The NDP and the Peace Movement

By John Bacher | 1987-06-01 12:00:00

AS THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY BREAKS new records in polls, the prospect of a majority, federal NDP government becomes a possibility, offering (at first glance) amazing prospects for the peace movement. With its opposition to NATO and NORAD, NDP foreign policy is ahead of similar social democratic parties in NATO countries, which all retain an aligned position.

However, the NDP has never taken part in a national government. Consequently, one must wonder whether, when in office, it might show the same traits as its European counterparts. A radical Green theorist of West Germany, Rudolf Bahro, has called the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) a party of "moderate exterminism." Radical Greens are particularly upset over the SPD's support for nuclear power and its commitment to NATO -- problems that do not exist in Canada with regard to the NDP.

The current formal positions of the NDP, however, can be compared to the party's actual record while in provincial government. Long-time party insider Bill Harding's criticism of the Saskatchewan NDP resembles Bahro's analysis of the SPD. He shows how the NDP government of Allan Blakeney abandoned the party's heritage in pursuit of uranium dollars. The innovative first term of the Saskatchewan Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), he says, created both economic reforms and social welfare programs, such as the introduction of public auto insurance. The insurance industry then poured "huge sums of money into the province to defeat the CCF" and reduced the CCF's majority in the 1948 election. As a result, the CCF refrained from further drastic economic reforms. Their new timidity limited the funding base for expanding social programs. As a new revenue source, uranium mining seemed irresistible.

The nationalization of potash by Blakeney's first government led to government partnership with industry in mining. This lucrative partnership forced the government to accept the investment priorities of business and locked the economy into an export-related type of development controlled by multinational corporations.

Many resolutions against uranium mining were passed by NDP riding associations. To avert defeat for the cabinet's pro-uranium policy, a "compromise resolution" was introduced, calling for a public inquiry into uranium mining. Before and during the inquiry, the Blakeney government set aside $20 million for uranium mining and proposed a uranium royalty system that would "yield millions of dollars in revenue in future years." The NDP Minister of Mineral Resources even implied that the Cluff Lake project would go ahead, regardless of the outcome of the inquiry.

By 1980, the provincial crown corporation for mining was one of the ten largest corporations in the area, its investments partially deriving from a debenture guaranteed by the Saskatchewan government. At the Cluff Lake mine, the NDP government broke its own regulations for job-training and health and safety. It also refused to investigate complaints of mistreatment by mine workers.

The NDP government's partner in one mine was the French nuclear authority, whose mandate includes nuclear weaponry. This agency develops the nuclear bombs tested by France in the South Pacific. In addition, the mining company has contracts with Germany, which is assisting the nuclear capability of Brazil and South Africa.

Peace activists were also outraged when, on a 1976 visit to South Korea, Blakeney reportedly discussed sales of Saskatchewan uranium. South Korea's nuclear bomb program was having difficulty getting nuclear fuels. Harding, in an open letter to the premier, complained that in effect Blakeney had arrived on the scene to rescue the South Korean nuclear bomb program.

Harding's open letter was part of an effort to raise the uranium issue in the 1978 election. He pledged not to vote, since all party differences were "minuscule in the face of nuclear power and weaponry."

Failing to sway NDP policy, the activists created a Green network and held provincial meetings and developed policy papers on energy, agriculture, and health. Its economic and ecological objectives were similar to the ideas the German Greens had forged in similar conflict with the SPD. Also like the SPD, the Saskatchewan NDP was saved from disintegration by the party's fortuitous going into opposition. After the 1981 election, the party suddenly reversed its stand on uranium mining. Luckily for Allan Blakeney, however, the Saskatchewan Greens have not developed the strength of their German counterparts.

In 1981, Peter Prebble proposed a federal policy of phasing out the nuclear fuel cycle in Canada, conserving energy, developing renewable energy resources, and guaranteeing alternative employment at union wages to all workers who might be displaced. Prebble, assisted by activist Simon Rosenblum, presented his motion to an environmental caucus at the 1981 federal convention in Vancouver. Because of the location of the convention, many delegates were present from the B.C. New Democrats, which opposes uranium development. The environmental caucus was able to push its resolution through.

The 1987 federal NDP convention in Montréal, however, had a different outcome. A resolution was presented opposing the NDP federal policy. Maintaining that further nuclear energy projects would begin again after safety concerns and "a definite need" had been established, it highlighted the "31,000 direct jobs" in the nuclear industry and reversed the no-export policy. "Under public ownership of the uranium industry," the NDP would refuse uranium only to countries violating non-proliferation safeguards.

Disturbed, Prebble, Rosenblum, and federal M.P. Bill Blaikie reactivated the environment caucus and negotiated for an amended version that would not change existing party policy. The compromise would permit uranium export to countries such as Sweden, which is committed to phase out its nuclear power programs.

When the resolution reached the floor, its steelworker supporters stressed the need for employment security policies. Vancouver M.P. Svend Robinson moved to delete references to the conditions under which the NDP would permit nuclear exports. He said that a weakening of existing federal party policy would undermine the campaign against a resumption of uranium development in British Columbia. His defence of the existing NDP policy against uranium development lost narrowly.

This closely divided vote on nuclear policy should teach the peace movement to watch the decision-making process of the NDP. The movement must serve as a moral conscience to the party if it is to develop a vision of a non-nuclear future for a future NDP government on the model of New Zealand's labor party, rather than on France's Socialists. During elections, peace activists tend to drum up support for the NDP on the basis of their performance in opposition rather than the more severe test now they have governed. if the peace movement's political efforts are not to be wasted, its support must be accompanied by careful attention to the party's debates.

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1987

Peace Magazine Jun-Jul 1987, page 7. Some rights reserved.

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