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Labour Congress leader to NDP: Success in Question Period no longer enough

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Image: Twitter/@hassan_yussuff

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The first major speech at the 2016 NDP convention was rousing, but perhaps a bit anti-climactic.

Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) leader Hassan Yussuff spoke Friday afternoon and said nothing directly about Tom Mulcair's leadership.

Earlier in the week, Yussuff told more than one media interviewer that he thinks it is time for Mulcair to go.

He did not repeat that view at the podium on Friday, although he did indicate his profound disappointment with the result of last October's election.

The CLC leader told his audience that the labour movement had never been so united and committed to work for an NDP victory as it had been in the last election.

Labour -- and the party -- had money, volunteers and engaged activists like never before, Yussuff said. And yet, he admitted ruefully, they did not achieve the result they believed to be within their grasp.

Yussuff did not belabour the point; but it was impossible to miss.

Policy goals such as doubling pensions and equal pay for equal work

The CLC leader devoted the major part of his speech to enumerating public policy goals that would tend to unite all factions of the NDP. 

He talked about eliminating child poverty, doubling the Canada Pension Plan for seniors, creating one million climate jobs, assuring equal services for Indigenous Canadians (whom he pointedly said have been victims of racist policies) and guaranteeing equal pay for equal work for women.

He also mentioned changing the outmoded electoral system and repealing the Harper government's so-called anti-terror legislation, Bill C-51. The latter rallying cry earned him a standing ovation.

Yussuff telegraphed organized labour's discomfort over the coming LEAP manifesto debate by emphatically stating that nobody would tell the CLC it was not possible to reconcile the environment and economic growth.

Almost in the same breath, Yussuff praised Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley.

On Thursday, in a kitchen table televised address, Notely unabashedly came out for more pipelines to transport Alberta bitumen to market. That aspiration is quite at variance with the LEAP position. 

If there was a point in his speech where the CLC leader most directly challenged NDP leader Mulcair, it was where he said something about real progressive political work not happening in parliamentary committees and Question Period.

The real work for labour rights, health care, pensions and other progressive goals, Yussuff said, has happened at the grassroots, not in the corridors of power.

For good measure, the CLC leader went on to condemn so-called trickle-down politics. They are just as bad as trickle-down economics, he argued.

Time to get out of Parliament and back to grassroots

Those were tough words, especially to the activists of a party that has always prided itself on being, quintessentially, in favour of making Parliament work as a truly democratic deliberative and legislative body.

Going back to the days of such legendary CCF and NDP parliamentarians as Stanley Knowles, an early and tireless advocate for pensions, and Grace MacInnis, once the only woman Member of Parliament, Canada's social democratic party has always prided itself on punching above its weight in the House of Commons.

These days, few would argue that Mulcair has not been a worthy inheritor of that proud parliamentary tradition.

But on Friday, Yussuff said clearly and unequivocally that being effective in the House is no longer enough. His message to the NDP is that now is not the time to focus on the House of Commons. It is the time to energetically re-focus on the big job the NDP faces outside Parliament. Now is the time, Yussuff advocated, to re-energize the commitment and the enthusiasm of the party's grassroots base.

Yussuff has already said he does not think Mulcair is the man for that job.

How many agree with him?

Stay tuned. 

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Image: Twitter/@hassan_yussuff 

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