The NDP policy convention in Montreal got off to a rocky start Friday. Predictably, the chair of the NDP socialist caucus Barry Weisleder took to the microphone and urged delegates to ditch a guest speaker from the U.S. and instead spend more time debating policies the grassroots had suggested. The party members voted overwhelmingly against Weisleder's motion — just as it did when Weisleder, who represents the party's far left, proposed a similar motion at the NDP's last policy convention in Vancouver in 2011.
Weisleder told The Huffington Post Canada he thinks the party is not spending enough time discussing resolutions from its membership and he believes the NDP has lost its way.
Here is part of that conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.
Why did you try to modify the NDP’s convention agenda?
There is very little time for policy debate at the convention and presumably that is the purpose of the convention. Grassroots delegates come from all across the country to consider where the party should stand on foreign affairs, on the economy, on human rights, on the national question in Quebec, on aboriginal peoples, and so on. We attempted to remove some of the time allocated to a representative of the U.S. Democratic Party, which is an enemy of the working class, and devote it to policy direction. The chair (party president Rebecca Blaikie) was rather rude but 20 per cent of people voted with us.
You said the party decided to rank all the resolutions the socialist caucus supported last, guaranteeing that they wouldn’t be discussed in public. What has been left off the table?
We have a resolution supported by four riding associations, in east, west and central Canada, calling on the party to actively campaign against CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union) and FIPA (the Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement). It seems like the argument from the Mulcair camp is they want to see what the content of those deals are. That’s too late. It’s too late to affect them if you are playing the wait-and-see game. We need to be proactive.
We have resolutions demanding that full diplomatic relations be restored with Iran. We don’t support the Ahmadinejad government but we think cutting off relations is not only mimicking U.S. policy but going one worse and demonizing the Iranian people and heightening the war danger and advancing the interest of the corporate elite who want to take control of the natural resources of that region of the world. It advances the wrong agenda.
NDP delegates will be asked to vote on a new preamble to the party’s constitution on Sunday. You strongly opposed the last version and you oppose this one too. Why?
The new language removes from the constitution any reference to social ownership as being one of the goals of the movement. It makes a list of social movements and refers to socialism as being basically in the rear-view mirror, it is something in the past, something in the tradition of some of the members, but it is not 'active' in terms of how we grapple with the environmental crisis, the ever-present and deepening world economic crisis, the wars of intervention, the threat of nuclear war. This is completely inadequate.
The process by which the proposal was drafted and presented here as a fait accompli is completely at odds with what was promised in Vancouver… That promise was that there was going to be extensive consultations among all the membership and there was none. And nine days before this convention, they release one that is poorly written, not at all the fruits of any consultation and it doesn’t even identify the major social forces that produce the wealth in society and that are the basis of this party.
Do you view the party as moving too close to the centre?
Absolutely. We’re at risk of becoming another Liberal party — opportunism run mad. That doesn’t serve the interest of the people the party claims to represent and that has to be challenged and the socialist caucus is in the business of challenging that and advancing a workers' agenda which we think is more relevant now than ever before.
One NDP advisor told me this week that some NDP members need to realize that they need to put a little bit of water in their wine so that the party can achieve some of the things it wants to do...
Like Bob Rae (when he was Ontario NDP premier)? Bob Rae put a lot of water in the wine and we ended up with a violation of collective bargaining that is now become the motif of business and governments all across the country. The right to strike exists only on paper and collective agreements can be violated or abrogated. You can suspend collective bargaining just as you surely as you can suspend Parliament, and the government and its business backers can do as they will.
So you think it is imperative that the NDP sticks to its principles?
Yes because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll stand for anything. That is the fear of most NDPers, we don’t need two Liberal parties. The Liberal brand has been discredited, people have turned to the NDP because in the popular mind it represents something different, the interest of a broader class than the Bay Street Liberals represent. We need to get back to the roots, and advance politics that speak to the real issue of homelessness, debt, the assault on human rights, the loss of employment in turning factories into casinos, and importing workers for the short term, paying them less and then giving them the boot. There are all kinds of things that need to be addressed. We are not talking about some nostalgia for the 1930s. We are talking about today’s issues and solutions that are in the interests of the majority, not in the interests of the corporate elite and not even in the perceived interest of those who simply want to make a career on the backs of working people through this party or working class organization. We can do better.
Barry, judging by the tone in the room, it doesn’t sound like this party wants you anymore. Do you feel that this is no longer your home?
You want to force change from within?
We don’t have a choice. If you belong to a trade union at your workplace and you don’t like its leadership and you don’t like the way it does business, your choice is what? Not to go to meetings? Not to be involved? You’re still paying dues. The working class, if it didn’t have a party, would need to create one. It has one which is not adequate to its purposes and it has to strive to change. And if it won’t change, then something will come out of that struggle. We can’t always predict what comes around the corner. But presently that challenge is here and we (the socialist caucus) are facing it.