More than 2000 New Democratic activists spent the weekend at a policy convention in Montreal -- described as the largest policy convention for the party to date. It was an historic weekend not just for the number of delegates in attendance, or because of the highly anticipated change of the party's preamble; this was also the first convention post Jack Layton, and the first convention where Tom Mulcair has had the opportunity to set the tone for his leadership. More than 92 per cent of delegates demonstrated they had confidence Mulcair could take them into the 2015 election (Watch the confidence votes results here.)
(Largest convention yet for the NDP)
At a convention that had more youth, more cultural diversity and significantly more French spoken than any convention in the party's history, the grassroots of the party sent resounding messages of support from the floor for pressing concerns such as Indigenous rights and in particular to Idle No More.
There were also resolutions passed for the respect for labour rights, for the protection of the environment and the protection of science and evidence-based policy (see this video featuring MP Kennedy Stewart), for an expanded position on trade agreements (read more on this from Stuart Trew), respect for human rights (in particular the overwhelming support for the Resolution on Recognizing Jaswant Singh Khaira as a Human Rights Defender) and, judging by the cheers from the floor, support for the Maple Spring and the aims of accessible post-secondary education. A motion on the floor regarding education, which appeared to have strong support, was referred to later in the meeting -- a move that caused the resolution not to be voted on, as the convention ran over time. (More to come on this from Ethan Cox.)
It was a convention where many of the resolutions that made it to convention resulted less in debate and more in repeated affirmations of long-held party policies. Calls to put the resolutions to "question" were a frequently heard refrain. Less popular but also frequent were the regular calls to "shorten interventions" -- where delegates were repeatedly and tactfully reminded that length of interventions was "constitutionally" guaranteed by chair Steve Moran. (See all the resolutions and more about the convention here.)
Of course, in Canada's current political climate, affirming the party's positions on issues such as labour rights (with a resolution from Hamilton Mountain on attacks on the labour movement), employment insurance, the abuses of the temporary foreign worker program, environmental protections, and health care are important elements to highlight and reaffirm -- particularly when juxtaposed against the regressive Conservative party positions and ambiguous policy positions of the new leadership of the Liberal Party.
These NDP bread and butter themes were reiterated in the two opportunities members had to hear from their leader during convention: in the Town Hall with Tom Mulcair on the first night, and in the leader's address on the second day. (For a comparison of Mulcair and new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, see Karl Nerenberg's latest here.)
The expected controversy of the weekend around the preamble, which as one reporter pointed out on Twitter, was what the media was eagerly awaiting all day, was cut short by the call to put it to question after only two interventions -- an eloquent plea for support by resolution co-author Bill Blaikie, and an impassioned intervention, in French, by a young woman from Quebec at the con mic.
(Young woman from Quebec speaking against changes to the NDP's preamble.)
The lack of debate was a major disappointment to those who had lined up as early as 6:30a.m. to guarantee a spot at the mics, as well as for many delegates who looked forward to hearing from members on the issue. But when the floor spoke in response to the call to question, it could have delayed the vote, but didn't. The new preamble passed by a vote of 960 to 188. (See the new and amended preamble and old preamble here. For more discussion on the preamble see Nora Loreto and Steven Shrybman.)
Overall an uncontroversial convention on the surface, where even the position of party President was uncontested, the most notable controversy came in the form of a party flip flop around the appropriateness of a banner against Obama's use of drones (the activists were kicked out, let back in, and asked to leave again).
So while debate was cut short on the much anticipated preamble discussion, history was made on the floor of the convention when a resolution on the rights and security of sex workers made it to the convention floor, and was eloquently addressed by an NDP delegate and sex worker Anna. The resolution was not voted on however, as it was referred to Federal Council.
Watch for more to come on this issue.
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