Our Parliament, specifically our ruling party, has gone totally off the rails. I missed this exchange when I was away last month, but apparently the NDP was soft on Hitler, or at least the CCF was.
During the debate on the timing for bringing troops home from Afghanistan, first Stephen Harper, then Scott Armstrong and John Baird, invoked the stance of the founder of the CCF, the forerunner of the NDP.
From Hansard, Thursday, April 28, 2012
Right Hon. Stephen Harper (Prime Minister, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I have made myself very clear. Unlike the NDP, we are not going to ideologically have a position regardless of circumstances.
The leader of the NDP, in 1939, did not even want to support war against Hitler.
An hon. member: There was no NDP.
Right Hon. Stephen Harper: Okay, it was the CCF, same difference. Parties do change their names from time to time.
Our position is we will do what is in the best interests of Canada.
The following day,
Mr. Scott Armstrong (CPC)
The NDP leader stated this week that the NDP does not support this mission. This is not surprising from the left. In 1939, the leader of the CCF even said:
I would ask whether we are to risk the lives of our Canadian sons to prevent the action of Hitler….
Today the NDP still stands for radical ideas, reckless policy and dangerous left-wing ideology.
Hon John Baird (CPC)
The NDP do not support sending troops abroad for anything. Let us look at what the former leader of the NDP CCF said. “…I would ask whether we are to risk the lives of our Canadian sons to prevent the action of Hitler…”. The former leader of the NDP CCF, J.S. Woodsworth, said that.
I fail to understand how the statements of an individual in 1939 have any bearing on the politics of today. He certainly didn’t speak for his party as he was the only one of 17 CCF members to maintain that stance. Nor do I understand the connection between Afghanistan in the 21st century with Germany of the mid-20th.
Perhaps Harper, Armstrong, and Baird were attempting to slight the memory and legacy of James Shaver Woodsworth, one of the most principled men to sit in the House of Commons.
Woodsworth was a Methodist preacher who struggled the church over its focus on spiritualism and the afterlife instead of alleviating suffering today. The use of the pulpit promoting WWI was the final straw for this pacifist, and he went to work as a longshoreman in BC. He opposed sending Canadian men overseas in 1914, and was a strong supporter or workers’ rights. He spoke at the Winnipeg Strike of 1919 and took over the publication of the Western Labour News when the original editors were imprisoned.
In 1921, he was elected to parliament and in 1933 became leader of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) a party he helped found. In 1939, he was the only member to vote against participation in what he saw as a European war that did not concern Canadians. The party, under his leadership, and in the years following his death in 1942, was instrumental in developing social programs including Old-age pensions (1927) unemployment insurance (1940) and family allowance (1944).
Woodsworth was not a perfect man as he opposed black and oriental immigration into Canada. He was proven wrong on the WWII debate, but there is no question that he was a deeply principled man willing to risk unpopularity for consistency. Woodsworth was unquestionably one of the leaders in establishing many of the social programs that most of us consider to be defining characteristics of our country.
Was this a deliberate attack discussed in caucus? With the PM, a Minister, and a third member using almost identical phrasing, it is a question that should be asked. We can, I hope, accept hyperbole in the heat of debate. However, this seems like a coordinated effort to discredit the history of the CCF/NDP.
Admittedly, I don’t have a record of all partisan slurs over the history of Canadian politics, but this one seems particularly egregious.