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Manitoba NDP Must Stave Off Stagnation To Unite The Left

12/13/2016 12:05 EST | Updated 12/13/2016 12:05 EST

greg selinger

Manitoba NDP leadership candidate Greg Selinger. (Photo: Canadian Press)

Once-stalwart organizations, clubs and charities across Canada all have a problem in common: they are facing a shortage of members and volunteers.

The Royal Canadian Legion, political parties and a laundry list of other organizations are desperate for new members. Even churches have been found to be hemorrhaging members in the past year and are dwindling in numbers.

Voter turnout over 50 per cent is cause for minor celebration these days, and it is well-documented that the 18 to 25 demographic doesn't vote.

The fact of the matter is that people today are not as engaged as they once were. It would then behoove any organization to never try to limit the number of new members wishing to join.

Unfortunately, the Manitoba NDP did not get the memo. As a new member I have joined to find a provincial party in disarray. In fact, some are actively trying to prevent new members from joining the party by capping the number of those who can join.

If you want to look at how to renew a party or not renew a party, you need look no further than the approaches of the federal NDP and Manitoba NDP.

The NDP cannot afford to disenfranchise anyone, and to do so is extremely shortsighted.

Both parties will be electing new leaders in 2017 after controversy over leadership issues in recent times.

The federal party decided at its convention to elect a new leader after a vote on a leadership review. The vote took place. The leader agreed to remain as interim leader and continues to represent the New Democrats. In 2017, the federal NDP will be electing a leader using the one member, one vote system. Every member of the party, no matter where they live or whatever their background, will receive a vote.

Candidates will have the opportunity to reach out to new members and broaden the support base of the party. Given the party's fall to third place, this newfound openness couldn't come at a better time in terms of rebuilding the organization.

Then there's the Manitoba NDP. After an unprecedented attack on Premier Greg Selinger, the party had a conflict-ridden leadership convention in 2015. With this open divisiveness, it's not surprising that the party lost badly in the 2016 provincial election.

Instead of instituting a one member, one vote system and opening the party up, the Manitoba party establishment has inexplicably brought in a proposed series of changes that would give it some of the most restrictive membership and leadership processes of any NDP section in the country.

Instead of a 30-day cut off for new members, it will have a 90 day cut off. It would create hundreds of new delegates who would not have to seek election -- instead, delegates would be automatically appointed, not unlike the super delegates of the Democratic party in the U.S..

(Democrats. Picture Debbie Wasserman Schultz and all the barriers she put in front of Bernie Sanders. Now picture a whole committee stacking the deck against new potential members in the provincial NDP.)

The NDP cannot afford to disenfranchise anyone, and to do so is extremely shortsighted. Furthermore, anyone that advocates for such a system has turned their back on the values of the party and should do some serious soul searching or find another party that permits this type of abhorrent behaviour.

Refusing new memberships is like cutting off one's nose to spite their face.

In another particularly bizarre move, they also want to put a virtual cap on how many delegates constituencies would receive where there are high membership numbers. Not coincidentally, these regions are constituencies where there are large number of aboriginal people and new Canadians. Some are already calling this a deliberate attempt to shut out racialized, aboriginal and young voters.

The proposed changes would also ensure that Winnipeg will select the leader of the provincial NDP, as those in the northern part of the province have difficulty getting to the provincial capital. The Federal NDP have an online voting system in place for the upcoming election. Frankly, the only reason not to embrace technology is if you have an agenda.

Now is not the time to divide. In fact, both the federal and Manitoba NDP face a choice between relevancy and oblivion. The difference is taht while the federal NDP is on the right track, the Manitoba NDP is on track to a political disaster.

In 2017, people want democracy. They will not accept party elites dictating the direction of a party and the selection of its leader.

Refusing new memberships is like cutting off one's nose to spite their face. These are uncertain times both federally and provincially, and many among the NDP have indicated that they are ready to rebuild. Only a select few are determined to hinder progress.

I ask these individuals to step aside so that positive, forward-thinking democratic socialists can unite the left. We can ill afford to ignore the real challenges ahead of us and allow stagnation to overtake the party.

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