Category Archives: NDP

NDP slide to right sparks socialist opposition

By BARRY WEISLEDER

MONTREAL—Despite the move to water down the reference to socialism in the Federal New Democratic Party Constitution, the word remains, as does the working-class nature of the party. Indeed, socialism is still both a very lively topic and an active movement within the NDP.

The party leadership certainly pushed hard to limit debate and to re-shape the party in its own image. But socialists had a higher profile at the NDP convention in Montreal, April 12-14, than in recent years.

To be sure, the convention was a kind of love-in for NDP chief and Leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, Tom Mulcair. The appetite for the perks of government office fueled a wave of opportunism and attracted an array of party boosters and young career-seekers.

It was the biggest-ever NDP federal convention. Over 2000 delegates registered. Typically, about 1200 were on the convention floor to vote on motions. Despite media hype about the inevitability of the NDP choosing to “moderate” its message, and the high cost of a delegate’s credential (up to $400), it was surprising to see the extent of the support for the radical left.

Twenty-eight per cent of the delegates present for the election of NDP Treasurer voted for Socialist Caucus candidate John Orrett. Sixteen per cent voted to retain the constitution preamble, with its call for social ownership of the economy, with its insistence that “production and distribution of goods and services be directed to meeting social and individual needs” and “not to the making of profit.”

The Socialist Caucus received massive mainstream media coverage for its initiatives and policies. SC spokespersons were frequently interviewed by CBC, Global, CTV, CPAC, Sun Media, Huffington PostLa PresseToronto StarNational PostGlobe and Mail, Rabble.ca and others.

SC floor interventions, firstly to amend the convention agenda in favour of providing more time for policy debate, and later, to alter a resolution on ‘pipeline safety’ to include opposition to any new pipeline construction, failed to get much traction. But another SC referral motion produced a high point for the left.

Etobicoke Centre youth delegate and Youth for Socialist Action chairperson Tyler MacKinnon argued for a party campaign to abolish all post-secondary tuition fees. He called for solidarity with movements demanding an end to fees and a halt to the police repression they faced in the streets of Quebec in 2012. Tyler’s motion carried, but only after a delegate demanded a “standing count,” which showed over 60 per cent in favour. While the referred (amended) resolution did not come back to the floor for approval, the vote registered a stinging rebuke of the party establishment.

Delegates and observers showed a keen interest in socialist ideas. They snapped up over 1100 copies of the glossy, full-colour SC magazine Turn Left, and donated over $200 to support it. They spent another $200 on individual copies of Socialist Action newspaper, as well as associated radical buttons and booklets.

A bright orange banner proved to be a lightening rod for protest against the pro-capitalist party tops. The Socialist Caucus displayed a wide cloth antiwar slogan on the concourse Saturday morning, and again at lunchtime. It galvanized opposition to the appearance of invited guest speaker Jeremy Bird, National Field Director for the U.S. Democratic Party, who headed President Barack Obama’s re-election bid in 2012.

The banner proclaimed, in English and French, “Stop Obama’s Drone Wars.” Scores of supporters, notably South Asian and visible minority delegates, defended it in the face of persistent efforts by officials to remove it. SC comrades and other delegates held their ground against threats of all kinds, including that security personnel and police would be asked to intervene. The three-hour standoff backfired on the party brass, who were seen as petty control freaks by the bemused national media.

It wasn’t the only example of undemocratic measures deployed by party controllers. They allowed no display booths on site, except for the social democratic Broadbent Institute, and a group of party authors promoting a book. Participants witnessed the stacking of the Persons With Disabilities Caucus, one of many equity-seeking group meetings, with non-disabled voters who arrived just moments prior to its election of reps to the federal party executive and council. Was this just to defeat an SC candidate?

A top party bureaucrat temporarily “lifted” this writer’s delegate credential for being one of dozens booing Jeremy Bird when the latter was introduced on stage. National Director Nathan Rotman reversed himself when MP Niki Ashton, who had addressed the SC forum on Friday evening, protested his punitive move, and after the mass media got hold of the issue. Rotman did not apologize for exceeding his authority, so more nonsense in this vein can be expected.

Most of the resolutions adopted at convention were strictly non-controversial. Indeed, many passed unanimously. These included: putting a halt to tax havens, promoting farm commodity supply management, reversing cuts to employment insurance, enshrining a pro-active pay equity regime in law, and providing more predictable funding for VIA Rail.

SC resolutions (on pipelines, corporate trade deals, Iran, Palestine, public ownership of banks and industry, Quebec self-determination, etc.), some submitted by multiple district associations, were ranked so low they would not be debated.  Even the issue re-prioritization panels on the Friday morning were stacked deep by pro-establishment delegates.

Tellingly, a resolution on the rights of sex workers, submitted by a Vancouver district body, made it to the floor, but was referred to federal council for more study by MP Libby Davies, ostensibly to avoid “a divisive debate,” a move that disgusted many progressive activists.

The Socialist Caucus held three public forums at the Convention Centre during meal breaks. The topics were “Quebec and the NDP, and Why Quebec Students are in the streets again,” “The Fight to keep Socialism in the NDP Constitution,” and “Canadian Military intervention in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean—Where does the NDP stand?” The meetings attracted 30 to 70 delegates. Thirty-six people signed up to join the socialists at the convention. A similar number applied to join the leftist caucus via the internet.

With a general election expected in 2015, delegates gave Mulcair a 92 per cent approval vote. The 8 per cent who nonetheless voted for a leadership review can be considered the hardcore base of the SC, with support for the organized left reaching 20 to 30 per cent for certain initiatives and candidates. This is not inconsiderable, if projected across an NDP membership of 120,000 countrywide.

Overall, the NDP continues on its liberal policy course. Justin Trudeau, who was crowned Liberal Party Leader in Ottawa that same weekend, mocked the direction of the NDP towards his own Bay Street-backed party when he referred to it as a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.”

To be sure, the new pro-market preamble is a setback to labour and the left. But the NDP, which was never socialist, has not changed its stripes. It remains a labour-based reformist party to which millions of workers look—still the only game in town for independent working-class electoral/political action. And within that game, socialism is very much a player, looking for reinforcements from the social protest movements and from the leftist political sidelines.

Opposing the attack on Socialism in the NDP

The floor debate on the amendment to the NDP Constitution was terminated on Sunday morning after only four speakers, two pro and two con. This farcical exercise meant that most of the arguments against the change were not heard, including the following one:

The amendment must be rejected for three reasons. It is undemocratic. It is unprincipled. And it obscures our roots.

Nearly two years ago, in Vancouver, where convention delegates spurned the attempt to remove socialism, party officials promised extensive consultation and debate. What happened? Nine days before convention this amendment was foisted upon us. Apparently, the consultations did not extend beyond the backrooms.

Principles belong in a constitution. But it’s hard to find any principles in this text. Oh, it says we are for “a society that shares its benefits more fairly”. It says we “believe in freedom and democracy”. Could it be any more vague? Is this the party of Tommy Douglas or Justin Trudeau?

The new text doesn’t talk about the real world. It doesn’t mention the widening gap between the super-rich and the 99%. It doesn’t relate to a world still reeling from economic depression, at risk of environmental disaster, and on the brink of nuclear war.

The amendment offers platitudes in place of solutions. It calls for “a rules based economy.” But what about the rule of big business? What about empowering the majority to run the economy so that production can be democratically planned to serve human need rather than private greed?

The closest this feeble statement comes to proposing a strategy is its promise “to address the limitations of the market.”

Well, sisters and brothers, I ask you this. When Barrick Gold poisons the lands of indigenous peoples in Canada or Peru, is that just a limitation of the market? When luxury condo towers crowd the waterfront while thousands are homeless, is that just a market glitch? When Big Pharma robs medicare, when RBC outsources work to depress wages, when the right to strike exists—except when workers try to use it, is that just a market error? When banksters and bosses stash their cash, and replace factories with casinos, is that just a flaw in an otherwise benevolent system? Or do all those things, in fact, reveal the very essence of capitalism?

One of the most popular NDP MPPs ever, Peter Kormos, never shied away from naming the enemy, and he never hesitated to call himself a socialist. The same was true for Dan and Alice Heap. Svend Robinson famously called capitalism a rabid dog that should be put down. Tommy Douglas said our goal is “public ownership and development of our basic resources in the interest of all.”

New Democrats want a constitution that has goals that inspire us to rise above ourselves. The motion before us is a sham. Let’s defeat it. Let’s keep the principle of social ownership at the heart of the NDP.

An attempt to amend the Convention Agenda in favour of more time for policy debate, not for a pro-war regime

 Guest speaker:

Sisters and brothers, from across this huge country we have come to set a course for the NDP, to discuss and adopt policies in the interests of working people, and to continue the struggle for social justice. Sadly, less than half of the plenary time of convention is devoted to policy debate by our grassroots delegates.

It would be a shame to squander precious convention time by hosting an election strategist for the American political party responsible for delivering trillions of dollars to Wall Street and the Pentagon, and filling America’s jails with Blacks, Latinos, Arabs, and Muslims.

Party officials made this mistake in Halifax in 2009, and they’ve done it again. It is an insult to the founders of the party, and to all of its activists, to import and feature an apologist for the pro-war, pro-corporate bailout Obama administration in Washington.

Saying Mit Romney was worse than Obama does not make Obama a friend of the working class or oppressed minorities. Obama’s “gift” to workers and the poor is austerity, and an “economic draft” that perpetuates U.S. military occupation and drone wars around the world. In 2000, the Pentagon had less than 50 drones. In 2010 that number was 7500—an increase of 15,000 per cent.

We don’t need Jeremy Bird, Obama’s National Field Director and re-election strategist, to lecture NDPers on the virtues of the American bi-partisan political system. If delegates want to hear Bird, they can tweet him.

The NDP and labour are not here to take instruction from the political hacks of the White House. But we do have some good advice for our American sisters and brothers, for our dear American fellow workers. Follow the example of the NDP. Form an independent political party based on your unions. Break with the Democratic Party, the graveyard of every progressive social movement since the days of Lincoln.

Fight for a Workers’ Agenda. Join us in the effort to put an end to capitalist recession, to wars and environmental destruction. Together, let’s create a global cooperative commonwealth.

Photo: Members of the Socialist Caucus demonstrate at the NDP convention in Montreal.  By Julius Arscott / Socialist Action


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Pictures and Audio Recording of the NDP Socialist Caucus lunch-time forum

Enclosed are some photos taken by Julius A. at the successful NDP Socialist Caucus lunch-time forum hald at the Metropolitan Hotel in Toronto, site of the Ontario NDP Provincial Council meeting on November 3, 2012.
Some thirty council delegates, coming from St. Catharines, Stayner, Guelph, Toronto, London, Port Colborne, Markham, Oshawa, Sarnia, Oakville, Halton and Pickering, engaged in a lively discussion on the topic “How to Fight Austerity in Ontario”. Panelists Nancy Pridham (V.P., OPSEU), Ali Mallah (CUPE member, Toronto municipal worker, former Ontario and Federal NDP Executive member), and Barry Weisleder (Socialist Caucus chairperson, OSSTF member and Toronto Substitute Teachers’ organizer) led off the discussion. The meeting was chaired by John Orrett, Thornhill NDP president.

The audio recording of the first part of the lunch forum is here, and the second part is here.

NDP Socialist Caucus public forum in Brantford

Do you plan to attend?
If you live far from Brantford (which is about a 20 minute drive west of Hamilton, Ontario), please disregard this message.

Please copy, post and circulate this invitation widely, especially across southern Ontario:

– An NDP Socialist Caucus Public Forum-
The Future of the NDP and Labour
with guest speaker:
Barry Weisleder, Chair, NDP Socialist Caucus; Editorial board member of Turn Left (the SC magazine); Co-editor of Socialist Action monthly newspaper; Organizer, Toronto Substitute Teachers’ Action Caucus, OSSTF District 12.

Friday, September 14
7 p.m.
MOOSE LODGE, 145 West St., (at Grey St.)
downstairs hall, in Brantford, Ontario
Everyone is welcome. For more information visit: http://www.ndpsocialists.ca
e-mail: barryaw@rogers.com phone: 519 – 304-3067 (Roy in Brantford) or 416 – 535 – 8779

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Do you plan to join us at the Toronto Labour Day Parade, Sept. 3 at 9 a.m.?

Dear sisters and brothers, comrades and friends,

Do you plan to walk with the NDP Socialist Caucus on Toronto’s annual Labour Day Parade?

Can you meet us at the Socialist Caucus banner on the south-east corner of Queen Street West and University Avenue (Osgoode Subway Station on the University line) at 9 a.m. sharp on Monday, September 3?

Help us show that working people, students, youths, seniors, LGBT folk and women want to step up the fight against capitalist austerity, support embattled teachers and education support staff, defeat the Harper and McGuinty budgets by any means necessary, eliminate student fees and debt, replace nuclear with sustainable green energy sources, back the efforts of auto workers to resist further concessions and restore full pensions – and fight to turn the NDP sharply to the left!

We look forward to seeing you this Monday morning.

In solidarity,

Barry Weisleder,
Chair, NDP Socialist Caucus

NDP Leader race crowded, on the right

Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, a former Quebec Liberal cabinet minister who takes pride in his role in early ‘free trade’ negotiations, brings a decidedly pro-capitalist, anti-Quebec self-determination perspective to the New Democratic Party leadership race. When Mulcair announced his candidacy, he had the backing of 15 MPs, soon likely 30, but few supporters outside of the ranks of strongly pro-federalist Quebecers.


British Columbia MP Nathan Cullen, another leadership contender, advocates a “non-compete agreement” with the Liberal and Green parties. While the stated aim is to unite anti-Conservative votes in the next federal election, such a move, welcomed by the pro-Liberal media as a step towards merger, would destroy the NDP as a party independent of the business class. It would drown generations of working class social gains.

Ottawa MP Paul Dewar promises that as NDP leader he would give city governments more say – even a seat at federal-provincial ministers’ meetings. Dewar, until recently the NDP foreign affairs critic in Parliament, defended the bombing of Libya by Canadian Forces. He supports the Canada-U.N. occupation of Haiti, opposed the Canadian Boat to Gaza, and rejects boycott, sanctions and divestment aimed at the Zionist apartheid state.

Northern Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, a Cree lawyer and regional leader, has yet to detail his policy positions since joining the leadership race in September. Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm will soon toss his hat into the ring. Fellow Nova Scotian Martin Singh, a pharmacist and businessman, extols the virtues of entrepreneurship.

On October 28, Toronto MP and former Canadian Auto Workers Union negotiator Peggy Nash declared her candidacy. Her platform, in the words of Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom, “is straight-up NDP orthodoxy”; “address social inequality… and boost corporate taxes to pay for it.” The only positive point of differentiation is Nash’s praise for the Occupy movement.

That brings us to the never-elected-to-public-office Brian Topp — touted as the front-runner. He enjoys the backing of the Steelworkers’ Union and party icons Ed Broadbent and Roy Romanow. Lately, Topp called for higher taxes on corporate profits and big income earners.

But Topp is a very unlikely candidate of the left. He rescued the party establishment from ann embarrassing defeat at the federal NDP convention in Vancouver in June when he moved to refer back to the executive its proposal to delete the word “socialist” from the party constitution preamble. Post-convention, the preamble disappeared from the federal party web site – a devious move typical of the backroom politics associated with Topp and company.

Sadly, leftist B.C. MPs Libby Davies and Peter Julian opted out of the race. Bizarrely, Davies later endorsed Topp, the man who as federal campaign director presided over the party’s steady shift to the right.

The dearth of meaningful choices for NDP Leader poses a serious challenge to the NDP and to the anti-capitalist left: either raise the tens of thousands of dollars needed to run a socialist candidate for Leader, or find other ways to fight for a Workers’ Agenda in the only mass, labour-based political party in North America.

The global “Occupy”movement, and a whole generation of concerned environmentalists, plus millions of victims of war and capitalist economic crisis cry out for a socialist alternative. It must be generated inside the mainstream of the workers’ movement, where it matters most.

> The article above was written by Barry Weisleder.