The following is a guest editorial by Maclean’s Ottawa Editor
Finally, last week, living proof that there is a Left left in this country: witness the decision of the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party to delay federal back-to-work legislation that would have sent more than 30,000 striking and locked-out rail workers back to their jobs. The stand by the two parties was enough to make any proper thinking union member or leftist sympathizer in Canada stand up, cheer, and voice his or her solidarity. Or was it? As a result of the strike, about 2,500 autoworkers were temporarily laid off because of supply shortages, 3,500 more were reduced to half shifts, grain shipments were halted, and the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association estimated that the cost to the country in layoffs and lost production and sales was about $500 million a day. Small wonder, then, that Buzz Hargrove, the head of the Canadian Auto Workers, said he told the Bloc and NDP not to stand in the way of the federal legislation. Neither heeded him.
Canada, by most versions of popular history, was united by the building of a national railway. In prolonging the strike, the Bloc, cynics would say, was hoping that what the railway joined together, a work stoppage could tear asunder. At the very least, Bloc MPs were obviously hoping to embarrass the new labor minister, Lucienne Robillard,
who will be Ottawa’s point pei son on the federalist side ii the Quebec referendum can paign. They failed, managing only such graceless schooi yard tactics as labelling her “It ministre-matraque”—whicl roughly translates as “the bill) club minister.”
The motives for the NDP’ behavior are even less cleai Since its near wipeout in th 1993 election, party member have questioned everythin; „ from who should replace retii ing leader Audrey McLaughli: y to whether to change th §NDP’s name, rethink its pol I cies and cut its formal link Sj with organized labor. In the ir s terim, the party is all but siler on such crucial debates as th direction of Finance Ministe Paul Martin’s budget and the future of Canada’s social programs. On is sues where NDP MPs make noise, the reason is that they are infuriatin; their own rank and file: think here of the fact that eight of the nine member caucus, including McLaughlin, plan to ignore pressures fror their grassroots membership and vote against proposed gun-contrc legislation. Similarly, their initial opposition to the back-to-work legisle tion, which crumbled midweek after a minor amendment, won, at besi halfhearted approval from the labor movement and, at worst, the ar tipathy of those hurt by the strike. While it struggles with policy gap and inconsistencies, the traditional voice of Canada’s Left can consol itself that in one respect, at least, it is consistent: it may not stand fo much, but it doesn’t stand for many people either.
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