Communist speaks out

By Salima Stanley-Bhanji

As the third oldest political party in Canada with its origins dating to the 1920s, the Communist Party of Canada is about 600 members strong and includes Canada’s youngest election candidate, Anna-Celestrya Carr in the Winnipeg Centre riding. The party’s campaign slogan urges Canadians to “Put people before profits!”

Miguel Figueroa, leader of the Communist Party of Canada believes this should be the case. A man of short stature, some describe his aspirations as rather tall.

"What we are striving to do is to connect up the development of an immediate platform that addresses the concrete, immediate issues that working people have in this country right now, with a longer term perspective for fundamental change" explained Figueroa.

This platform includes the de-privatization of Air Canada, Petro-Canada, CN Rail and electric utility companies; global disarmament and a focus on putting nature before profits. It includes the maintaining and expanding of existing social programs and Medicare; eliminating taxes for income earners below $35,000 and promoting equality for Aboriginal peoples, the Quebecois and women.

"We wish to find more direct forms of democracy whereby Canadians could feel more empowered," explained Figueroa. "In terms of economic policies, we would take action against the transnationals in a fashion that would create the least amount of disruption.

"We are not in favour of nationalizing everything in existence," he added. "We would probably look at the most decisive sectors of the economy, basic industries like steel, the auto industry, telecommunications and energy and resources. In those key sectors we would look to build up public ownership under democratic control. There would still be many private enterprises."

Figueroa insists the typical connotations part and parcel with communism are a misrepresentation of what Canadian communism would entail.

"Our program is not socialist, it’s a call for immediate reforms that could be carried out under capitalism," said Figueroa. "But the ultimate thing is problems cannot be solved under capitalism, capitalism’s very essence is based on exploitation and repression. You can’t get rid of exploitation without getting rid of capitalism."

Dr. Keith Archer, a Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Calgary is doubtful of the party’s viability.

"There may be a lot of support in general for a policy, but parties come as a whole package and I think there is a lot of skepticism on that whole package of the communist party," maintained Archer. "[Communism] is equated in the public mind with very strong state control of individual activities and people’s lives. It is equated with the loss of individual freedom and loss of private property. It is difficult to envision the party making any significant headway here."

Acknowledging the challenges the residual impact of anti-communism has in North America, Figueroa remains positive.

"It is precisely with the youth, who have been less exposed to the propaganda that there is an increasing openness to the party," explained Figueroa. "We think that the prospects for growing the party now in new circumstances are improved, but there still is a lot anti-communism."

Archer agrees that anti-communist sentiment is still prevalent in Canada.

"I would be shocked if the Communist party won a single seat in the election," declared Archer.

"I don’t think they’ll even be close in any of the constituencies. The nice thing about living in a democracy is that people with a whole range of views have the opportunity to express those views. It just so happens that for the Communist party, their views are quite out of step with the belief systems of a lot of people."

With the upcoming election, Figueroa encourages voters to think twice before completing their ballots.

"As a voter, you want your vote to count," said Figueroa. "We think that people should use their vote to vote for what they want, not for the least of what they don’t want."

But even without the centre stage Martin/Harper battle, Archer views the feasibility of Figueroa’s party’s success as fanciful. Archer’s thoughts on the possibility of a future communist Canada: "Not in my lifetime."

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