A short report on the Ontario NDP Convention… and related texts

During the three days of the Ontario NDP Convention, April 21-23 at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the party’s left wing won several significant policy and procedural victories. Leader Andrea Horwath adapted to the situation, somewhat desperate to present a progressive face to the sparse crowd, and to a somewhat indifferent electorate. The provincial Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne is in crisis, while the Tories led by Patrick Brown hold the lead in the latest opinion polls.

‘Pharmacare for Everyone’ is now a central plank in the NDP platform for the 2018 Ontario provincial election. Dental Care was part of the same policy adopted, but so far is being ignored by Horwath. Still, the gain registered for free medical drugs coverage is major, and it is in large part due to the foundation building work and steady agitation of the Socialist Caucus over the past five years. It took a successful floor challenge to the resolutions appeal committee, which tried to bury these linked issues.

Similarly, delegates raised the priority of a resolution calling for free post-secondary education, and passed it handily. This was a welcome riposte to Horwath who buried a similar policy adopted at the previous provincial convention. A motion calling for a big increase in welfare rates carried too. In the mandatory Leadership Review vote, 89 per cent said no to opening up a leadership contest – hardly a surprise given that the next provincial election is a mere 14 months away. Noteworthy is the fact that over 11 per cent expressed non-confidence in Horwath so late in the process, reflecting simmering discontent with the 2014 ONDP election campaign and the leader’s performance since then.

Former OFL President Sid Ryan made two inspiring speeches at a floor mic. One called for public ownership of Hydro in its entirety. That prompted Horwath to quote Ryan, somewhat sheepishly but approvingly, and state that the party will strive for public ownership of both electricity generation and transmission lines in Ontario.

Scores of delegates wore SID stickers, encouraging him to run for federal NDP Leader. The four registered NDP Leader candidates (Peter Julian, Niki Ashton, Guy Caron and Charlie Angus) cruised the outer hallway, chatting and glad-handing, but not matching the excitement that Sid and the left generated.

Socialist Caucus members distributed nearly 600 copies of Turn Left magazine, and collected over $245 in donations. And that was quite an achievement, given that this ONDP convention was rather poorly attended. According to the Credentials Committee, only 738 delegates arrived, out of 1059 who “registered”, and 1347 who were eligible to participate. An underwhelming turnout of 54 per cent of those eligible to be delegates should be a source of concern for the party brass.

Socialist Caucus and Momentum candidates for provincial Executive received 7.4 to 40 per cent of the votes cast by delegates in a range of elections, held either on the main floor or in regional caucus meetings. Dirka Prout, John Orrett, Jason Baines and this writer earned the best results. This represents an improvement on our average scores at the federal NDP convention in Edmonton in April 2016.

The low attendance resulted in a dip in sales of socialist newspapers and literature. Despite a stiff lack of cooperation from the party brass, the SC seized and enjoyed the use of a good space for a literature table and banner.

Even at an ONDP convention such as this, it is clear that radical socialists can count on a significant base of support, demonstrating strong roots, and the progress of efforts to construct a revolutionary presence inside the actually existing workers’ movement in English Canada.

by Barry Weiesleder. Barry was one of the Socialist Caucus candidates for ONDP Vice President, receiving 17.1 per cent of the votes cast.

Bon matin. Je m’appel Barry Weisleder. (Good morning. My name is Barry Weisleder.) I am a teacher, union organizer, writer, editor, a 48-year member of the party and chair of the Socialist Caucus. In the face of capitalist austerity and the rise of right wing populism and racism, the NDP should answer those vultures with socialist policy and action. La probleme, c’est le systeme capitaliste. La solution est se briser le pouvoir des grandes entreprises. (The problem is the capitalist system. The solution is to break the stranglehold of big business.) The ruling rich think nothing of breaking their promises, gutting the steel industry, closing a diesel plant, shutting mines and mills, just to plunder resources abroad for bigger profits, without a thought for the good of nature and humanity.

To win democratic control of resources and the economy, we need to start with party democracy. We need to replace cynicism and centralization with humanism and democracy. We need leadership that will fight for socialist solutions to the crisis that is being used so cynically by Capital to destroy a century of working class rights and gains.

Status quo politics will only alienate those who want real social change. More openness and transparency is needed. More membership in-put, including more time for policy debate. More respect for riding associations and for local decision-making. We need to be bold. ‘Abolish university fees’ is adopted party policy. So why has it been hidden? I don’t see the Executive as a purely administrative body. It should be the members’ voice. It should hold the legislative Caucus accountable and true to adopted policies.

It’s high time Ontario stopped bailing out the rich, and started bailing out the workers who produce the goods and services essential to our lives. As Tommy Douglas famously said, ‘Don’t trust the cats to run mouse land’. We strive for a cooperative commonwealth that puts human needs and environmental protection ahead of private profits.

As Vice-President, I will urge the party at all levels to lead the break from carbon and nuclear energy towards a Green, Industrial Revolution. Our task is to phase out regressive taxes, and replace them with a steeply progressive tax, not just on salaries, but on corporate profits, capital gains, inheritance and financial transactions. We are champions of public education, and that means funding programmes and resources for all learners in a secular and inclusive setting. No longer should Ontario fund separate religious schools. We are champions of public health care. That means stopping P3s, and ensuring that medical drugs are available when and where needed through a publicly owned pharmaceutical industry. Yes, it’s time for free post-secondary education, and to cancel student debt. If you want socialism and democracy, vote for change, and let’s work together for a radically better world.

Below is a socialist commentary on the housing crisis, an issue that was featured in discussions at the ONDP convention.

Ontario is in the midst of a housing crisis. The vacancy rate for rental properties is below 1%. The housing stock for potential buyers is unaffordable. Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz blames the rapid increase in house prices – 33% over the last 12 months – on speculators. While condos are flipped, or sit empty, Toronto’s seniors are at an increasingly high risk of eviction and homelessness because of a lack of accessible supports. In 2003, it took an average of eight years to save for a 20% down payment on a typical Ontario home; today it takes almost twice as long – and that’s for the lucky minority with full-time jobs. In the GTA, 52% of workers are employed in precarious work, often without benefits, pension or even minimum wage.

What does the Ontario Finance Minister say about “the supply problem”? Charles Sousa said, “We don’t want to interfere terribly in these matters … this is a free market after all.”

This is the same free market that allows Bombardier, which can’t deliver trains on time, which is laying off thousands of workers and shifting some of its manufacturing to Mexico, to award its multi-millionaire top executives a 50% pay raise.

This is the same free market in which the Halifax Chronicle Herald keeps its reporters, photographers, editors and support staff on strike for over a year, denying their request for a modest wage increase – the same Herald that just bought 27 newspapers in Atlantic Canada.

This is the free market that cannot provide affordable quality childcare, or affordable, safe medical drugs, or low cost cable TV, or basic banking service without high pressure sales tactics. This is the system that allows United Airlines and other carriers to over-book, and to drag a paying customer off an overbooked flight. This is the system that encourages hundreds of big businesses to stash their cash in off-shore tax havens to avoid paying the taxes needed to fund basic human needs.

This rotten, exploitative system cries out for democratic interference.

In terms of housing, government action is urgently needed – and it must go far beyond extending rent controls. By the way, can you guess who allowed rents to rise, up to 9% a year, and granted a five-year exemption to rentals coming onto the market after 1991? That’s right, it was the Bob Rae NDP government. Mike Harris made it permanent, and the Liberals retained the exemption.

Desperately needed is a massive house building programme. It should be run by a public land development firm and a public construction industry, under the democratic control of workers and our communities. And we don’t need any seven-figure CEO at the top.

The free market is a lie. Reliance on it is foolhardy. Increasingly, homelessness, precarious work, massive inequality, war and environmental disaster are what capitalism has to offer. Only socialist solutions can put homes before bombs, put green energy before carbon fuel slavery, and create a better world. The NDP should fight for socialist solutions, not half measures to keep a dying system on life support. Let’s go into the next election pledging to build half a million new homes under public ownership.

by Mitchell Shore. Mitchell ran at the Ontario NDP Convention for Executive Officer At Large, on the Socialist Caucus team.

Good morning sisters and brothers. My name is Mitchell Shore and I am running for Executive Member-at-Large. I am life-long socialist. I have been involved with the NDP for over 25 years and I am proud member of the NDP Socialist Caucus.

I am also the husband of a beautiful Korean immigrant and the father of two school-aged children. And I know from personal experience the challenges that new Canadians face in terms of getting settled in our province and the difficulties that students face on a daily basis due to lack of adequate funding for schools. WE CAN AND MUST DO BETTER!

In 2013, I was diagnosed with brain cancer. I had surgery to remove the tumor. But I had to pay THOUSANDS of dollars to cover the cost of my chemotherapy. That is why Andrea’s announcement yesterday to develop the first public pharmaceutic system in Canada was such welcome news to me! And this is something that the Socialist Caucus has been championing for years. But we must ensure that the party sticks to this commitment and makes it happen during our first term in power.

We need to build a party that is not scared to work with unions and social protest movements. We need a party that will work day-in day-out on behalf of the everyday Canadians.The ruling rich think nothing of breaking promises, closing their plants, while LAUGHING at us as they run away from Ontario with our public subsidies lining their pockets.

There is no need for another business party in this province. This is already over-crowded territory. The NDP needs to CLEARLY distinguish itself from the other parties. We need to return to being a party that is truthfully and honestly willing to take up the struggle against the rich and their elite interests. Otherwise, we will continue to be lost in the cold, lonely wilderness of opposition forever…And I don’t think anybody here wants to keep on going this way.

We need to return to being a party that is not afraid to speak the truth to power. A party that is PROUD, to fight for real, meaningful SOCIALIST solutions to a seemingly never ending economic crisis. A crisis that is being used to justify neo-liberal attacks on our social programs and the rolling back of hard fought benefits and gains won by our union brothers and sisters. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!

I don’t see the Executive as a purely administrative body. It is a political body elected by the membership. One of it’s tasks is to be the voice of members. If elected, my job will be to hold the legislative Caucus accountable to policies we adopted here. I will urge the party to fight for a real socialist agenda. Including:

  • progressive taxation on corporate profits,
  • ensuring a true PUBLIC secular education system.
  • providing free post-secondary education and cancellation of student debt.
  • In addition to rent control, we also need to fight for a plan to build hundreds of thousands of new decent affordable housing units under public ownership.
  • And we need to nationalize the entire energy sector, with minimal compensation to the already wealthy shareholders.

If you want socialism and democracy, then my name is Mitchell Shore and I am asking for your vote.

Thank you!