Tag Archives: Montreal

Quebec’s new Charter of Values – not the road to national liberation

vraisvaleursby Robbie Mahood

Controversy over the rights of religious and cultural minorities has once again taken centre stage in Quebec ever since the minority Parti Quebecois (PQ) government of Pauline Marois declared its intention to introduce a Charter of Quebec Values. Purporting to strengthen the separation of church and state, the Charter would outlaw ‘ostentatious’ religious symbols or clothing worn by government workers and in public institutions such as primary schools and daycares. This would target women wearing the hijab (head scarf) and extend as well to the Sikh turban and possibly even to the Jewish kippah.

The numerous Christian crosses that dot the Quebec landscape, including the large crucifix hanging in the National Assembly and the giant illuminated cross atop Mont Royal overlooking Montreal, would be exempted on the grounds of belonging to the province’s ‘patrimonie’ or cultural heritage.

The proposed charter has split the population down the middle with 43% in favour and 42% opposed according to one poll. Support for the charter is seemingly on the rise especially outside of multi-ethnic Montreal. However, there is strong opposition from diverse quarters including important women’s organizations.

September 14 saw a demonstration in Montreal of over 20,000 against the bill organized by an ad hoc Quebec Collective Against Islamophobia. The Conseil du statut de la femme (CSF, Council on the Status of Women) expressed grave concern that the charter would further marginalize muslim women. The Marois government is now trying to reverse that position by packing the CSF with its own appointees.

The Charter is supported by the provincial government employees’ union, but the large union centrals, the FTQ, the CSN and the largest teachers’ union, the CSQ, have so far remained non-committal. The union leaders are caught between rejecting clearly discriminatory legislation and their traditional loyalty to the PQ.

The federalist forces in Quebec are all opposed to the Charter. This includes the provincial Liberal Party and the three federalist parties representing Quebec in Ottawa, the New Democratic Party, the Conservatives and the Liberal Party of Canada.

Passage of the Bill in the National Assembly will depend on whether the PQ can get support from the right wing populist Coaltion Avenir Quebec (CAQ). Thus far, the CAQ wants restrictive dress codes applied to higher civil servants only. But it will have its eye on the polls and its position could shift.

Reaction in English speaking Canada has been entirely predictable. There, the media and a wide swath of politicians have worked themselves into quite a self-righteous lather about the alleged superiority of Canadian multi-culturalism over backward Quebecois ethnic nationalism.

The left wing party, Quebec Solidaire, with two deputies in the National Assembly, opposes the Charter from the standpoint of “laicité ouverte”. That means separation of church and state, yes, but not to the extent of dictating clothes and ornaments worn by public employees.

Noteworthy is the opposition the PQ charter has provoked from within the nationalist and sovereignist camp. The Bloc Quebecois (the sovereignist counterpart of the PQ in the federal arena) expelled one of its five MPs because she had publicly criticized the repressive aspects of the Charter. Jean Dorion, a respected sovereignist who was a Bloc MP and a former President of the nationalist St. Jean Baptiste Society, describes the PQ initiative as a gift to the federalists. Likewise, sovereignist intellectual Michel Seymour termed the PQ approach to immigrant minorities shameful and saluted Quebec Solidaire for opposing the Charter.

A petition entitled “For an inclusive Quebec” has garnered over 12,000 signatures including many supporters of independence. The authors of the petition refer to the “staggeringly high unemployment rate among Quebec immigrants” and go on to point out that: “ a ban on religious symbols in public service, schools and daycares would…further exclude immigrants from the Quebec labour market …increase the vulnerability of women wearing the hijab and exacerbate inequalities between men and women.” This in a nutshell is the refutation to the PQ’s claim that it is promoting social cohesion and defending women’s equality.

Hitherto, opposition to the xenophobic tendencies in Quebec society has rested on defense of individual rights and cultural pluralism. This is the position, for example, to be found in the report of Gerard Bouchard and Charles Taylor in their 2008 report on ‘reasonable accommodation’ of immigrant communities in the province. Missing in this stance is any consideration of the fragile identity of the Quebecois as a small national minority within a vast English speaking North America.

The problem of overcoming Quebec’s national oppression is key to building an inclusive society for immigrants. In former times the PQ leadership stressed its commitment to ‘civic nationalism’. This concept lay behind the introduction of mandatory French schooling for children of new immigrants to Quebec. The result is a much more diverse francophone population. Now, the PQ is trying to rehabilitate a retrograde ethnic nationalism. Ironically those targeted by its new legislation predominantly would be women who are French speaking!

It might be countered that all nationalisms promote chauvinism and sow division. Indeed, some socialist currents reject the struggle for Quebec independence on that basis. But precisely because Marxists uphold the highest standards of internationalism, they must take up the cause of oppressed peoples whose national development is thwarted to one degree or another by the capitalist order. That continues to apply to Quebec, in our view.

Socialists should welcome this most recent crisis of perspectives in Quebec`s sovereignist movement and pay close attention to how it unfolds. But not as do the federalists (and some on the left) who oppose an independent Quebec. To the contrary, we agree with those who say the PQ`s racist gambit weakens the fight for national liberation. Our perspective is for a political party rooted in a revitalized labour movement which advances a program for independence and socialism.

The PQ`s Charter of Quebec Values should be defeated for the following reasons:

– firstly, it punishes women coming from conservative patriarchal cultures while ignoring the sexism rampant in more ‘modern’ capitalist societies. These issues will be settled by women themselves and not by state dictat.

– secondly, some supporters of the Charter are motivated by anti-clericalism. Quebec only recently emerged from the domination of the Roman Catholic Church. Against all evidence, these people are haunted by the spectre of regression. Where this is not a mask for islamophobia, it is based on a faulty understanding of religious belief and its social role (cf. Marx`s often misinterpreted discussion of religion as the ‘opium of the people’).

– thirdly, the premise of shared values in a class society like Quebec is an oxymoron. Irreconcilable differences exist on every front from university tuition fees to fossil fuel exploitation and transport. The values discourse is an attempt to create a phony consensus to help maintain social order.

– finally, socialists want to deepen the unity of the working class by recognizing oppression within its ranks as well as in society, and by building solidarity. Defense of the most vulnerable sections of our class is not just a question of justice (although it is certainly that) but is also an important strategic principle.

Henry Morgentaler and the Fight for Reproductive Freedom in the Canadian State

The crusading pro-choice doctor, Henry Morgentaler, died in Toronto, May 29, 2013 at the age of 90. His death came three months after the 25th anniversary of the 1988 Supreme Court decision striking down Canada`s federal abortion law. That victory for women`s reproductive rights was the product of more than 20 years of struggle in which Dr. Morgentaler played a key role.

Born in 1923, Morgentaler grew up in Lodz, Poland, the son of trade union organizer affiliated to the Socialist Jewish Bund. In 1939, at the age of 16, his family was thrown into the maelstrom of the Nazi occupation and the impending Judeocide. Morgantaler`s father perished early on and so subsequently, did his mother and sister. But Henry and his brother managed to survive their internment at Aushwitz and Dachau.

Morgentaler emigrated to Canada in 1950, settling in Montreal.  In doing so, he chose to throw in his lot with a country and a province still rife with anti-semitic prejudice. Israel did not attract the young Morgentaler, and in this sense he took his stand with the tradition of Jewish universalism rather than with the exclusivity and colonial ambitions that underlay the Zionist project.

Having completed his medical studies in French at Université de Montréal, Henry established a practice in the working class east-end of the city. There, he encountered the burden of unwanted pregnancy and the desperation of women who sought to end it. He re-oriented his practice first to contraception, and then began to perform abortions in his clinic in defiance of the law. He had earlier joined the Humanist Society and became a prominent public pro-choice advocate.

In 1970, his clinic was raided and he was arrested. Consecutive trials resulted in jury acquittals, until the jury verdicts were overturned by the Supreme Court and he was sent to prison. During his 10 month incarceration, he suffered a heart attack. Upon his release, he returned to providing abortions, finally securing an amnesty in 1976 from the first Parti Quebecois government. Thereafter, doctors performing abortions in free-standing clinics were granted immunity, rendering the federal law null and void in Quebec.

On the basis of that hard-won victory in his home province, Morgentaler launched an offensive in English-speaking Canada in the mid-1980`s, opening clinics in Toronto and Winnipeg. He continued to defy the state and powerful anti-choice forces until his Supreme Court victory in 1988.

Canada is one of a handful of countries in which access to abortion is not constrained by law. Access is still restricted because of geographic or funding disparities. Nevertheless, the 1988 judgment represented a great advance for women`s physical and mental health and has produced a generation who regard abortion as an established right for all women.

One could criticize Morgentaler`s limited political perspectives or his personality quirks, but he was a true hero willing to sacrifice for a cause in which he and millions of others believed. His life is testimony to the important role exceptional individuals can play in history. At the same time, most of the commentary that greeted his death has given short shrift to the social and political factors that came together to make this breakthrough for reproductive rights possible.

At the very time that Morgentaler was establishing himself professionally in Montréal,  Quebec was on the cusp of a national and class awakening that shook the foundations of Anglo-Canadian domination that  had prevailed for almost  two hundred years. Not the least of the many facets of this rebellion, was the determination of Quebecois women to throw off the yoke of the patriarchal system supervised by the Roman Catholic Church that was an integral part of their national oppression. To this day, conservative religious forces have been unable to restore their former ideological authority, including in matters of sexuality and gender oppression.

The arrival of so-called second wave feminism was an absolutely critical factor in the abortion rights struggle in Canada and Quebec. A key initiative was the 1970 Abortion Caravan, culminating in 35 women chaining themselves to the gallery benches of the House of Commons. In Canada, as elsewhere, the women comrades of the organizations affiliated to the Fourth International were important builders of the abortion rights campaigns. During the contestation of the 1980`s, a socialist feminist leadership schooled in that tradition, successfully fought for two important positions: the insistence on mass action in the streets to counter the anti-choice mobilisations, and the importance of defending the clinics from anti-choice harassment . These tactics were advanced not against, but parallel to the lobbying efforts of the mainstream pro-choice organizations and Morgentaler`s own legal challenge. Thus the unity of the movement was preserved at the same time as a mass response to the right-wing offensive was put into operation.

Socialist feminists took the struggle as well into the main institutions of the labour movement, notably the Ontario Federation of Labour and the New Democratic Party (NDP).  Bringing the labour movement on side helped shift the balance of forces in English-speaking Canada where there is a partial but nonetheless significant political polarisation along class lines.

In the end these factors were critical: the removal of Quebec as a reactionary backwater and the rapid embrace by the vast majority of Quebecois of unrestricted access to abortion, coupled with a more polarised atmosphere in the Rest of Canada with powerful anti-choice forces but also a strong pro-choice response driving a wedge through society.  These were sufficient to shift the consensus in Canada`s highest court and to break the resolve and ability of the bourgeois parties to keep some sort of statutory limitation on women’s right to choose.

In this respect, women in Canada and Quebec are in advance of their sisters in the United States and Mexico. On this issue at least, the relationship of forces is more favourable north of the 49th parallel, reflecting weaknesses in the Canadian bourgeois state.

However, no social advance is safe in this crisis-ridden epoch of capitalist decay. The failure of the NDP and the labour movement to challenge the offensive by the employer class have produced an aggressively right wing government with a majority in parliament.  The religious right figure prominently in the Conservative Party.  Anti-choice forces are re-grouping, ever alert to tactics which would erode the right to choose.

Harper’s political instincts tell him a frontal assault on abortion rights is to be avoided.  He keeps the anti-choice zealots in his caucus on a tight leash. But he has permitted a number of private member’s bills to see the light of day. The latest of these takes aim against the phantasm of sex-selective pregnancy termination, trading on racist stereotypes about Asian parents. Of course, over 95% of abortions in Canada are performed before the sex of the fetus can even be ascertained. Of the remaining, almost all are terminations for genetic anomalies.

The anti-choice forces purport to defend women, laying a trap for the unwary. They are searching for potential wedges with which to pry open the lid that was closed to them in 1988, while hiding their true agenda which remains the obliteration of women’s reproductive rights.

Harper pretends to be above the fray. In reality, he offers a platform to the anti-choice zealots. In the international arena he has withdrawn funding from any organizations that include safe abortion in the measures they advocate for improving women’s reproductive health. And the anti-woman agenda of the Tories is further underlined by its cancellation of the universal child care program, abandonment of pay equity legislation, cuts to funding of dozens of womens’ groups and refusal to hold a public inquiry into missing aboriginal women.

It is always more difficult to defend a social advance that is taken for granted even though it enjoys widespread support. That is the case with abortion rights in Canada today, including in Quebec.

How can we counter the renewed right-wing anti-choice offensive?

If the struggle of the women’s movement and Henry Morgentaler teaches us anything, it is the importance of mass action, of not ceding the streets or public platforms to a powerful and ideologically motivated enemy.

Socialists want to see all abortions funded under medicare and oppose any move toward de-funding. That includes opposing the exclusion of refugee claimants from abortion coverage, part of Ottawa’s shameful attack on refugee health rights.

We support making abortion services more accessible for rural and geographically isolated women and in the meantime covering travel costs to centres where abortion is available.

For free access to safe abortion in all countries. Solidarity with women internationally, struggling for maternal health rights which includes abortion.

Take the defense of abortion rights once again into the unions and the NDP,  the mobilisation of whose ranks was so integral to past advances.

Robbie Mahood is a leading member of Socialist Action / Ligue pour l’Action socialiste in Montreal. He is a former physician abortion provider in Winnipeg and Montreal.

Dr. Henry Morgentaler

Right Wing Meltdown is No Cure for Austerity

Right wing governments in Canada seem to be on the ropes.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s regime is mired in scandals, the latest centred on a $90,000 payoff by his former chief of staff to cover-up misappropriation of funds by Conservative Senator Mike Duffy. Three Tory Senators accused of padding their expense claims now sit outside the Tory caucus as ‘independents’ while the RCMP investigates.

Toronto’s ‘stop the gravy train’ Mayor Rob Ford claims he doesn’t use crack cocaine. But two Toronto Star reporters, and the owner of U.S. web site Gawker, swear they saw hizzonner in a video sucking the smokey contents of a crack pipe. Five staffers quit the Mayor’s office in the two weeks after the news broke. Ford insists there is no such video, but according to inside sources, he confided to his staff that he knew the location of the hidden video. And one of the people pictured partying with Ford was found by police dead of gun shot wounds.

Montreal’s mayor, Gérald Tremblay, resigned in early November in the midst of an eyebrow-raising inquiry that revealed widespread corruption among city officials, contractors and members of organized crime. Just a few days later, Gilles Vaillancourt, the head of Quebec’s third-largest city, Laval, quit in the same context.

The Ontario minority Liberal government was rocked by revelations that it spent nearly $1 Billion to cancel the construction of unpopular gas plants west of Toronto, just to save Liberal seats in the Fall 2011 provincial election.  After months of denial, and failure by former Premier Dalton McGuinty to release thousands of pages of incriminating evidence, new Premier Kathryn Wynne apologized for the wasteful fiasco.

Media pundits call it a right wing meltdown. It’s entertaining. It sells papers. In the case of Toronto, there was even a side benefit — it helped to kill a harmful downtown mega-casino project. But, looking at the big picture, scandal is no cure for austerity. Severe cutbacks and attacks on employment insurance, pensions, public services, environmental protection, scientific information-gathering and civil liberties continue apace. The fact is, such measures are integral to the corporate agenda in force, regardless the political stripe of the ruling party.

The situation in Toronto further illustrates the deeper problem. Liberals and social democrats, the main city council opposition to Ford’s wilting ultra-right wing, are chomping at the bit. They yearn to introduce new gas and sales taxes. They promote service fees, parking levies and road tolls to fund rapid transit projects urgently needed to relieve traffic gridlock.

Instead of proposing to tax big business, giant banks, wealthy developers, rich property owners and untaxed religious institutions, Ford’s opposition and the business media agitate for regressive taxes (the kind not based on ability to pay), which hit workers, seniors, students and the poor the hardest.

All of which goes to show what the real problem is. It’s the system. It matters little which eccentric leader, or authoritarian big wig, or capitalist party happens to be at the top.

Scandals are just a sign of divisions in the ruling class. They can be interesting, even mildly satisfying when they (however temporarily) humble the arrogant.

But scandal mongering is no substitute for mass action. Working class political action is what’s needed now to stop labour concessions, to reverse social cuts, to restore and extend democratic rights – in short, to win a Workers’ Agenda.

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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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