new party any support whatever.

Individual farmers, including many who are prominent in farm groups, have been in the new party's councils from the start, but have not been able to carry fellow-members with them. The Manitoba Farmers' Union, for example, rejected by a smashing majority the proposal to affiliate with the new party. Now, the party's friends in farm organizations are being urged not to let the question come to a vote in their organizations but to keep discussion

vague and general with a view to “educating” the members.

One reason why farmers are reluctant to join a farmer-labor party is that big labor has had a bad name lately. This development is not peculiar to Canada or to North America. Even in Britain, where trade unionism is probably more respectable than anywhere else in the world, the Labor party feels impelled to defend itself against the suspicion of domination by the big trade unions.

In London I asked a Labor party politician whether the recent, muchpublicized "split" between union leader Frank Cousins and party leader Hugh (iaitskell would do the party much harm in the coming election.

"Quite the contrary," he said. “Some of our people think it's worth a million votes to us, to prove that the Trade Union Congress doesn’t dictate Labor party policy. It doesn't, of course, and it never has, but some people think it does.”

If that suspicion is a damaging one even in Britain, it’s more so in North America. Publicity about individuals like James HofTa in the United States and Hal Banks in Canada has impaired the image of organized labor as the workingman’s friend and protector. Also, farmers have no more sympathy than anyone else with the desire of railway firemen to draw high wages for riding as passengers in the cabs of diesel locomotives. The truth is that labor leadership has no sympathy with these

people either, and makes its views known bluntly enough in private. But for reasons of labor’s own internal politics, labor leaders can't be equally blunt in public, and to some extent they are saddled with the ill repute of Hoffa, Banks and the diesel firemen.

Thus the biggest single advantage of the proposed new party, its assured financial support from the labor unions, carries a built-in disadvantage. Since labor will pay such a major share of the cost, it’s a fair inference that the new party will represent labor’s interest primarily. Farmers arc no longer as sure as once they were that labor’s interest and the farmer’s interest are one and the same. The joint national committee on platform and constitution must try to re-persuade them to this belief. a vitally important but somewhat daunting assignment.

But even without the special difficulty of reconciling farm and labor voters, the joint national committee would not have an easy time. It’s far more difficult now than it was twenty years ago to say exactly what a party of the left wants, and what it stands for.

Nationalization of industry? At one time that would have gone without saying. To the doctrinaires and fundamentalists of the left “national ownership of the means of production” is still the very core of their policital creed.

But the CCF in its official statements has become very cautious, in recent years, about nationalization. It now' favors "extension of public ownership where necessary to facilitate economic

planning, or to break the stranglehold of private monopoly.” But it’s careful to stipulate also "appropriate opportunities for private business.” Just what opportunities are “appropriate,” just where public ownership is “necessary to facilitate economic planning,” is left deliberately vague.

An example of the new caution is the CCF position on banking and credit. The Canadian Labor Congress, in its statement of principles and and policies, calls for nationalization of banking and credit in Canada. Eleven years ago the CCF did the same—a resolution to that effect was adopted, after long and heated debate, by a CCF convention in 1948.

That 1948 resolution has never been repudiated, but it has quietly disappeared from CCF official statements. The party did move an amendment to the Bank Act during debate on the decennial revision in 1954, but that was about the last mention of nationalizing the banking system. The experience of the last few years, the campaign oratory about “tight money,” the threat of inflation, the chronic difficulty of maintaining a sound monetary policy in the face of political pressures—these things have convinced many a thoughtful CCF member that banking and credit in Canada already have been "nationalized" (in the Bank of Canada) as much as anyone really wants them to be.

As for public ownership of industry, there’s no longer any deep disagreement among political parties on this. All, even the Conservatives, accept the idea that some things are better done by public than private enterprise; all, even the CCF, admit that in other cases the opposite is true. Some argument might develop on specific cases, but in principle there’s no issue any more.

The same now applies to social welfare legislation. The CCF has every right to be proud of its pioneering work in this field, the achievements of J. S. Woodsworth in bringing old age pensions, the example of the Saskatchewan CCF government in hospital insurance, and so on. But this too has now become common ground. There is something almost routine about the CCF demand for a further increase in old age pensions—it has become the normal warcry of a party in opposition, and honest C’CFers know that if by some miracle they got into office in Ottawa they’d have the same trouble as any other party finding the money to pay $75-amonth pensions.

The Canadian Labor Congress wants unemployment insurance benefits raised to “two-thirds of earnings at all levels of income." The CCF calls only for an increase, of unspecified amount, in the benefit rates. Farmers do not draw unemployment insurance and have little desire to see anyone get more money for not working than a farmer gets by working hard.

Of course the difference between left and right has not disappeared. It’s still easy enough to tell a member of the CCF from a member of the Albany Club, that shrine of Toronto Toryism— they don’t look the same, talk the same or think the same any more than they ever did. The new party, by whatever name it may decide to call itself, will still be an organization of reasonably recognizable types with reasonably predictable views on public issues.

The difficulty, here as in other countries. is in reducing the remaining differences between right and left to general principles that can be defined in a party platform. ★