The Ontario NDP and the Art of Political Manipulation

by Barry Weisleder

By postponing the Ontario New Democratic Party Convention (for nearly a year) to occur just four months prior to the Ontario provincial election, party officials tipped the scales to minimize criticism of its policy and Leader.  And leaving nothing to chance, they ensured that dozens of submitted resolutions calling for democratic and socialist policies were ranked low on subject priority lists so as to never see the light of day.  Milquetoast motions that did get debated (February 4-6, 2022) mostly garnered over 95 per cent approval.  The 1,100-plus registered delegates endured a long parade of NDP and Labour bureaucrats who repeated arguments at the virtual PRO mic, ad nauseum.  But don’t think that this was a convention of calm consensus.  Up to a quarter of the gathering, representing thousands of rank and file members of the only mass, labour-based, working class party in North America, frequently challenged bureaucratic rules and pro-capitalist policies.
One procedural motion proposed a vote on the ten top-ranked resolutions in each subject category, all at once.  It received a surprising 34 per cent support.  Another rebel motion to limit individual speaking time to 90 seconds (down from 3 minutes), designed to enable delegates to address more resolutions (including more controversial ones), attracted 59 per cent support (just shy of the 2/3 majority required by the rules).
A policy win for the left occurred when 54 per cent voted to amend, by referral, an establishment resolution to curb rising auto insurance rates.  Delegates, led by the Socialist Caucus, called for nationalization of the sector to create a public auto insurance system.
Although the party’s conservative controllers swept the elections for the ONDP Executive, some 15 Socialist Caucus candidates each received 10 to 26.7 per cent of the 870+ votes cast.  Jessa McLean, organizer of the NewDemoChat network, and backed by the Socialist Caucus, garnered 19 per cent in her run for President.  Curiously, officials postponed the election of the provincial DisAbilities Caucus co-chairs.  Left wing candidates won the DisAbility co-chair positions at the federal NDP convention in April 2021.
The establishment breathed a sigh of relief when 85 per cent declined to call for a fresh election of Leader.  Andrea Horwath, NDP MPP for Hamilton Centre, has headed the ONDP for 13 years.  Still, she has difficulty delivering a speech without stumbling over her own words.  Her featured recitation of the numerous political crimes of Conservative Premier Doug Ford was no exception.
The NDP policy platform going into the June 2 provincial election highlights $10 a day childcare, a $20/hour minimum wage, and a 10 per cent home equity loan for first-time buyers.  It falls far short of a Workers’ Agenda.
For example, when Ford cancelled the $15/hour minimum wage hike, when he clashed with teachers, tolerated the death of thousands of seniors in for-profit Long Term Care, oversaw the incidence of cops killing Black and Indigenous people in Toronto, Peel, and beyond, Andrea Horwath did not join, let alone promote mass protest actions in the streets. Her mantra was unswerving:  Defeat the Tories at the next election.  The best use of your time is to go to an NDP election training workshop.
Socialists offer a constructive alternative. In Ontario the housing crisis is severe.  Instead of limp proposals for inclusionary zoning to set aside 5 to 10 percent of new condo development in structures with over 100 units for “affordable housing”, the working class needs a government prepared to expropriate vacant units in large buildings, and to create a publicly-owned Housing Construction industry to assemble land and build rent-geared-to-income decent housing on a mass scale.
Instead of passively watching police budgets bulge at the seams, the ONDP should demand rapid de-funding of police forces by 50 per cent, transferring funds to necessary social services including, but limited to housing, mental health, and additions treatment.  The disarming of police should begin with the removal of all military hardware, gas, pepper and other toxic sprays, and guns; and the extraction of all non-Indigenous police forces from Indigenous lands.
To produce the green energy vehicles needed to create a sustainable public transportation system, socialists call for nationalization, under workers’ control, of the extensive General Motors plants in Oshawa.
Symptomatic of the depth of the ONDP policy problem was an Emergency Resolution concerning the anti-social Convoy.  It decries how the latter caused economic turmoil and manipulated valid public concerns about the mishandling of the health crisis.  But it calls on the police, rather than on working class mass mobilization to counter both the bosses’ agenda and the radical rightist-led “Freedom” Convoy.  The abstention by Labour and the NDP on this issue leaves a vacuum for others to fill.  Support by federal NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh for Trudeau’s invocation of the Emergencies Act, completes the vicious circle.
Socialists urge critical support for the NDP in the coming Ontario election as a form of working class political action independent of the parties of Capital.  But the evident political bankruptcy of social democratic reformism portends a painful, but necessary, battle for a Workers’ Agenda, both inside and outside the NDP.  The struggle continues!