Tag Archives: Convention

Hollow victory for Ontario NDP Leader Horwath

by Barry Weisleder

After months of intense campaigning, using all the resources of the organization, Ontario New Democratic Party Leader Andrea Horwath managed to hang onto her position, but only after promising to atone for her crass opportunism, and pledging to turn left.

The mandatory leadership review occured at the biennial convention of the labour-based party held in Toronto, November 14–16. Horwath, 52, received 76.9 per cent support from the gathering of 1,055 district association and union delegates, only slightly more than the 76.4 per cent she got two years earlier.

The move to dump Horwath sprang from the discontent of NDPers with the June 2014 provincial election campaign she led. It embraced conservative populist themes and discarded social justice issues. Moreover, the turn to the right had no internal mandate, and it strained relations with large segments of the labour movement.

The NDP policy shift mostly helped the Liberals, who campaigned for pension improvements and a wage increase for low-paid workers, while Horwath promoted a Ministry of Cost Savings that seemed to target jobs in the public service, and she pledged to hold the line on wealth taxes.

Once the Liberals emerged with a majority government, and the NDP had lost three key seats in downtown Toronto (although its overall seat count remained static), Andrea Horwath purged her senior staff and apologized to the party’s Provincial Council. She told the Convention that she would “keep talking about our ultimate values and goals and not just our first steps.” While this is thin gruel for socialists, it persuaded many members to give her another chance – especially as there is no heir apparent to the Leader.

Still, the mood of the convention was angry, and quite critical of the party tops.

Although the establishment dominated elections to the provincial executive with an official slate, the organized party left wing and independent candidates did remarkably well.

The Socialist Caucus ran or supported over a dozen candidates for executive posts. They garnered from 20 to 44 per cent of the votes cast. For General Members-At-Large, Tyler Mackinnon received 44 per cent. For Vice-President slots, Elizabeth Byce got 28 per cent; Julius Arscott 25 per cent; Barry Weisleder 20 per cent.

Independent candidate for an At-Large spot, Michael Erickson, broke the strangehold of the official slate. Unfortunately, party staff did not reveal detailed vote results for Region and equity-seeking committee reps to the executive.

Debates on convention procedures and resolutions produced a number of upsets. In the opening minutes of the convention, delegates voted to amend the agenda, forcing the vote on Leader to occur late Saturday afternoon, rather than immediately following the Leader’s rah-rah speech set for the morning. This meant that hundreds of delegates summoned by conservative riding and union leaders to vote to sustain Horwath had to hang around an extra seven hours. As it happened, between Friday and Saturday, convention attendance jumped from 527 to over 1,000. By Sunday morning it had dropped below 800.

Motions of referral, with instructions to integrate tougher language into otherwise pablum-like resolutions from the official vetting committee, succeeded in a number of cases. This radicalized the policy on Social Assistance, Post-Secondary tuition, the bitumen pipeline known as Line 9, the Ontario Municipal Board, and nearly did so on Minimum Wage. The rebellious feeling also produced a win for more time to debate Labour issues, and it led over 30 per cent to vote against acceptance of the Provincial Secretary’s Report, a report that was clearly identified with the failed election campaign.

By far the biggest upset to the establishment was the victory for Free Post-Secondary Education, Abolish Student Debt – a long standing Socialist Caucus cause celebre, fought for relentlessly by SC activists, led by Tyler Mackinnon.

On Sunday morning, Ontario Federation of Labour President Sid Ryan stirred the convention with a hard-hitting presentation. Following perfunctory congratulations to Leader Andrea Horwath, Ryan eviscerated the ONDP June election platform. He reminded delegates that environmental issues were conspicuous by their absence. Likewise he singled out pension reform, an easier path to union recognition, a much higher minimum wage, workers’ health and safety issues, employment equity, public auto insurance, and the need for free post-secondary education.

“Don’t be afraid to advance bold policies,” said the chief of the provincial labour federation to which over one million workers are affiliated.

Ryan outlined his strategy to win more of the 54 unions in the OFL to the NDP banner. In part, this entailed a defense of the OFL’s Spring campaign that focussed on defeating the openly labour-hating Tim Hudak and his Conservative Party, an effort which tended to condone so-called strategic voting for Liberal Party candidates.

But the overall impact of Ryan’s speech was electrifying, brilliant and militant. It was a shot of political adrenalin much needed to rid the sour taste left by the vote on Saturday to prop up Horwath, and to shake off the hours of mind-numbing tutorials on the finer points of fund raising.

Another exception to down-time was an outstanding presentation by Kelsey Mech, National Director of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. Her articulate, energetic remarks on the theme “Engaging Youth” came very close to challenging NDP federal and provincial policies that condone oil and gas pipeline construction. Her remarks highlighted the yawning gap between youth and the conservative powers-that-be at the summit of the party and labour.

This was a point echoed at the Socialist Caucus public forum on Saturday during the dinner break. Speakers Lana Goldberg, an organizer working with Aamjiwnaang First Nation members against Line 9, along with this writer, stressed the need to devote society’s resources to meeting urgent human needs for housing, transportation and health solutions, plus the conversion of energy systems to green alternatives to carbon-burning, rather than to wasteful, profit-oriented pipeline construction. “It is increasingly clear that environmentalism and capitalism are incompatible,” said Goldberg.

The Socialist Caucus played a very prominent role at the ONDP convention, consolidating about 25 per cent support on a range of issues and initiatives, and winning policy battles. Mass media coverage (Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, CTV and CBC) frequently quoted SC spokespersons. No other tendency on the left came close to matching this standard of performance. Delegates and observers snapped up nearly one thousand copies of the full-colour, glossy SC magazine Turn Left, and donated funds to add to the thousands of dollars collected prior to the convention to cover the cost of production. Volunteers staffed an SC literature display table throughout the convention.

NDPers are looking for change, but they settled for Horwath under the circumstances. As Toronto Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn observed, “New Democrats are sticking with their leader largely because they are stuck with her.”

That’s cold comfort for the Leader who pledged to change her ways, and who will have to keep looking over her shoulder, for the next four years, as the party left and progressive union leaders continue to press for a Workers’ Agenda.

Excerpts from socialist campaign speeches for ONDP Vice-President positions:

“Good afternoon, sisters and brothers, my name is Elizabeth Byce. I’m a member of the Socialist Caucus and a candidate for Vice-President. I am a retired member of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers with thirty years of service, a past Executive Secretary of Toronto and York Region Labour Council, with 12 years of service, and a member of Trinity-Spadina NDP.

I have been active in the party for over 40 years.

I am retired from Canada Post, but not retired from activism. Currently, I am involved in the campaign to Save Canada Post, to maintain home mail delivery.

Turning the NDP to the right didn’t work in Nova Scotia. It didn’t work in New Brunswick. It didn’t work in B.C., and it sure didn’t work in Ontario. It is now crippling the NDP government in Manitoba.
It’s time to turn left. It’s time to elect socialists to the ONDP Executive.”

“Good afternoon, sisters and brothers, my name is Barry Weisleder. I’m the chair of the Socialist Caucus and a candidate for Vice-President. I am a union organizer, writer, editor, political campaigner, and a member of Trinity-Spadina NDP.

The Spring election campaign was a mistake, but it was not an accident. It was a decision to embrace right wing populism. And it was the product of an undemocratic process. The party needs a provincial executive that will act to ensure that such a thing never happens again.

Here’s a riddle: Why does it take 100 NDP officials to run a local campaign? One is needed to rent the campaign office. One to writethe platform. One to put up signs. And 97 to phone members every day at dinner time to ask for money. Members want to be involved as intelligent political activists, not treated like milk cows.

I am running for V.P., alongside other Socialist Caucus candidates for Executive, to offer you a new direction.

We stand for socialist policies and democratic action. Concretely, that means the NDP should be the champion of workers, women, youths, seniors, immigrants and indigenous peoples. The NDP should fight for a $17/hour minimum wage, the elimination of student fees and debt, no funding for religious schools, no new gas or oil pipelines, free mass public transit, and a sharp increase in corporate and wealth taxes. We should call for public ownership, under workers’ control, of runaway companies.

The federal party’s plan for $15 a day national childcare shows the way forward. But most importantly, it is members who should determine the path.

As V.P. I will make every effort to ensure that convention will set election platform priorities. No longer will the EPC be permitted to rescind the nomination of a member in good standing, or to block a New Democrat from seeking a nomination.

There should be much more time for policy discussion at convention. We should be proud of the prominent role of Labour in this party. After all, this is a working class party. Together we can build it as a party of the social movements, a party of the streets and of the ballot box. A party of the millions, not the millionaires. The party of Peter Kormos.”

elizabeth SCondp2014_9 SCondp2014_2 SCondp2014_1

NDP slide to right sparks socialist opposition


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