COLUMN

The communist threat in Ontario’s NDP

Until Canadians realize that socialism is the problem, not the solution, they will simply go on stabbing themselves in the gut

BARBARA AMIEL February 24 1992
COLUMN

The communist threat in Ontario’s NDP

Until Canadians realize that socialism is the problem, not the solution, they will simply go on stabbing themselves in the gut

BARBARA AMIEL February 24 1992

The communist threat in Ontario’s NDP

COLUMN

BARBARA AMIEL

Until Canadians realize that socialism is the problem, not the solution, they will simply go on stabbing themselves in the gut

Three or four times a year, groups of distinguished people gather by invitation only, to discuss world events. The site of these conferences is usually wildly inappropriate, tempting the less committed to lie on their tummies in the sun or wander about mountains yodelling. This month, I attended the World Economic Forum (as a lowly press person), which took place in the Swiss town of Davos.

Like most of the sessions at Davos this year, the theme was the same: could Western businessmen please come to the disaster areas of the world and make them work? This plea was made eloquently by South Africa’s President F. W. de Klerk, who pointed out that “it would be ironic if the countries that were eager to invest in us during the worst days of apartheid would not do the same now that we are a multiparty democracy.” Then came Nelson Mandela, who was courteous and grave, but a bit past things. He did say that there was a role for private enterprise in South Africa, but the old MarxistLeninist language peppered his speech—all that nonsense about “the liberation of women” and the “equitable distribution of wealth.” Furthermore, given the social debacle of the past decades, anyone who has the gall to say that there is a “role” for private enterprise doesn’t exactly inspire investor confidence.

The next session introduced the new leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.), which has replaced the old U.S.S.R. The session was brilliantly chaired by Henry Kissinger, who announced that each speaker would have precisely she minutes. “At five minutes, a red light will come on,” explained Kissinger, “at five minutes and a half it will flash and at six minutes a trap door will open open beneath you.” Then, looking whimsically at the leaders of seven former Soviet republics, most of them having risen to power through the old Politburo, he remarked: “This is a method of debate with which most of you will have been quite familiar.” The new C.I.S. leaders wanted capitalism. Each one outdid the next in promises: the

Belarus president offered foreign investors the right to control 100 per cent of the shares in any of their ventures; Azerbaijan promised laws that would protect capital investment and offer very reasonable taxes.

Communism has lost all intellectual respectability and democratic socialism is in a pretty mess as well. To its credit, the democratic left has been re-evaluating its policies. At Davos, I met this business-friendly face of socialism in the person of British Columbia’s new NDP premier, Michael Harcourt, and after listening to his plans to attract more foreign capital to his province, I was all but prepared to buy his provincial bonds myself—though I hasten to caution I have not yet seen his legislative program.

The only places where scientific socialism has still got a gun at the throats of the economy are in South Africa—where the executive of Mandela’s African National Congress is dominated by the South African Communist Party—and Ontario, where NDP Leader Bob Rae is introducing economic communism through such policies as his proposed amendments to the Ontario Labor Relations Act.

Back in 1977, Maclean ’s sent me to England to do a report on the British Disease. That

disease was the hobnail-boot policies of the UK unions. The cure was Margaret Thatcher’s reform of labor laws—and today, not even the British Labour Party would reverse her. Ontario, on the other hand, is intent on putting in place precisely the labor conditions that brought England to its economic knees. Rae’s legislation would give the Ontario Labor Relations Board the power to force a company to unionize, even when less than 50 per cent of the workers supported that move. In the event of a strike, workers who disapproved of the strike would not be allowed to work and managers would not be allowed to hire replacement workers.

Collective contracts would follow a businessman so that the free market would become an anachronism. What that means is if I ran a restaurant chain and decided the cost of cleaning from supplier X was too high because that supplier had negotiated a high wage settlement, it would do me no good to go to supplier Y. Why not? Because under Rae’s proposed labor laws, the businessman would be compelled to pay supplier Y the same rate as supplier X.

One prominent Canadian banker I spoke to in Davos estimated that under the NDP, Ontario has lost 75,000 jobs. Some of those, he acknowledged, had been due to a recession that was not caused by the NDP, but many job losses were simply due to businesses moving out of the province or steering clear of it. The Germans and Japanese have first-rate listening posts in Ontario, and what they hear is sending them running. Meanwhile, the banker himself spoke jovially of getting the best access ever to Rae: “He’s scared stiff,” he said, “and we’re able to tell him what’s wrong.”

That struck me as shortsighted. Getting Rae out of his troubles so he can live to see another day isn’t any help to Canada. “We can’t let him drown,” replied the banker, “because it will take Ontario years and years after Rae to recover.” But until the voters reject him and his party for the right reason—the reason that most of the heads of state at Davos understood, namely, that socialism is the problem, not the solution—Canadians will simply go on stabbing themselves in the gut.

The only solution for Canada is to let Rae and Ontario join Albania as the last bastion of economic communism. Karl Marx always claimed that the economic basis of a country determined its superstructures. That is why he was so scathing about bourgeois law, which to him was simply an outgrowth of capitalism.

This was the one notion of Marx with which I always agreed. The lawlessness of communism grew out of its economic system. If Rae stays in power and implements his economic programs, I’ll make a bet that the bourgeois laws of Ontario—eroded as they already are by the alliance of feminists and left-wing special-interest groups—will increasingly be replaced by the coercive structures of communism. The only way in which Ontario will differ from the old Soviet Union or the present Albania is in the degree of cruelty and repression. Canadians are nicer. But how nice they will stay under much more of Rae is another matter.