Despite speculation that the new voting system has diluted labour’s influence in deciding the next NDP leader, union bosses insist their members will play a significant role in shaping the future of the party.
According to Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, moving to a one-member-one-vote system, which allows all 131,152 members of the NDP to cast their ballots independently, won’t change the fact many of those registered are union members.
“In Ontario, we’ve got a million unionized workers, across the country’s we’ve got 3.2 million. We don’t all vote NDP, but some have joined the party and a good chunk will be voting, so that will have a massive influence,” he said, noting members will no doubt look to union leaders for guidance.
In past leadership races, unions were guaranteed a minimum 25 per cent of the vote. But the NDP eliminated that from its constitution after the last leadership convention, prompting some to argue the new system would make it less important to receive the endorsement of the trade unions that have been integral to the party since assisting in its founding a half century ago.
But Paul Moist, national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), says one-member-one-vote is more democratic and requires deeper involvement in the party in order to cast a ballot.
“Meaningful labour input into the NDP is absolutely essential,” he said. “The fact that we’re supporting different candidates here is more of a reflection of their talent and the diversity of opinion within the labour movement.”
As Moist points out, labour issues were at the forefront of discussion on Friday, with many candidates mentioning the wildcat strike at Air Canada and the recent closure of Caterpillar’s Electromotive plant in London, Ont., after a bitter lockout.
“There’s no question we’re living in mean-spirited times. It’s tough times for working people,” he said. “Those struggles that workers are facing now kind of hover over this convention today, but I think they’ll motivate the new leader to take these issues Monday morning to the House of Commons.”
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Follow us at @HuffPostCanada, on our Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's Facebook Page, on our NDP leadership site, and on our politics page and our front page. Friday, we cover candidate speeches and a tribute to Jack Layton. Saturday morning, we follow the rounds of voting that will end with the new leader.
Ryan concurs, maintaining that, once a new NDP leader is selected, labour’s issues “will be central in the minds of the [Conservative government], who will try to use it to embarrass the NDP.”
“It’s up to the NDP with labour to turn that back on the Tories and say you’re really going after average voters,” adding that, in this sense, “labour may have a bigger influence than we think.”
But that doesn’t mean trade unionists are united behind a single candidate -- or that they aren't sharing their misgivings about candidates they oppose.
While both Moist and Ryan have thrown their support behind Peggy Nash, who is also the candidate of choice for the Canadian Auto Workers’ union, the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW) is backing Thomas Mulcair and the United Steelworkers is behind Brian Topp.
Ryan, for one, has been outspoken about his trepidation about Mulcair, who he says "doesn't have any roots in the labour movement, really."
That, however, didn't stop the president of the UFCW from taking to the stage on Friday to sing the praises of the candidate from Quebec, describing Mulcair as "a leader… who will make their lives a little easier and our country a better place to live."
NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair speaks very quickly during his convention speech.
Mar 23, 2012 | Source: Keek.com
Peggy Nash's speech gets cut off at the NDP Convention.
Mar 23, 2012 | Source: Keek.com