June 20

Despite “over-whelming evidence” they do not work, the Conservative Party persists in applying policies that fail Canadians, Jack Layton told 1,500 delegates in his speech to wind-up the NDP’s 50th anniversary convention, which was held in Vancouver June 17 to 19.

Canada now offers a big tent to welcome voters dissatisfied with Stephen Harper, it just happens to be orange, Layton said (an ironic invocation of the ill-fated big red tent image which had been dear to Michael Ignatieff). The convention voted its confidence in the NDP leader; about 98 per cent of delegates rejected the need for a leadership review.

Layton’s NDP is one part professional electoral machine, one part unruly movement that is prone to disrupt convention proceedings, and one part beloved by its members for its express commitments to building a better world for all. In Vancouver, it was mostly astonished, and delighted, to be the official opposition, thanks to taking 59 seats in Quebec.

Delegates got a good look at the machine that brought the party to second place in party standing. A briefing from campaign director Brad Lavigne featured presentations by the English- and French-language public relations firms on what the party wanted to achieve with its media buys. The electoral campaign ads by the French language group were as good as any political advertising ever done in Canada, by anybody, since the advent of television. Judged by results alone, the party should get the Quebec firm to do both campaigns next time.

The many delegates who were unhappy with NDP support for the bombing of Libya confined their dissent to corridor talk. Party officials managed to keep support for the Canadian boat to Gaza from reaching the stage of debate on the floor of the convention. Delegates did rise to demand support for Vancouver’s Insite Supervised Injection Site, upsetting plans for managing that debate.

Members also got plenty of nostalgia of good fights (many lost) in a Friday night slide show reviewing the party’s notable moments, including a live performance of a Tommy Douglas speech by actor Michael Therriault, who starred in Prairie Giant: The Tommy Douglas Story.

In visits with delegates gathered in regional caucuses, Brian Topp, acclaimed on Saturday as NDP party president [Ed. Note: Topp also blogs for rabble.ca] , identified three NDP priorities. They are: providing the best possible Official Opposition to the misguided direction the Harper Conservatives are taking Canada comes first; doing all the things needed to prepare to take power and govern in the interests of hard-working Canadian families comes next; not being the Liberal Party.

In an effort to stir up media interest in the convention, party officials had put forward a resolution to replace the current constitutional preamble with a watered-down version that downplayed social ownership and socialism. After a short, but lively, debate that had MP Pat Martin speak in favour (and draw a lot of boos), in a widely anticipated move, Topp went to the microphone, and from the floor asked delegates to vote to refer the resolution back to the party’s executive because it was a constitutional change which needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Delegates easily agreed to maintain the old language for at least another two years, with Topp, whose day job is with ACTRA, saying that artists need more space in the party and a greater place in Canada, adding they may need a poet to help create a new preamble for a new age.

Earlier, meeting in camera, delegates voted to put two other resolutions ahead of the preamble resolution. The first, adopted with enthusiasm, was to make organizing the key measure for “building momentum.” The second, rejected by three delegates for every two in favour (in a requested recorded vote), called for no talks with Liberals about either merging the two parties or forming pre-election alliances.

In the months ahead, the NDP is going to face a massive well-funded campaign by big business to discredit the party. Since they live off the income derived from corporate ads, open mainstream media hostility to the NDP will only grow from the 32 of 33 major daily papers that, before the May 2 election, called on Canadians to vote Conservative, despite it being found in contempt of Parliament.

Having used dirty advertising to push the Liberals out of second place, Harper will use every propaganda trick he can muster to attack Layton and the NDP. Harper has already moved to end public support for parties determined by how many votes they received — the democratic method for establishing levels of support — while maintaining the political tax credit, which depends on how much money party supporters can give.

At the convention, one out of every 25 delegates was an MP from Quebec. One of every 15 delegates was an MP. These facts explained the mood of optimism, and the festive atmosphere of the gathering. Party members believe that with the NDP now holding Quebec, in the fixed-date election in 2015, Canadians looking to change governments (the Conservatives will have had three terms) will vote NDP to make it happen. Delegates did not need the overall theme of the convention to be written down. All knew without being told: the NDP is a government in waiting.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca. His column on Canadian politics appears weekly.

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