Canadian Social Democracy Study

         

Canada’s NDP’s New Preamble Embraces
a Diversity of Ways to Pursue the Common Good

The central insight of social democracy is a simple one: a person can only succeed and thrive when she is connected to a community that is thriving and flourishing around her. Over time, as the consequences of destructive human activities on the environment around us grew more apparent, a second and equal insight like the first arose. A person and her community can only thrive and succeed when they are connected to an environment that is thriving and succeeding with them.

And Canada’s New Democrats, as Canada’s social democratic political party, are a great force for change in this direction. In governments in provinces such as my own Saskatchewan under Premiers Douglas, Lloyd, Blakeney, Romanow, and Calvert, we have applied our philosophy in practical and diverse ways. I grew up under the social democratic governments of Romanow and Calvert, and saw how my family and my community benefited by the tremendous record of Saskatchewan’s New Democrats. I lived in a province where the budget was balanced and debt repaid, where the taxes my family paid were lowered, where Crown Corporations thrived, where public services expanded, where new businesses were started and more jobs were created, and where action on climate change was began. That’s what social democrats can do when we win the trust of people and govern on their behalf.

Social democrats over the years have adopted many strategies to achieve our vision. When our movement began, we sought to achieve our vision with ideas such as those that found themselves in the old preamble of Canada’s New Democrats. In that old preamble we opposed the pursuit of profit on principle, instead we supported the bizarre goal “to modify and control the operations of the monopolistic productive and distributive organizations through economic and social planning. Towards these ends and where necessary the extension of the principle of social ownership.”

Call me a social democrat, but those words of the old preamble leave me uninspired. It sounds like we are just replacing entrepreneurs with bureaucrats and calling it a day. In the NDP’s old preamble, there was a confusion of ends with means. There was no problem that another government program, a new Crown Corporation, or more regulation couldn’t solve. By contrast, our new preamble commits us to a more limited “role for government in helping to create the conditions for sustainable prosperity” where government acts decisively for the common good in the fields where it makes sense, while leaving room for actors outside of government to help deliver a better society. We are no longer pretending that government can ever have all of the answers. It is a vision of a society where we all succeed together.

A vision for social democracy today needs to articulate our core aspiration, one of pursuing “the common good.” Pursuing the common good does not mean slavishly committing ourselves to an ever-expanding government at the expense of the private sector. The common good means a society where markets, communities, and the environment flourish and succeed together. At times, governments may use public ownership to purse the common good and, at other times, they may choose methods like expanding social programs, or providing incentives for private sector growth. The whole point of social democracy is that we can have a market economy without having a society ruled solely by market values. Social democrats must be flexible in our choice of mechanisms to incrementally achieve this goal.
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Under the old preamble, the means - public ownership and a planned economy - became an end in and of themselves. Consequently, the old preamble directed us to pursue out-dated policies just because they were in our constitution. We were locked into one way of pursuing the common good when a diversity of ways exists.

Our new preamble clearly orients Canada’s New Democrats towards the things that truly matter, for sustainable prosperity, for social and economic justice, and for international cooperation.

As a social democrat and as a Canadian, there is nothing I can be more proud of than to say that “Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. New Democrats are Canadians who believe we can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity.”

That is what Canadian social democracy looks like, and I am proud to have a preamble to match.

Mitchell Anderson is a student pursuing a Master of Divinity at St. Andrew’s College and a Master of Business Administration at the Edwards School of Business, both at the University of Saskatchewan. He has held a number of leadership positions within Canada’s New Democrats at the provincial and national levels.

 

 

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University of Saskatchewan St. Thomas More College, U of S

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada

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