Singh drifts left, Horwath treads water

by Barry W.

The convention was on Andrea Horwath’s home turf, but Jagmeet Singh stole the show.  The federal New Democratic Party leader grabbed national headlines when he spoke to Ontario NDP delegates about his New Deal for People.  It seeks to expand public health care to include universal pharma care by 2020, followed by free dental, vision, hearing, mental health services, long term home care and addictions treatment.  He proposes to pay for it by upping the federal corporate income tax from 15 to 18 per cent, and by creating a new, 1 per cent tax on people whose net worth is more than $20 million.  In a break from Tom Mulcair’s no-deficit, soft-austerity 2015 campaign, Singh vowed to fund green programs and infrastructure through a new $3 billion “climate bank”, to push to retrofit all buildings by 2050 (in the process creating 300,00 new jobs), and to build 500,000 new affordable housing units within a decade.

Ontario leader Horwath, on the other hand, demonstrated why her party is stagnant.  She repeatedly showcased her caucus of MPPs and paraded a bunch of talking heads.  They offered anti-Doug Ford rhetoric, decried wildfires and floodwaters, said ‘me-too’ for pharma care, and issued platitudes for a more just society.  Even her “Green New Democratic Deal” is mainly a 28-page discussion paper rather than a policy.  It fails (as does Singh) to challenge monopoly control of the carbon-fueled economy.

The ONDP and labour bureaucracy tightly controlled the June 14-16 convention in Hamilton.  They stifled criticism.  You wouldn’t know that thousands of auto workers’ jobs are being buried. The top brass put innovative, radical resolutions at the bottom of every topic list.  The leadership exhibited little sense of urgency about removing the Ford Conservative regime despite its onslaught against workers and the environment. A blinkered obsession with preparations for the 2022 Ontario election, three years down the road, ruled the roost. 

Party chief of staff Michael Balagas provided a laughably Pollyanna interpretation of the latest public opinion polls (showing the Tories, NDP and Liberals close together, and the Green Party rising fast).

Identity politics and milquetoast motions dominated the proceedings.  The agenda imposed by the top brass devoted less than 39 per cent of the convention time to policy discussion.  The rest of the time filled up with ‘showcases’, guest speakers (including Dan Riffle from Wall Street’s, war-mongering Democratic Party USA), ‘breakout’ sessions for chatter but not for voting on policy, the numerous elections, and plenty of procedural wrangling.  Cutting, shrinking or reassigning such agenda items to the margins could have restored hours of rank and file democracy to the gathering.  Late starts (delegates were locked out of the main hall after Saturday lunch, and again on Sunday morning), squandered a further 40 minutes of precious policy time.  When, in the opening minutes, Socialist Caucus member Elizabeth Byce asked the convention chair why so little time was scheduled for policy matters, the chair rudely interrupted her with an abrupt “We will cover as much policy as possible.”  But that was a dead letter from the word go.

This is not to say that many of the adopted resolutions are not worthy – just that several were adopted nearly unanimously. They consumed scarce time that could have been spent addressing controversial issues submitted by dozens of local NDP district associations.

Adopted resolutions included: “Policy Sunset and Reaffirmation Resolution”, “Stop the Legalized Theft of Workers’ Pensions”, “Replacing the Term Aboriginal with Indigenous”, “Equity-Seeking ‘Victory Funds’” (to raise money for campaigns that feature visible minority and female NDP candidates); “Cannabis Growers Workers”; “Expand the Powers of the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario”; “End Hallway Medicine”; “Opioid Crisis”; “Full Day Kindergarten”; “Health and Phys Ed”; “Black Canadian Curriculum”; “First Nations Job Creation”; and “Development without Displacement”.  Again, these motions could have been approved, omnibus-style, with one vote.  Their positioning effectively scuppered other issues.

Multiply-endorsed resolutions that officials prevented from reaching the convention floor included: “Nationalize GM”; “Share the Work, Shorten the Work Week”; “Dump Doug Ford with Mass Extra-parliamentary Action”; “Social Ownership and Economic Democracy”; “For Public Ownership of Telecom”; “Boycott apartheid Israel, End the Siege of Gaza, uphold Palestinian Rights”; “NDP should be clear: Hands Off Venezuela”; “Eliminate Tuition, Ancillary Fees and Student Debt”; “Public and Democratic Hydro”; and “Build Social Housing as an Emergency Priority in Ontario” (12 different affiliates submitted that one!).

A Left Break-through

A weak resolution titled “GM Jobs”, was referred back to the appeals committee with instructions on Saturday.  In the last minutes of the convention on Sunday, after obtaining unanimous consent, it returned to the floor.  Added were the words “including a new vision of a publicly owned facility that could produce green vehicles and/or any other product that meets public need in order to face the climate crisis and transition to a green new economy.”  Oshawa delegate Rebecca Keetch spoke forcefully to the imminent loss of 5,000 jobs, including her own.  Convention finally adopted the motion, in part due to the SC resolution calling for Nationalization of GM, and thanks to our collaboration with CUPE-Ontario President Fred Hahn, whose dogged efforts paved the way for this small victory.

As seen at the federal NDP convention in Ottawa, February 2018, Palestine shook things up.  But a motion to appeal its low rank on the list of resolutions simply ran out of time for consideration.  Only ten minutes are allowed for appeals from the floor in each policy segment.  The right wing stacked the mics to ensure that left wing appeals would not be heard.

The Resolutions Appeals Committee, chaired by former federal leader candidate Brian Topp, became a lightning rod for discontent.  Several times it suffered defeat on the convention floor as exasperated delegates fought its status quo priorities.  In defiance, a policy to reduce the voting age in Ontario to 14 years carried. Likewise, delegates defeated “Support for Mobile Crisis Response” that relied heavily on police involvement, a motion backed by the party establishment.

Socialists steadfast

An appetite for radical left media was evident.  Delegates snapped up over 500 copies of Turn Left, the glossy, full-colour Socialist Caucus magazine (www.ndpsocialists.ca) .  Donations on site added to the $3,300 raised to fund the publication prior to the convention. Scores of delegates bought copies of Socialist Action monthly newspaper.

NDP staff had said “No literature display tables will be allowed”, although the Ontario Federation of Labour and the Broadbent Institute each got one. Nonetheless, the Socialist Caucus found a way to display its materials, as did former OFL president Sid Ryan who sold copies of his new book “A Grander Vision.”

The convention was poorly attended.  Party officials predicted 1,500 delegates.  The last Credentials Report, claiming that 1,045 attended, tried to bandage this raw sore.  The fact is that only 720 delegates voted for President and Treasurer.  Only 730 voted for V.P. candidates. Fewer than 530 voted for Members At Large. Most of the time, empty chairs outnumbered occupied seats.

Support for Andrea Horwath (expressed in a leadership review vote) was underwhelming.  The norm is 95%+ for a Leader (especially one who made major gains at the previous provincial election).  As Toronto Star columnist Rick Salutin wrote on June 21, “She got 84 per cent support at last week’s NDP convention, not a healthy sign. If her party were serious about power, there’d have been more dissension.”

Socialist Caucus candidates garnered 12.2 to 27 per cent of the votes for the 15 top executive positions that the SC contested. Over 200 delegates marked ballots for Julius Arscott for V.P.  He told the convention, “The NDP must call for mass action, including general strike action, to defeat the Doug Ford/Bay Street agenda. Some may say that is labour’s jurisdiction. But the NDP is directly tied to the struggles of the working class.  We have a huge stake in this fight!”

The establishment slate swept, as expected.  Sadly, independent socialist candidates (like Jessa McLean and Tim Ellis) failed to break through.  A united front socialist slate would surely help in the future.  Once again, the Socialist Caucus provided the most visible, principled, all-round left opposition – and it demonstrated growing support.  A ‘Meet the Socialist Candidates’ pub night attracted a big crowd on Saturday. 

Dozens of new contacts, new volunteers for the SC steering committee, new subscribers to the left press, added to the positive political harvest for class struggle activists.  While it is clear that NDP officials will not lead the fight in the streets against the arch-austerity corporate agenda, they may be compelled to join an upsurge as teachers, and other public and private sector workers suffering job loss and frozen wages, gird for a hot autumn.