By Christopher (Chris) Wanamaker
The New Brunswick NDP Socialist Caucus has taken off beyond anything that William Blanchette expected.
“The Caucus is amazing,” said Blanchette, the NB New Democratic Parrty Executive Director and Secretary-Treasurer. “It’s bringing in people who otherwise would not show up and is producing fine-tuned policies that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.”
Blanchette has been concerned for some time about what he saw as the party’s drift to the center of the political spectrum, and saw the need for special advocacy groups to bring it back to the left.
He proposed to the party executive last July the setting up of Caucuses. Realizing that a lot of people find typical party meetings boring, it occurred to him that forming the bodies could be a good way to attract new people and come up with fresh policy ideas. However, instead of first setting up a group and asking the party executive to recognize it officially, as is normally the case, Blanchette asked it to pre-approve the groups.
With the executive’s blessing, a request for interest was sent to party members. With a great deal of positive feedback, founding meetings were organized. At the first Socialist Caucus meeting in December an SC executive was formed, including the election of co-chair Chris Wanamaker.
An active member of Socialist Action Canada, an organization of revolutionary socialists across the Canadian state, Wanamaker hopes to help bridge the gap between what is happening with socialist initiatives throughout the country and what is happening provincially within the NB NDP. To that end, a NB Caucus member, John Nuttall joined the cross-country NDP Socialist Caucus federal steering committee, and NB member Greg Cook set up a Facebook page to spark discussion of socialist ideas.
Ten to 12 people turned out for each of three Socialist Caucus meetings in Fredericton and Saint John, NB since December of last year, with a core group of six who have participated in each meeting. For the NB NDP, which failed to win a seat in the provincial legislature in the last election, the level of interest seems remarkable.
About 12 people showed up for the second meeting in January. The meeting ended just before a scheduled protest against war on Iran nearby, outside Saint John City Hall. Most of the participants joined a crowd already gathered with protest signs on a cold, winter day. Some Caucus members gave rousing speeches on the issue. The protesters then marched to the nearby local MP’s office, where they voiced their concerns to him in person.
More recently the Caucus has passed a number of resolutions that will be considered at the next NB policy convention, including one on the need to nationalize Irving and other industries in New Brunswick, as well as one to provide housing to end homelessness in New Brunswick.
“If we’re really going to go left, nationalization has to be the starting point,” said Blanchette. “Because of the nature of economic control in New Brunswick, the Irvings are an obvious target, but I think we also need to move beyond that.
“We’re also going to say outright ‘If you don’t have a home, we’re going to be giving you one.’ The NDP would either purchase or build enough dwellings to house all the homeless in New Brunswick.”
Other Caucuses Blanchette proposed are also making progress. The LGBTQ+ and environmental Caucuses have passed resolutions, and the youth and organized labour Caucuses have held meetings.
Blanchette sees the Caucuses as a major way to rebuild the NDP, which he believes is already improving its position.
“We’re approaching double digit numbers in public opinion polls,” he said, “and financially, we’re in better shape than we were just a year ago. Given a little bit of time, I think we will be well-positioned for the next election.”