Discussion on the Significance of the Election Result
By TONY SEED
THE NDP “swept Quebec” with 58 out of 75 seats. It’s an “Orangiste wave.” Euphoria reigns in the Anglo-Canadian ruling circles.
Meanwhile, as of the May 2 Federal Election, three of the four seats in the NATO port of Halifax, headquarters of Maritime Command, are also now NDP. The federal contract for three new massive warships – Joint Support Ships – opens on May 18. A real conflict with Quebec is possible.
In Nova Scotia, Layton, who now has all these seats in Quebec, publicly declared in Dartmouth on April 17 that “Our plan is not to interfere with the deadline,” an identical position to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Public Works Minister Rona Ambrose, and the insistent demand of the Irving-owned Halifax Shipyards.
The Halifax Chronicle Herald was pleased to feature Layton’s declaration in Dartmouth as its front page banner headline on April 18: “Layton: Shipyard deadline stays as is; NDP would ensure steady work for all yards, leader says.”
Layton earlier pledged, when he released the NDP defence policy on April 8th at the naval base in Esquimault, BC, that the warships were more important to Canada and its “peacekeeping mission” than the stealth fighters.
“These ships have been identified for replacement for a very long time and the governments have been completely ineffective in getting the job done.” According to the Globe & Mail, “they [the NDP] would keep defence spending at $21-billion annually, a number set by the Conservatives in the budget that was rejected in the week before the government fell.” Layton promised, “I’ll get the job done when it comes to building Joint Support Ships for our naval forces.” One cannot be blind to the fact that Harper has not commissioned the warships to be used for “jobs” – let alone “peacekeeping.” 
All competing shipyards must provide proof of ownership by May 18 to compete in Harper’s $35-billion National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy involving the construction of as many as 100 vessels. A giant Italian consortium, Finmeccanica, came forward out of the blue in late March to begin restructuring the idle, Norwegian-controlled MIL-Davie Shipyard in Lévis, Quebec, currently under “bankruptcy protection.” Although it had no shortage of orders, Davie had laid off almost 1,100 workers. According to the Montreal Gazette, “Finmeccanica is a specialist in commercial and military ship construction and repairs and in marine systems, besides its aerospace and defence electronics business. It has 75,000 employees worldwide, including 12,000 in North America.” The Charest Liberals promised to transfer public funds to the foreign multinational in the name of ensuring stability and, together with Ignatieff on March 30, publicly demanded the May 18 deadline be extended.
On the other hand, the Irving empire, which seems to have added the Nova Scotia NDP to their corporate holdings, initiated a campaign through the ruling NDP government of this province, the federal NDP candidates (now MPs), the media, and the Halifax regional council to – in the literal words of Premier Darrel Dexter in his Speech from the Throne on March 31 – “champion” the agenda dictated by the Irving empire.
“We need to make sure we are front and centre on it,” Dexter declared, giving real meaning to his party’s slogan, “Working Together.” On March 30, Dexter said, “We have already assisted the shipyard in their efforts to modernize and we would look at other requests if they came forward.” In the name of “modernization” of the Irvings’ shipyards, the NDP has already transferred $60 million to the impoverished family, who hold 140th spot on Forbes Magazine’s latest list of the world’s top billionaires. Dexter said the Nova Scotia campaign also involves New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island (but not Newfoundland).
That same day Irving brutally laid off another 50 shipyard workers in Halifax (for a total of 90 in the past month). A wall of silence has been erected about their situation.
On April 12, the Kiewit Offshore Services shipyard in Marystown, Newfoundland, a subsidiary of Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Nebraska, one of North America’s largest construction companies, pulled out of the competition. “We just weren’t going to be able to put that team of people together to handle the proposal,” a spokesman said. It is noteworthy that this monopoly did have the “team” to participate in two earlier rounds of bidding in 2006 and 2008. Perhaps they sensed that the fix was in. (The other main competitor is the U.S.-owned Vancouver Shipyards.)
On April 12, after a presentation by Irving, an industry subcommittee of the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) referred their unanimous endorsement of the bid to the regional council for approval. This was rubber stamped by the HRM on May 3rd. “Irving Shipbuilding is pleased by this demonstration of support from our city council representatives,” said Steve Durrell, president of Irving Shipbuilding. “We look forward to the conclusion of this bid process.”
On April 12, three of the four Halifax-area candidates of the NDP, Peter Stouffer, Megan Leslie (both incumbents whose Party voted for the war on Libya on March 21) and Robert Chisholm staged a rah-rah, noon-hour photo-op at the Irving shipyards precisely to “champion” the bid. All three were then elected. (By coincidence or design, the only metropolitan Halifax candidate that the NDP did not elect, Gregor Ash in Halifax West, was reportedly not present at the Irvfest!)
The Nova Scotia NDP MPs accused the Quebec Liberals, who were promising to extend the deadline, of being “unfair” to the Irving empire, whose financing of the Liberals has been second to none (some may recall IrvingAir – the trek of Liberal cabinet ministers to the Irvings’ salmon lodge – and a $100,000 donation to Paul Martin’s leadership campaign).
Neoliberals make a big fuss about fair and transparent competition in the marketplace and the NDP stepped up to the plate bigtime. Mr Stoffer, the NDP’s shipbuilding spokesperson, declared, “This process needs to be fair, it needs to be transparent and it needs to be based on economics, and the best two yards will win. Personally, I believe the Halifax yard will be one of them.” Ms Leslie told Irving: “We support your bid,” adding, “And unlike the Liberals, who are playing politics, saying ‘Let’s reopen this, let’s talk about Quebec.’ That’s not what we’re here for. It’s about a fair and open process.”
On April 15, the three parties in the provincial legislature – NDP, Liberal and Conservative – voted unanimously to support the Irvings’ bid for the warships. Neither the HRM nor the Legislature passed any resolution in defence of the laid-off shipyard workers.
Thus behind all the fuss about “fair process” is 1) the demand for return on their investments by the owners of capital; 2) the Harper-NDP preparations for imperialist war and the militarization of the economy; 3) the subjugation of the worker’s demand for an all-sided self-reliant economy with steelworks, shipyards, mills and factories, and without regional discrimination, to meet the needs of the people; and 4) the vilification of Quebec as an abstraction in which the demand for sovereignty is made the issue rather than identifying the problem as the outdated Constitution and provincial/federal arrangements. It is the anachronistic political system that allows certain monopolies to dominate and manipulate the state, public treasury and Quebec and the regions of Canada for their private benefit.
Now we have Layton and his three Halifax MPs as the “champions” of Harper’s “fair” May 18 deadline to compete for the warships contract; the NDP government in Nova Scotia as the “champion” of the Irvings and making sure Nova Scotians are “front and centre”; and Layton’s NDP is now the “champion” of Quebec and ensuring “steady work for all yards.”
And Harper hasn’t even got to the design stage or the contracts for the armaments.
Who will win the brass ring?
1. The multirole command-and-control warships, originally commissioned by the Martin Liberals in 2004, are aimed for offensive operations against coastal countries in the seven seas of the world. According to Wikipedia, “The Joint Support Ship will enable a Naval Task Group to remain at sea for up to six times longer than is currently possible. The Joint Support ships will provide the Canadian Forces with a greater flexibility to conduct a wide range of operations both domestically and internationally.”