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NDP Base Is Crying Out For Principled Left Leadership

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Canada's two main opposition parties are in the throes of selecting new leaders to replace Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair. Both found themselves walking the plank after losing the 2015 General Election. The Conservatives face the spectacle of 14 candidates vying to become Leader of the Official Opposition. The New Democratic Party has attracted four candidates to its leadership contest.

The NDP is seen to be the one with the toughest hill to climb. The party faithful believes that the NDP lost ground because it allowed itself to be outmanoeuvred by the Liberal Party -- on the left. The NDP's fiscal policy appeared to be a continuation of the Harper mantra of balanced budgets. Its austerity-lite policy not only cost the NDP the 2015 federal election but also several recent provincial elections.

mulcair
Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Tom Mulcair speaks at a federal election campaign event in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Oct. 18, 2015. (Photo: Jim Young/Reuters)

Members, including NDP candidates, feel frustrated when they discover that key elements of the electoral platform bear little or no resemblance to policies democratically adopted at a convention. This is emblematic of a party that is undemocratically run from the top and is out of touch with its base. The leadership contest is an opportunity to address some of these problems, and to see which of the candidates are seriously listening to the expressed desire of the rank and file to move the party to the left.

What is needed to fill the void? NDP members are crying out for principled leadership on issues like the following:

Pipelines

The NDP cannot be for more pipelines. It is time to say no new pipelines, and commit to a transition from the current carbon-based economy to a clean, green energy economy. This would entail a massive investment in new technology, and in the re-training of displaced workers.

Free Trade Agreements

Currently, the NDP is all over the map. Its MPs agreed with the South Korean FTA, opposed the TPP, and were practically silent on CETA. Plus, we've had precious little to say about the renegotiation of NAFTA. We cannot support FTAs that undermine our health care, education or water systems. Nor can we support Chapter 11 clauses that impinge upon democratic sovereignty. It is time to bring the labour movement, the environmental movement and First Nations to the table, and challenge the corporate agenda.


Privatization

New Democrats reject Public Private Partnerships and say NO to privatization. Trudeau recently announced a fire sale of public assets to his friends on Bay Street through his so-called "flywheel of investment" model. This flywheel will be paid for by road and bridge tolls, in addition to user fees. Instead, the NDP should advocate a Social Investment Bank to invest heavily in social housing, public transit and other long neglected infrastructure improvements.

Party Democracy

I'm hearing from some party insiders that certain topics should not be discussed in the leadership debates. Issues such as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, they argue, can be polarizing and therefore are not fair to centrist candidates. I guess one could extend that logic to pipelines or free trade agreements. Hell...why even bother having a leadership contest?

Let's just pick the next leader's name out of a hat and allow the party controllers to develop another milquetoast platform for the 2019 election. The alternative is greater democracy in the party. That should include more time at conventions to debate and vote on policy, and a requirement that the election platform reflects adopted party policy.

Foreign Policy

It is high time the NDP took a principled approach to the Middle East. It can no longer support Israel "right or wrong" and be silent when human rights atrocities and land expropriations are carried out against Palestinians. The occupation must end, and the wall must come down. The NDP must articulate its past policy of Canada Out of NATO, and oppose Ottawa's alignment with U.S.-backed aggression in Eastern Europe and Syria/Iraq.

Inequality

The growth of precarious employment, two-tier benefits, low wages, and lack of decent, affordable housing all contribute to the social cancer of growing inequality. The NDP should be in the forefront of efforts, inside and outside of Parliament, to turn this around. We need NDP action campaigns to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour, to share the benefits of robotization and gains in productivity by reducing the workweek without loss of pay and benefits, to defend health care and education from cuts and user fees, and to move rapidly away from regressive taxes in favour of progressive taxes on corporations and the rich.

The party is doomed to sit on the sidelines for generations if we elect a centrist leader with another mushy middle-of-the-road platform.

By a just distribution of the wealth created by working people, a country as rich as Canada can abolish post-secondary education fees, cancel student debt, and provide quality national childcare. Billions can be saved by creating a public pharmaceutical provider. The NDP should be the party of the social justice movements, of tenants, farmers, jobless youth, injured workers, victims of price gouging telecoms and energy giants, of environmentalists, social innovators and equality seekers, rather than just a sideline supporter of them.

Since last October, a team of NDP activists from across Canada, including Quebec, have been urging me to join the leadership contest. The premise is that I have a proven track record on key policy areas, such as those listed above. That is where I have stood during my 25-year career as a leader in the labour movement within the Canadian Union of Public Employees and the Ontario Federation of Labour.

I can say, without fear of contradiction, that national union leaders -- by and large -- do not speak for their members when it comes to supporting the NDP. Only four out of 54 national unions in Canada openly support the NDP. The union members who belong to the NDP are miles ahead of their leaders on progressive politics, with a few notable exceptions. The NDP leadership contest will not be won by lining up national union leaders, but rather by engaging in the hard slog of reaching the base, local union by local union.

The party is doomed to sit on the sidelines for generations if we elect a centrist leader with another mushy middle-of-the-road platform. NDP members want a leader with a solid commitment to socialist principles. I have yet to finalize my decision and give an answer to the "Draft Sid" campaign. In part, this is due to my fear of dividing the left vote, and in part, it is because the candidates who have announced so far have yet to flesh out their campaign platforms. If the NDP left can unite behind a genuine socialist candidate, we may be able to avoid a continuation of the debilitating policies and practices of recent years, and confidently head towards victory.

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