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Synthesis/Regeneration 40   (Summer 2006)

Some Critical Thoughts on the NDP

by David Orton

Some members of the Green Party become quite excited when people associated with the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP) make various criticisms of the party. I believe one should always be open to hearing criticisms and looking at one’s own practices, to see if some rectification is needed. I make a distinction in my own mind between those who criticize the GP from a position of fundamental opposition to what Greens stand for, as opposed to those who believe in the overall Green agenda but who raise various points of disagreement with what we are doing and how we are going about it.

I think sometimes that GP policies are all over the map and that, perhaps, a particular environmental policy of the NDP may be more progressive than that to be found in the GP. It is only within our Party, however, that a certain kind of debate is taking place about the fundamental shift in consciousness needed in how we humans should relate to the earth. We need this debate as the existing industrial capitalist societies, in Canada and worldwide, are destroying the very conditions of life, not only for humans but for other species and the earth itself.

The GP, theoretically, sees itself as a voice for those species that have no representation—hence our stated support for deep ecology and our welcomed stand finally, after long internal struggle, on opposing the annual seal slaughter. This debate cannot take part in the NDP, a capitalist human-centered reform party, but a party which does have a record of bringing social justice concerns to the foreground. This past social justice contribution should be acknowledged by GP members engaged in debates with NDP opponents.

The NDP has nothing to do with socialism. It is a capitalist reform party and has always upheld the parliamentary road. The NDP is opposed to serious extra-parliamentary struggle and has not hesitated to remove or neutralize more radical voices who were seen as threatening in some way the electoral acceptability of the party—the Waffle, and later the so-called “Green Caucus” within the NDP that both failed to realize that more economic growth, unionized jobs, and rising consumerism will always win out in this Party over long-term environmental concerns, or the ecological justice concerns of non-human species.[1]

Canadians concerned about social justice have, in the past, gravitated to the NDP. Many GP members have come from such a background. So we need to keep this in mind and welcome (but not capitulate to) green Tories or green Liberals who cross over. In general, Greens should be more sympathetic to the NDP than to the Liberals or the Tories, because of their past and ongoing social justice contribution, both federally and provincially, to Canadian politics.

The shallow and the deep

The NDP, because of its overall orientation, cannot be an ecological party, except perhaps in the “shallow ecology” sense written about so long ago by Arne Naess, the founder of the deep ecology philosophy.[2] Many honest, hard-working environmentalists from the mainstream movement in Canada, e.g. Sierra Club, CPAWS, Greenpeace, etc. have gravitated to NDP politics. Such people have usually been human-centered and also believe that environmental policies can only be achieved by working with and massaging the existing economic and political system.

This behaviour, while sometimes “successful” in the short term, upholds the very legitimacy of the industrial capitalist system which has created the ecological and social problems in the first place. So these mainstream environmentalists are “system loyalists,” not ecocentric radicals.

The GP should not quiver before the pronouncements of such people but, instead, see if there are any grains of truth in any unflattering comparisons between the NDP and the Green Party. Unfortunately, many GP members do not seem to have an activist environmental history and appear to be, if not in total denial, easily intimidated by the spokespersons of the mainstream environmentalists.

At the same time, we need to understand the basic political point that there is some competition for a particular coveted social base between the NDP and the GP. While ecological justice for all species needs to be primary for the federal GP, the party must also uphold social justice for the human species.

The NDP, because of its overall orientation, cannot be an ecological party.

For deeper greens, the social justice aspect often gives way to ecological justice. This will never be true for the NDP. The NDP, while having this social justice past, if called upon by the business class has always defended the interest of Capital. They have no alternative economic model other than a more fettered Capitalism, rooted in more economic growth.

They have not hesitated in the past to bring in “back-to-work” legislation to break workers’ strikes. NDP radicals have filled the pages of Canadian Dimension for about 30 years now, moaning about how various progressive policies have been neutralized or betrayed by the party hierarchy, but they still end up casting their ballots for this party.

The cold war has now, hopefully, passed but the NDP always bent over backwards to prove its “loyalty” to the western economic and political model, e.g. the rabid anti-communism of David Lewis, the former federal NDP leader. Today another rabid but holier-than-though social democrat would be Tony Blair, European front man for George Bush.

The role for a green left

What is the role for a green left either within the Green Party, or for those holdouts within the NDP, who cannot yet see the anti-ecology writing on the social democratic wall? Leading the move from a human-centered to an ecocentric consciousness is fundamental.

Ecocentric justice is much more inclusive than human justice. A Green Party has to decide about all this, not just how to run its affairs democratically, from a human-centered perspective. For the deep green, or ecocentric, left, what it means to be a “deeper” green, is therefore the primacy of ecocentric consciousness, that is, deep ecology; social justice, while very important, is secondary to such a consciousness. The left-right distinction is therefore secondary to the anthropocentric deep ecology divide.

Both the NDP and the left minimize individual responsibility for destructive social or ecological actions.

The NDP is committed to economic growth and consumerism within a capitalist, taken-for-granted economic framework. Within such a framework the corporations must always ultimately emerge victorious because they are seen as the only economic motor in town. This party is pro-capitalist and does not have a clue about what a different type of ecocentric economy might look like, a discussion which is supposedly ongoing in the GP. The NDP has no alternative economic model to that of the global market economy.

The NDP is totally human-centered in its overall orientation and will always put human interests first, particularly unionized workers’ interests, which still play a major role in the Party’s social base. The GP, at least theoretically, says it supports deep ecology and the much larger community of all life forms.

Everywhere the NDP has been in political power provincially; it has always worked within the industrial capitalist exploitive and expansionist paradigm, e.g. in forestry, agricultural and fisheries policies. Thus, in industrial forestry the NDP has been firmly in the clearcutting, spraying, and all-out support to the pulp mills camp. NDP interventions do have a bias towards workers’ interests but both worker and capitalist interests disregard the interests of the forests and their non-human inhabitants and degrade the forest base over the long term.

Both the NDP and the left minimize individual responsibility for destructive social or ecological actions. We need to place the welfare of the earth and all its life forms first. “Community” has to include not just humans but other animals, plants and the earth itself. In past animistic societies, this was the situation. We need to bring back their sense of earth-spirituality. There is not only a liberal capitalist democracy, with all its limitations for deeper greens, but there is also an ecocentric democracy and governance.

David Orton is affiliated with “Green Web,” an independent environmental research group with a biocentric perspective. He is a frequent contributor to Synthesis/Regeneration.

We need to fundamentally change Canada’s energy policy!

Press Release. January 5, 2006, Saltsprings, Pictou County

Green Party candidate David Orton says:

“We need to rapidly wean ourselves off fossil fuels, because the oil that underpins industrial society is now in decline worldwide, and present use of fossil fuels is causing climate change and global warming. Two-thirds of the oil and gas production goes south of the border. Moreover, because of NAFTA, our country is REQUIRED to supply the US, even if we have a critical shortage in our country. Some Canadian sovereignty!

“The world-wide decline of oil production has enormous implications for our industrial society, for how food is produced and transported around the world, and for manufacturing. Population increase has been one of the consequences of the fossil fuel age. The globalized economy is going to drastically shrink, as cheap oil becomes increasingly expensive and fought over by the rising industrial giants like China and India competing with the United States for whatever oil and natural gas supplies remain in the world.

“We should treat our own remaining oil and gas with reverence, to be used extremely circumspectly, as we seek a new local economy within Nature’s balance. We must heed the warnings—climate change is happening. This can be seen in the increasing and unusual weather disturbances, such as hurricanes which feed off warmer ocean temperatures; melting of arctic sea ice, permafrost and glaciers, etc. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that greenhouse gas emissions must be cut 50–70% if the atmosphere of the planet is to remain hospitable.

“Our fossil fuel extraction for export to the US is wrong. It goes to a country which uses up to 25% of the world’s daily oil production for about 5% of the world’s population, and produces about 25% of the world’s greenhouse gases. Isn’t this economic and ecological madness on Canada’s part? Here in the Maritimes, we also have to be concerned about liquid natural gas (LNG) terminals and tankers. In Canada, natural gas production has had its own peak and is probably declining. Now we see a promotion of LNG terminals in our region, after having vastly overstated the extent of the Sable Gas Project.

“Yet, we are opening up our region to potentially highly dangerous LNG tankers (think 1917 Halifax explosion!). Maritimers have little knowledge of the dangers involved with shipping of liquefied natural gas, which will be coming our way from countries such as Russia, Algeria, Qatar, and Trinidad. For LNG tanker transport, natural gas is cooled and greatly reduced in volume, making it liquid.

“At the LNG terminal, the liquid is warmed and becomes a gas again as it enter the pipeline system. With this additional gas, there will be more compressor stations and ‘pipeline looping.’ Thus the pipeline expansion will further disrupt the ecology and the lives of Nova Scotians and New Brunswickers on the pipeline route. All this is coming our way, if we don’t organize to stop it!”


1. The Waffle was a socialist and nationalist group within the NDP whose leaders were Mel Watkins and James Laxter. It was established in 1969 and reflected the new-left politics of the time. The Waffle group was ultimately purged from the electoral party.

2. “Shallow” here means thinking that the major ecological problems can be resolved within and with the continuation of industrial capitalist society

[24 apr 06]

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