04/07/2016 09:20 EDT | Updated 04/07/2016 11:59 EDT

NDP Grassroots Itching To Go Left Ahead Of Convention

Several policy issues will be up for debate at the convention.

EDMONTON — For the first time since their crushing election defeat, New Democrats will assemble Friday in Edmonton for three days of meetings. The big event occurs Sunday, when some 1,500 registered delegates will decide the fate of their leader, Thomas Mulcair.

Before that happens, the party’s members will first discuss what policies they want to champion, where its future lies, and hear from speakers such as NDP Premier Rachel Notley, Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Howarth, NDP politician turned diplomat Stephen Lewis, British Labour Party Leader Jon Ashworth, and the Canadian Labour Congress’ Hassan Yussuff, who has publicly called for Mulcair to be replaced.

Mulcair faced criticism for his performance during the campaign. (Photo: Fed Chartrand/CP)

He has also become a lightning rod for critics who feel the NDP moved too close to the centre — a change of course attributable to the late and revered leader Jack Layton.

Several resolutions up for discussion at the NDP convention reflect a desire by some in the grassroots to move the party more to the left of the political spectrum.

Paula Krasiun-Winsel, is co-chair of the Young New Democrats, a group that has already called for the party to adopt a new direction and new leadership.

“The Liberals definitely out-lefted us,” she told The Huffington Post Canada in a discussion about the last election campaign. “It was really disappointing to see traditional left-wing supporters buy into the Liberals’ message when that [message] should have been ours.”

Krasiun-Winsel is hoping NDP delegates adopt parts of the Leap Manifesto, a revolutionary agenda that calls for higher taxation of the wealthy and of corporations, a move towards a fossil-fuel-free economy, an end to all trade deals that interfere with regulation and attempts to stop “damaging extractive projects,” such as the Alberta oil sands.

“[It’s] being reported in many ways as a radical manifesto … as far as I’m concerned, it’s a jobs plan.”— Avi Lewis, former journalist

There are five proposed resolutions that call on the party to adapt parts or all of the Leap Manifesto.

“It’s a call for a specific set of policies designed to get off fossil fuels in a way that systematically attacks inequality, structural racism, and other injustices in our society,” former journalist Avi Lewis told HuffPost. “[It’s] being reported in many ways as a radical manifesto … as far as I’m concerned, it’s a jobs plan.”

Lewis said he doesn’t think it’s fair for the NDP to be bound, wholesale, by the Leap Manifesto without taking the time to absorb it, debate it, digest it and decide what it likes and wants to champion and what it wants to throw out. He and former MPs Libby Davies and Craig Scott are supporting a combined resolution that would suggest riding associations debate the Leap Manifesto and let those discussions guide the policy process leading to the next convention in 2018.

Some in the party, such as Barry Weisleder, the chair of the NDP socialist caucus, think the Leap Manifesto doesn’t go far enough.

Others think its adoption would be electoral suicide.

A Mulcair advisor told HuffPost he believes the Leap Manifesto will be discussed but “will never be adopted.

“...It is not a political program that allows a party to take power one day, and I continue to believe that the NDP can one day form government.”

We are a group of people from across the country that are trying to rally around a central cause, and we want to be heard.”

— Paula Krasiun-Winsel, Young New Democrats

Krasiun-Winsel told HuffPost that she really hopes what comes out of the party convention is a renewed focus on the party’s membership and its desires and goals. During the last election campaign, she felt the NDP ignored significant parts of its policy book.

“We have policy for a reason,” she said. “[It’s there] to direct our decisions and the things that we care about, and talk about, and to kind of pretend that it just doesn’t exist really doesn’t reflect the work that the larger party has done.

“[The party] is not just an office in Ottawa. We are a group of people from across the country that are trying to rally around a central cause, and we want to be heard.”

Karl Bélanger, the NDP’s national director, said this weekend is about starting “the rebuilding process” that’s needed to offer Canadians a real progressive alternative at the next election in 2019.

Karl Belanger looks on as NDP Leader Tom Mulcair answers questions during a campaign stop in B.C., Sept. 14, 2015. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

He knows the membership is looking at better ways to engage Canadians and new solutions to present to the country, he said. It’s in the NDP’s history to suggest big, bold and trendsetting policy proposals, he added, pointing to past convention discussions on transgender rights and gender equity.

“I think delegates are looking forward to debating the options that are in front of us and the way forward,” he added. “I’m optimistic that people will work together and come out of there with a new sense of hope and optimism, a sense of unity and purpose.”

Members to debate hundreds of policy issues

More than 400 policy resolutions are up for debate, everything from: changing the party’s current position on Senate reform to no longer call for its abolition, campaigning against all new pipelines and moving towards a 100 per cent renewable energy economy, advocating corporate tax hikes, protecting supply management, re-establishing the Canadian Wheat Board, banning oil tanker traffic off the B.C. coast, abolishing unpaid internships and co-op placements, vastly expanding employment insurance coverage, providing free birth control, adding basic dentistry to the Canada Health Act, reducing bank service charges, restoring Canada Post mail delivery, reinstating a program like Katimavik, repealing Bill C-51, providing an annual livable income, annexing the Turks and Caicos Islands as Canada’s next province, lowering the voting age to 16, implementing a minimum wage of $20 an hour, and imposing an additional six to 10 per cent federal tax on incomes greater than $200,000.

The party will also be discussing changes to the way it does business internally. There are three resolutions suggesting the NDP adopt a Liberal party-type supporter category where someone can receive mailings and donate to the party without formally joining and paying a membership fee. Two resolutions urge delegates to return the word “socialism” to the preamble of the party’s constitution. Once again, there is a resolution that the word “New” be dropped from the party’s name to create the “Democratic Party of Canada.”

Several resolutions that hope to curb the central party’s ability to remove candidates stem from experiences during the campaign, such as when Morgan Wheeldon was asked to resign as a candidate after posting pro-Palestinian views on social media.

With so many resolutions, Bélanger said, it’s hard to get a real sense of what people want. But that’s why parties have conventions.

“Party ridings putting proposals is one thing, having a majority of delegates adopting them is another thing, and that’s when we will have a real sense of where this party is heading.”

With files from Ryan Maloney

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