The world needs social democracy now more than ever

Ed Broadbent: Just as a better world emerged after the Great Depression, we now have the opportunity to create a country that works for all Canadians. Find out how to do it.

Ed Broadbent is chairman of the Broadbent Institute and author of the Broadbent Principles for Canadian Social Democracy

As the world bounces back on its feet from the deadly COVID pandemic, lessons need to be learned and inspiration to be drawn from our past.

After the Great Depression, people and their governments began to set up the social systems that support our quality of life to this day. In Canada and around the world, it was a relatively new political movement – social democracy – that led these charges. Public health care has been established in the UK and Canada. In the United States, Roosevelt’s New Deal built much-needed infrastructure, created millions of jobs, and established workers’ right to union.

Just as previous generations built a better world out of the ravages of the 1930s, so now we have the opportunity to create a country that works for all Canadians.

The crises we face – whether uneven economic outcomes, racism and discrimination, climate change and environmental degradation, and declining democratic participation – require an activist public sector and a strong civil society to resolve them. While we are working with a market-oriented economy, we must avoid a market-oriented society.

In considering the critical and intricate work ahead, Canadian Social Democrats should adhere to the following six principles for ongoing action:

Promotion of economic and social rights in addition to political rights.

Socialists believe that human rights are not limited to traditional, albeit critically important, civil and political rights, but include the ability to live in dignity, without poverty and with access to essential services. Because of this, Canadian Social Democrats have always been at the forefront of expanding rights to social and economic rights. We have led the struggle for comprehensive health care as a right, the most recent iteration of this multi-generational struggle being the campaign for universal pharmacy.

Creating a green economy that leaves no one behind.

Climate change is an existential crisis. As the world economy decarbonizes over the next few decades, social democrats must ensure that this process leads to good new jobs and that those in polluting industries get a “just transition.”

The transformative potential of the election of social democratic governments in response to robust social movements.

Lasting social change can only be achieved by harnessing the creativity and power of social movements and ensuring that progressives are elected so that they can rule for the common good. Social Democrats therefore work tirelessly for change within and outside of the election periods.

Democracy in the workplace, including the right to trade union and the fundamental role of the labor movement.

The trade union movement is one of the few democratic forces that can defend itself against the excesses of capital. As such, unions are good for our society as a whole, not just for their members. As jobs change, it is more important than ever that workers have access to basic needs, such as paid sick days, to enable them to live in dignity. Social democrats should also make room for other forms of economic democracy such as cooperatives.

The dismantling of structural systems of oppression.

We must actively dismantle historical and persistent structural barriers – including but not limited to racism and sexism – that prevent people from living dignified lives and from realizing their full rights. The rise of right-wing populism and the bigotry that goes with it have made the moral reasons for the eradication of white supremacy clearer than ever. The pandemic highlighted the need to address the persistent pay gap and undervaluation of care work and other gender-based work.

Fully implement the rights and titles of indigenous peoples and support their goal of achieving self-government.

Canadian Social Democrats proudly partnered with indigenous leaders to insist on inclusion. 35 in Canada’s Constitutional Law to recognize and reaffirm the inherent and comprehensive rights of the First Nations, Inuit and M├ętis in that country, including Aboriginal rights, contract rights, charter rights and human rights. Given that Canada and some provinces are now trying to put the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law, this is the decade to resolve underfunding of essential services and finally deliver on repeated failed promises.

For over a century, social democracy has sought to create a better life for everyone. We have made some progress, but much remains to be done and COVID has cleared the challenge that lies ahead. Are we restoring a status quo that left too many people behind, or are we repairing the holes in our society that the pandemic has so clearly exposed? We know what the answer should be.

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