Thousands of federal New Democrats gathered online Friday afternoon to kick off a three-day policy convention that has already exposed some internal party divisions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Thousands of federal New Democrats gathered online Friday afternoon to kick off a three-day policy convention that has already exposed some internal party divisions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

NDP convention targets inequality, as contentious planks threaten to steal spotlight

Barry Weisleder, who chairs the NDP’s unofficial socialist caucus, moved to amend the $15 minimum wage resolution to $20, calling the amount ‘outdated’

Inequality took centre stage at the federal NDP policy convention Friday as thousands of New Democrats gathered online to kick off the three-day event.

Party members had cast their votes to whittle down hundreds of proposed resolutions into a shortlist whose top policies include a $15 federal minimum wage and a call to “abolish billionaires” and for-profit long-term care.

Delegates also have the opportunity to insert the word “socialism” into the party constitution after members voted to scrub it from the preamble in 2013 under then-leader Thomas Mulcair.

The term, once a nearly taboo descriptor in federal politics, has surged back into discussion amid a widening wealth gap and the rise of avowedly social-democratic politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the U.S.

While the inequality motif is poised to rally New Democrats around a common theme this weekend, the lead-up to the convention exposed fissures between party brass and the grassroots as well as among MPs.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said this week he opposed a resolution from a downtown Toronto riding association to phase out the Canadian military, a proposal that failed to make it to the virtual convention.

But several controversial resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are among the top-ranked. One demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel. A second, endorsed by more than 40 riding associations, rejects a working definition of anti-Semitism set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on the grounds it is used to chill criticism of Israeli policy.

The proposal found NDP lawmakers on opposite sides of a sensitive issue that threatens to distract from the message of unity the party aims to project.

“I don’t think it’s going to overshadow, because we’ve got a lot of really important and exciting policy debates on issues that impact people right now in the pandemic,” Singh said in a recent interview.

The proposals to be debated voted on and distilled into policies by more than 2,000 delegates will serve as de facto planks to construct a platform ahead of a possible election this year.

The party’s first television ad of 2021 will run Saturday, airing on Hockey Night in Canada as the Toronto Maple Leafs face off against the Ottawa Senators. Set to snappy, brass-driven music, the promo features shots of families and front-line workers and blares declarations that the COVID-19 pandemic “made the super-rich richer” and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “is protecting their profits.”

Singh figures prominently in the ad’s photo slide show but does not speak. He told reporters Friday he is expecting — though not hoping for — an election soon, hence the pre-emptive TV strike.

“The thought that the Liberals wouldn’t commit not to having an election is so craven and so crass given the seriousness of what we’re going through — the third wave increasing and the variants increasing,” Singh said.

The NDP has nominated about 50 candidates so far, and “identified” more than 130 others, some 80 of whom are now being vetted, the party said.

Friday’s event vied for attention with a virtual Liberal policy convention happening simultaneously.

The NDP sought to link the Grits with financial elites, zeroing in on former central banker Mark Carney, who appeared at the Liberal convention to dip his toe publicly into partisan politics for the first time.

“We are the real progressives, not the progressives of bankers as the Liberals do with Mark Carney,” Alexandre Boulerice, the NDP’s sole MP from Quebec, said in French during an interview. “They’re still going to be there for themselves or their Wall Street friends.”

Carney’s CV includes 13 years at Goldman Sachs as well as his current role as head of the impact investing at Toronto-based Brookfield Asset Management. Critics have rejected “greenwashing” his claim the company had achieved net-zero emissions because its clean energy portfolio offset its investments in fossil fuels.

Former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent helped kick off the gathering with a speech Friday afternoon, followed by addresses from the leaders of the Manitoba and Yukon New Democrats.

Broadbent drew comparisons between the Great Depression and the COVID-19 pandemic, saying both cataclysms offered an opportunity to rebuild social safety systems with government at the tiller.

“While working within a market-based economy, we must avoid becoming a market-shaped society. It’s the values of social democracy that must serve as our guide,” he said.

B.C. Premier John Horgan — the only NDP leader who currently heads a government — will address attendees Saturday, with veteran leader of the Ontario NDP Andrea Horwath taking the virtual stage later on.

Singh aims to rally the base with the keynote speech Sunday, hoping to convey a sense of rah-rah enthusiasm despite there being no convention floor to stomp nor walls to rattle.

The digital event saw several technical and procedural hiccups Friday. Missing microphones and delayed dial-ins by speakers occasionally held up the video conference. And one delegate’s point of order sought to carve out more space for policy discussion, but was voted down after she claimed the convention chair “cut me off.”

The perpetual tension over how far left the party can veer without losing its shot at power surfaced during policy debate.

Barry Weisleder, who chairs the NDP’s unofficial socialist caucus, moved to amend the $15 minimum wage resolution to $20, calling the amount “outdated.” The amendment carried, but not before another delegate warned that New Democrats “cannot run before we walk,” saying the move portrays Dippers as “idealists” who preach unpragmatic policies.

Resolutions likely to reach the floor for debate this weekend include pledges to cancel all outstanding student debt owed to Ottawa, mandate at least seven days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers and enable cities to establish fare-free public transit within a year of an NDP government taking office.

Other high-priority proposals seek to set up high-speed internet in rural and Indigenous communities and implement all 231 recommendations to emerge from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2019.

Federal PoliticsNDP Leadership

Just Posted

The City of Nanaimo has developed concepts for an extension of the Harbourfront Walkway from Departure Bay ferry terminal to Departure Bay Beach. (City of Nanaimo image)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: City hasn’t shown it has capability to build walkway

Is it really a good idea to consider a hyper-expensive, complicated mega-project, asks letter writer

Regional District of Nanaimo directors discussed asking the provincial government for increased funding, awareness and enforcement against human trafficking. (File photo)
Regional District of Nanaimo asking province to better address human trafficking issue

Directors agree to write to the premier and solicitor-general after hearing from advocate

Conductor Willi Zwozdesky and pianist Nico Rhodes led 66 local vocalists in song for the Nanaimo Sings video project Keeping Calm and Singing On. (YouTube screen shot)
Nanaimo Sings virtual performance features 66 vocalists

Fifth Nanaimo Sings festival was to have taken place this year

The bow-legged bear was seen roaming 2nd Avenue on Friday, May 7 and again in Brown Drive Park on May 13. (Submitted photo)
Bow-legged Ladysmith bear euthanized after vet examination

CO Stuart Bates said the bear had obvious health issues

Queen Elizabeth II and Clive Holland, deputy commonwealth president of the Royal Life Saving Society, top left, virtually present Dr. Steve Beerman, top right, with the King Edward VII Cup for his drowning-prevention work. Tanner Gorille and Sarah Downs were honoured with Russell Medals for their life-saving resuscitation. (Buckingham Palace photo)
UPDATE: Queen presents Nanaimo doctor with award for global drowning prevention

Dr. Steve Beerman receives Royal Life Saving Society’s King Edward VII Cup

A vial of AstraZeneca vaccine is seen at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, April 22, 2021. Dr. Ben Chan remembers hearing the preliminary reports back in March of blood clots appearing in a handful of European recipients of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Science on COVID, VITT constantly changing: A look at how doctors keep up

While VITT can represent challenges as a novel disorder, blood clots themselves are not new

Poached trees that were taken recently on Vancouver Island in the Mount Prevost area near Cowichan, B.C. are shown on Sunday, May 10, 2021. Big trees, small trees, dead trees, softwoods and hardwoods have all become valuable targets of tree poachers in British Columbia as timber prices hit record levels. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne.
Tree poaching from public forests increasing in B.C. as lumber hits record prices

Prices for B.C. softwood lumber reached $1,600 for 1,000 board feet compared with about $300 a year ago

The warm weather means time for a camping trip, or at least an excursion into nature. How much do you know about camps and camping-related facts? (John Arendt - Summerland Review)
QUIZ: Are you ready to go camping?

How many camp and camping-related questions can you answer?

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

A driver was taken to hospital after crashing a pickup truck into a tree on Rutherford Road near Bradbury Road on Friday, May 14. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Driver taken to hospital after crashing truck into tree on Rutherford hill in Nanaimo

RCMP investigating incident at Rutherford and Bradbury roads on Friday, May 14

Tamara Cameron, Uplands Park Elementary School music teacher and librarian, students Ben Leduc, second from left, Avery Kojima and Kinley Robson, as well as other music students from the school, will benefit from $8,000 from MusiCounts, for instruments and recording equipment. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Money for new instruments music to ears of Uplands Park school staff and students

Grant from music education charity MusiCounts means students will have more ways to be creative

Sarah Boileau in her home studio on Monday, May 10. Boileau’s work will be on display at the McMillan Arts Centre in Parksville through May 30. (Submitted photo)
RCMP arrested a man in north Nanaimo who wound up empty-handed after allegedly failing at shoplifting, bank robbery and robbery at ATM machine. (File photo)
Man arrested in Nanaimo after failed attempts at bank robbery, ATM mugging, shoplifting

RCMP arrest suspect in office-supply store after ‘short-lived crime spree’

Most Read