Here, though, the Communists have been a little less radical than those in most parts of the world. When the party really started growing in popularity, during the Great Depression, they were calling for things like a minimum wage, unemployment insurance and a shorter workday. All of those policies would soon be adopted. And yet that didn't stop the Conservative government from declaring the party illegal, raiding its offices, jailing eight of its members including leader Tim Buck, and then sort of maybe trying to murder Buck in his prison cell. (The Toronto Dreams Project has the full version of that crazy story, "Crushing Mr. Communism", here.)
The public outrage in the wake of the attack forced the Prime Minster, R.B. Bennett, to back down. Buck was released; for a while he was something of a Canadian folk hero. And once the Soviet Union came in on our side of the Second World War, the Communists were more popular than ever — though the party was still technically illegal and temporarily forced to re-name themselves Labour-Progressive. They peaked at more than 2% in the polls, at a time when even the capitalists at Eaton's were putting together window displays dedicated to the glory of Joseph Stalin. The Cold War kind of killed all that goodwill, though. Buck retired from the leadership in the 1960s with his party sitting at about 0.05%.
Today, that's still about where they are. In the last federal election, the Communists ran 24 candidates and received about 3500 votes. That was 0.03% of the ballots cast. It put them 10th of the 19 parties who ran, with the Progressive Canadian Party right ahead of them and the Canadian Action Party right behind them. They are, however, victims of Communist vote splitting. They finished a few spots back of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninst), a newer organization founded in the '70s.
We recently spoke with the Communist Party's Dave Andrews, campaign coordinator, to talk about their views and get this thoughts on the current campaign.
How would you describe your party to a voter who isn't already familiar with it?
The Communist Party of Canada is the second oldest political party in Canada – formed in 1921. We have a long and proud history in the forefront of working class and progressive struggles for peace, jobs, democracy, sovereignty, social programs and socialism. In 2003, the CPC won a historic victory for democracy in Canada, by successfully challenging draconian changes to the Elections Act that required parties to field 50 candidates in elections or face deregistration and seizure of assets.
What kind of voter do you expect your party to appeal to?
We appeal to working families, who have a political awareness of the fundamental problems with capitalism and the need for socialism.
What do you think is the most important issue facing voters in this election?
The key issue is to defeat the Harper Conservatives – to block the right-wing agenda and prevent another Harper government. Alongside that, it is critical that voters elect a strong progressive block in Parliament, who can work with progressive movements outside Parliament and achieve real progressive change that puts people's needs before corporate greed.
What do you see as the least important issue currently distracting attention away from more vital ones?
The argument over the validity and stability of a coalition government is a ridiculous distraction. We do not hear Harper or the media complaining about coalition governments in Britain, Europe or Israel, do we?
What do you see as the biggest flaw in the way the country has been run over the last few years?
Harper has had a minority government that has been allowed to govern as a majority. Related to that, while the country has experienced the most terrible economic crisis in memory, the solutions implemented by the government have been in the interests of corporations and at the expense of working people and their communities.
What, in your opinion, are the important differences between your party and the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist)?
The CPC(ML) was formed in the 1970's, guided by a particular ideological trend, and is a separate party from the CPC. While our members may cooperate in the labour and social movements, we do not have formal relations or an alliance with the CPC(ML).
What's your party's attitude toward Communist governments in other parts of the world, particularly in Cuba, China and North Korea?
We have relations with the governments of all of these countries, although some are closer than others. In particular, we have a strong relation with the government of Cuba and a long history of solidarity with the Cuban revolution. While we may have differences of opinion with some policies that are adopted by socialist governments around the world, we recognize the right of the people in those countries to identify their own path for social and economic development. We are staunchly opposed to interference by imperialist countries in the affairs of any other country, including the socialist and socialist-oriented ones.
Your party has a long history in Canada, including, at times, being outlawed by the federal government and criticized for its close ties with Stalin. What's your attitude toward that history? What kind of relationship is there between today's party and the party of the mid-20th century?
We have learned much from the history of struggle for socialism in Canada and around the world. While today's Communist Party has drawn lessons from our own experience in the mid-20th century, we remain proud of our work and accomplishments. For a more complete description of our program and history, readers can visit our main web site at www.communist-party.ca and read our program.
Your platform promises major investments in public programs. What's your party's plan to fund these investments? What kind of impact will it have on taxes?
The two main vehicles for funding public programs are a 75% reduction in military spending (this would provide almost $16 billion per year) and progressive tax changes that place the burden on those most able to pay – corporations and the very wealthy. We would reduce, and even eliminate, taxes for lower income people.
What's your response to people who suggest that voting for a lesser-known political party is tantamount to throwing your vote away?
Interesting question – one that we are often asked. There are two important considerations here. First, in our electoral system, any vote that is not for the winning candidate could be considered “wasted” - even if the second place person loses by only one vote, the winner takes the entire prize. However, a better way of looking at this is to recognize that significant votes for “non-winning” candidates do, in fact, register with people. Consider, for example, the broadening awareness and discourse of environmental issues that accompanied increasing Green Party votes. In that same light, significant votes for Communist candidates will make a memorable statement to the winning candidate, to the public, and to the media about what issues and solutions a community has its eye on.
What is the biggest challenge you expect your party to face over the course of the campaign?
Media coverage. Small parties always struggle for this.
What has to have happened by the time the election is over for you to look back on it as a success?
If Stephen Harper is looking for work and the Communist Party has grown in both numbers and profile, we'll have a good basis for building a stronger struggle for progressive social change in Canada.
What are your long-term hopes for your party? Where would you like to see it in five or ten years?
In that period, it would be very positive if we were in a position to run candidates in all provinces. It would also be nice if everyone in the country understood that the most important election site was www.votecommunist.ca .
This is the eighth in a series of profiles we will be posting over the course of the campaign. Here are the others we have published so far:
Canadian Action Party, leader Christopher Porter here.
United Party of Canada, leader Brian Jedan, here.Marijuana Party of Canada, leader Blair T. Longley here.
Rhinoceros Party of Canada, leader Francois "Yo" Gound here.
Libertarian Party of Canada, VP of Political Action John Shaw here.
Pirate Party of Canada, former leader Jake Daynes here.
Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada, leader Liz White here.
Christian Heritage Party of Canada Executive Director Vicki Gunn here.
Communist Party of Canada (Marxist-Leninist) leader Anna DiCarlo here.