Two activists join the buzz on Buzz

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These letters are written to Sandra Clifford, President of the Ontario NDP. The Provincial Executive suspended the membership of Buzz Hargrove and the suspension was upheld by the Provincial Council.

Bob White

Hi Sandra,

I am writing regarding the Ontario NDP executive decision, and now supported by the provincial council, to suspend the NDP membership of Buzz Hargrove.

Since shortly after the federal election, I have been away and now after having been back for a week I can't let what has happened here go by without expressing my opinion. Quite frankly, what has happened is outrageous and will have serious implications for the NDP.

The recent NDP federal election campaign resulted in a few more seats; however, if those results are put into proper context they were to say the least underwhelming.

The Liberals were under attack because of the Gomery inquiry. The RCMP for the first time, in the middle of an election, announced an investigation of a Finance Minister. In addition, the Liberals ran the worst campaign I can remember. In spite of all that, after leading the charge to bring the government down and spending the most money in any election, the NDP elected only a few new MPs.

Yes, it was great to see NDP MPs get re-elected as well as the increase in numbers and the quality of the newly elected MPs. But the reality today is, the NDP does not have the balance of power and has 29 seats. That's fewer than we had in the 80s. Steven Harper is Prime Minister and the money to create new publicly funded child-care spaces and other important issues agreed to in the former minority government are lost.

What does the Ontario NDP executive do? What is the big news coming out of their first post-election meeting? A meeting being held at a time when, under the current leadership, the NDP is barely clinging to party status and an election is looming in the not-too-distant future?

Does the NDP executive try and build on what happened in the federal campaign? Do they highlight the importance of identifying more with workers' issues? Are they convincing any new young candidates to run in the next election in order to have well over the number of MPPs required for party status?

No, they decide the prime focus of the Ontario party executive is to attack and suspend the membership of the leader of one of the most progressive unions in our country and province — a union that stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the public sector workers, during the days of the Social Contract, when they were under attack by an NDP government; a union that has a long historical commitment to equity, equality and social justice both here and around the world; a union that has been active in the CCF-NDP from the very early days. Since becoming a Canadian union that commitment increased significantly.

What was the terrible act that Buzz Hargrove committed? He dared to have a meeting of the CAW executive board, the majority of whom are elected local union leadership, to discuss a strategy in the federal election. That was followed by a meeting of the CAW Council attended by over 800 elected local union leaders and activists.

In his remarks to the council delegates Buzz outlined that he believed the political situation had changed dramatically in Canada: A new and different conservative party with Stephen Harper as leader and possible Prime Minister; a Bloc Québécois with very significant support in Quebec and — the NDP having absolutely no chance of forming a government.

He outlined the progress that happened as a result of pre-election negotiations between the Liberals and the NDP which produced some important results. He said the best outcome for working people and the country would be a new Liberal government with the NDP, under Jack Layton's leadership holding the balance of power with many more seats than before the election. He said in this election it is time for strategic voting in certain circumstances.

Hargrove recommended that the CAW actively campaign in support of NDP candidates in ridings that had been determined by the party as priority ridings, and do everything possible to help those candidates get elected. Secondly, if people were in a riding in which it is very clear that the NDP candidate had no chance of winning, but the Conservative could, our members should try and help the Liberal candidate to stop the Conservative from being successful.

I was an observer at that meeting and after a wonderful debate that lasted over three hours around 85 per cent voted in favour of the recommendation.

One of the most insulting things the Ontario NDP executive and provincial council has done is that it ignores completely the participation of hundreds of CAW activists in this important and difficult decision.

Buzz did exactly what is expected of the president of our union. He held a media conference, outlined the position taken by the elected delegates and from then until Election Day he articulated and defended that strategy all across the country.

In retrospect, it is very interesting there were others advocating strategic voting during the final days of the campaign. One was Jack Layton with his appeal to Liberals to âeoelend the NDP your votesâe or Premier Lorne Calvert advocating strategic voting in some areas in Saskatchewan.

Finally, I can't believe the absolute stupidity and arrogance of what the NDP executive demands that Buzz must agree to in order to be reinstated. Imagine someone is charged, found guilty, and then told what they must do to clear their record, without ever having an opportunity to present their position.

The danger for the Ontario NDP is that a lot more people might want to support Buzz and join him. One thing I know about my union, me included, if we have to choose between the NDP and CAW we will choose CAW.

Bob White

Bob White is the former president of the CAW.

Judy Rebick

Dear Sandra,

I am writing to protest in the strongest terms the suspension of Buzz Hargrove from the ONDP.

While I disagreed with Buzz's approach during the election, I think it is a grave error to suspend him for a number of reasons.

First, despite the formal rules, it is undemocratic. At the very least, Buzz should have been given the opportunity to defend himself. In any case, this is simply a bureaucratic approach to the divisions in the party and between the party and the movements during this election.

It would have been much better to have invited Buzz to debate with a party spokesperson on the issue of strategic voting. Instead of creating a polarization where people have to choose sides, you could have used the differences to create an educational moment. This is a critical issue that will no doubt emerge in the next election as well and suspending Buzz does nothing to persuade people that he was wrong on the issue.

Secondly, Buzz is the leader of a trade union which voted to implement strategic voting. If the party is going to have closer links with the social movements, including the labour movement, it has to respect the autonomy of those movements. Let's say a feminist party had run in the election when I was president of NAC and NAC decided to support it. Would you have expelled me for that? These are very important questions. If we want leaders of social movements to be active in the party, and I think we do, then we have to respect their autonomy.

Thirdly, it is unfair. Lots of party members called for strategic voting. Are you going to expel them all? Are we going to have a purge? I don't think so. You expel Buzz because he makes people madder than anyone else. So then you are targeting him not only for this but for other offenses. And that is unfair and undemocratic.

I hope this suspension can be rescinded. You know as well as I do that Buzz will not promise nor can he promise to never do it again.

Please share this letter with the rest of the Provincial Executive.

In Solidarity,
Judy Rebick

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