With the federal New Democratic Party convention in Halifax this weekend, we can expect to hear many fervent appeals to "ordinary Canadians" - perhaps an even more anachronistic part of NDP liturgy than the party's name itself. Who are these ordinary Canadians that NDP Leader Jack Layton references every time he speaks? How can they be distinguished from Canadians who aren't ordinary? Could they be the 20 per cent of the people in this country who usually vote for the NDP? Could they be the 80 per cent who never will?
The party's ritual concern for ordinary Canadians carries with it a certain patronizing tone, as though ordinary Canadians are well motivated but can't quite understand things on their own, can't quite make it on their own. Perhaps some Canadians can't, but there aren't nearly enough of them to elect a national government. Whatever the explanation, the anthem emphatically separates the leaders of the party from the people they purport to lead. By deduction and by definition, leaders of political parties are not ordinary Canadians. Ergo, they must be extraordinary. It is this implicit superiority that has long permitted the NDP to promote itself, however implausibly, as the conscience of the country.
This isn't anything new to democratic socialism in Canada, which has always taken its intellectual and moral superiority as a given. J.S. Woodsworth, the first leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (predecessor of the NDP), was an Oxford-educated Methodist minister. This precedent - the union of church and state - turned into tradition. In the 1960s, the United Church finally found itself famously defined as "the NDP at prayer." But, by then, the gig was almost up. The church and the party have since struggled to retain relevance. Canadians no longer confuse Marxist economics with morality.
However brilliant they may have been, the intellectual socialists of the Dirty Thirties were wrong - and their respect for the common man was suspect. When the CCF met for its inaugural convention in 1933, Mr. Woodsworth was compelled to explain to the 140 delegates why the party's founding document - the Regina Manifesto, with its promise to "eradicate capitalism" - had already been written. Why not permit ordinary Canadians to amend it? "The untrained masses," he explained, "are incompetent to pass judgment upon the complicated problems of capitalism."
Could the revered Mr. Woodsworth have actually uttered such a condescending statement? Perhaps. His statement was published in a report on the convention published by Worker's Age, a Communist newspaper in New York. But perhaps not. The reporting delegate was himself an executive member of the Communist Party of Canada and boasted in his report that he had "gone to the mat" to reverse the CCF's repudiation of violent revolution.
Yet what would these legendary democratic socialists have done had ordinary Canadians entrusted the country to them? The 1933 Regina Manifesto tells us in precise detail. It declared that "the first step to a socialized economy" would be the creation of a national planning commission - consisting of "a small body of economists, engineers and statisticians assisted by appropriate technical staff" - to run the Canadian economy. The commission would plan the production, distribution and exchange "of all goods necessary to the efficient functioning of the economy."
The manifesto decreed that a national investment board would replace Canada's "financial machinery" - banks, currency, credit and insurance. It would "direct the unused surpluses of production for socially desired purposes as determined by the national planning commission." All the profits, in other words, would flow to the federal government and its small, elite group of planners. (In the socialist state, the manifesto asserted, the infamous "rigidity of the civil service" would simply not occur.)
The manifesto listed other industries that required state ownership and control: transportation, electric power, mining, pulp and paper, the distribution of milk, bread, coal and gasoline - and newspapers. But a CCF government would not stop with the takeover of industry. "The welfare of the community must take supremacy over ... private wealth," the manifesto declared. "In times of war, human life has been conscripted. Should economic circumstances call for it, conscription of wealth would be more justifiable."
The expropriation of people's savings aside, the government would not need to tax people's incomes much longer, the manifesto said: "We propose that all public works, as directed by the planning commission, shall be financed by the issuance of credit ... based upon the national wealth of Canada." The government would simply print the money it needed - an apparently brilliant way to avoid paying interest on the national debt.
The CCF did officially abandon this socialist creed, exchanging it in 1956 for Keynesianism, a merely statist creed. Canadians should nevertheless be grateful to the ordinary Canadians who showed no interest whatsoever in building a utopian socialist state. As it turned out, they saved the country from a terrible disaster. But the NDP has never wavered in its long misguided campaign for bigger government. It does gain scattered votes with its promises of more government spending, but then it shares this quintessential immorality with all political parties.