ONDP’s Horwath shifts slightly to the left

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.  Moreover, it took a successful floor challenge to the resolutions appeal committee, which tried to bury these linked issues in a long list of motions.

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 sidelined 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.  This was 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 Ryan and the left generated.  Sadly, on April 26, Ryan pulled the plug on his potential candidacy, citing personal reasons, plus his lack of French.

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 did well.  They 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 lack of cooperation from the party brass, the SC seized and enjoyed the use of a good space for a literature table and banner.

Conclusion apparent:  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 showing the progress of efforts to construct a revolutionary presence inside the actually existing workers’ movement in English Canada.

by Barry Weisleder