By Barry Weisleder
Possibly the most memorable event at the New Democratic Party federal convention, October 13-15, 2023 occurred outside the convention hall, in an adjoining corridor. As NDP leader Jagmeet Singh spoke to under 1,000 delegates (a smaller than usual NDP federal convention), about twenty Palestinian youths and supporters tried to enter the third-floor corridor. Private security personnel blocked most of them in a stair well. A handful broke through, but only after security assaulted the two Palestinian spokespersons, putting one in a headlock and pushing the woman spokesperson twice, once down the stairs.
This was reported in local media as demonstrators’ “assault on security”. With the aid of a small megaphone, they read a statement, punctuated by chanting and clapping, to demand a halt to the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and an end to the 75-year Occupation. They obstructed no one in the corridor. Several members of the Socialist Caucus noticed the protest and chanted or clapped along. There were easily more NDP staff and media personnel there than protest supporters. Nonetheless, party officials Anne McGrath and Jennifer Howard targeted four SC members, including this writer.
They told us that we could no longer attend the convention because we had violated the party’s harassment and safety policy due to “screaming and yelling.” While socialists supported the demands of the protest, they did not organize it. What’s more, the chanting could barely be heard inside the main hall with heavy doors closed.
Absolutely no interruption of NDP convention proceedings occurred. But two Socialist Caucus candidates for federal executive, Elizabeth Byce who was nominated to run for federal treasurer, and Shiam Abdelaal for Vice-President, were not allowed to contest those positions. So, instead of conducting a vote, the election chairperson proceeded to acclaim the pro-establishment nominees.
In other elections, the SC candidate for party president, Flo Schade, received 17 per cent of the votes cast. In the race for BC rep to the federal executive, Stephen Crozier garnered 37 per cent. SC candidates in other regional caucus elections, and in several equity-seeking committees, such as LGBTQI and DisAbilities caucuses, did similarly well.
On the policy front, SC-promoted resolutions did not make it into the top ten in any of the six categories due to block voting orchestrated by union bureaucrats and pro-status quo Electoral District Associations. Top party officials denied requests for access to delegates’ contact data, so it was difficult to reach most delegates with reasons to support SC priority motions.
Nonetheless, persistent pressure from the left did have a visible impact. The Liberal-NDP Confidence and Supply deal, which the SC opposed in principle, is now apparently at risk over universal pharma-care. NDP health critic Don Davies got a standing ovation when he told the convention that if the Liberals don’t soon pass legislation to create a universal, single-payer pharmacare system, the NDP “will absolutely bail” on the agreement to keep the Liberals in power through June 2025.
Agents of political repression stalked the convention, but did not succeed on the floor. Delegates rejected an NDP Executive power grab attempt. Voters gave a big NO to a motion to allow the top brass to put party EDAs in administrative take over. Another motion submitted by the Steelworkers’ Union to enable the Executive to expel an NDP member whose actions “bring the party into disrepute” did not make it to the floor.
Support for Jagmeet Singh took a dip. Only 81 per sent voted confidence in the federal NDP leader. That is a conspicuous drop from 90.7% in 2018, and 87.2% in 2021. And the drop would have been greater had some delegates not been barred from voting. Singh is identified with the Liberal pact. If he doesn’t strongly differentiate from the Bay Street Liberals, he will continue to fall and he will take the NDP down with him.
An emergency resolution adopted on Palestine calls for ceasefire, for an end to the murderous bombardment of Gaza by the Zionist state. The incorporated ceasefire demand, which was absent from the initial statement by NDP foreign affairs critic Heather McPherson, was evidently the product of agitation by socialists and Palestinians.
Delegates approved a number of progressive policies. They made a commitment to search for Indigenous human remains in dump sites, which challenges racism by putting justice before power and money. Pro-choice policy on abortion, and Trans rights for gender diverse kids carried the day.
Students rallied at the mics to win a motion to cut university fees rapidly, insisting on no retreat from existing party policy. An adopted UFCW-backed resolution seeks to strengthen labour rights of temporary foreign workers.
Much more could have been achieved if not for so many status quo guest speakers and such a plethora of pointless panels.
One big shot, Premier David Eby, was surreally silent on poisonous pipelines that traverse unceded Indigenous lands, and utterly mute on his disgraceful acclamation as BC NDP leader.
In-person speakers included Canadian Labour Congress President Bea Bruske, Marit Stiles, Leader of Ontario’s NDP, Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath, and via video, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (who collaborates with the big business/imperialist Democratic Party), and newly-elected NDP Premier of Manitoba Wab Kinew.
Prior to each policy block a panel of MPs intoned exhaustively on existing party policy. At 15 minutes each, times 6 blocks, that killed 90 minutes of debate time. Another retrograde feature of the convention was an electronic poll (largely non-functional) seeking delegates’ opinion on policy – mind you, a non-binding poll in each subject area. So, the bureaucrats found many ways to reduce policy debate time to less than 6 hours in a convention that spanned 20 hours. In other words, less than 30 per cent of the total available time was reserved for delegates to have their say.
Remarkably, the first policy debate began on Friday, over 2 1/2 hours after the official start of the Convention. The entire gathering is best described as a demonstration of dialog avoidance. The lack of remote participation, that is, the top-down imposition of a non-hybrid assembly, sealed the deal.
Flo Schade, Hans Modlich, Julius Arscott, John Orrett, and this writer moved referrals with instructions to improve certain resolutions. The chair ruled that the referrals failed. But the vote of delegates who raised their large plastic registration cards high, looked awfully close in some cases.
The Socialist Caucus hosted two evening public forums and proved to be the backbone of the left, impacting the political discourse. A predicted ‘Big Tent coalition’ was a no-show.
Turn Left magazine was widely read, the most snazzy-looking hand-out on offer. Delegates spent hundreds of dollars for socialist booklets, buttons, and donations to the radical press.
SC leaders did interviews with multiple major mass media. This writer spoke to a mass pro-Palestine solidarity rally of well over one thousand at Hamilton City Hall on October 15. The overall socialist message was not diluted, despite “feedback” from some conservative delegates that they find talk about Palestine, NATO and Ukraine objectionable.
Clearly, the aim of socialists is to raise class consciousness. It is to challenge the party bureaucracy. It is to fight for radical change, not to tailor political intervention to the lowest common denominator. Leftists who conceded to pro-capitalist views in the past just faded and disappeared into the night.
But the growing strength of socialist ideas is evident in these hard times, and will be even more evident in upcoming provincial NDP and labour gatherings, and at the next federal NDP convention in 2025.
The struggle for a Workers’ Agenda, for a workers’ government, for democracy and socialism in the workers’ movement continues!