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2021 NDP convention day one: Encouraging signs, but a deeply flawed process

Canadian PoliticsSocialism

Jagmeet Singh at the 2021 NDP convention, April 9, 2021. More than 2,000 delegates will paritcipate in this year’s virtual event which will chart the future course of the party. Photo from Twitter.

To read Christo’s full coverage of the 2021 NDP convention, click here.

The first day of the 2021 NDP convention was an interesting one, to say the least. There was much to celebrate, but at the core, the process was deeply flawed, especially in that there was far too little time to discuss and debate the resolutions delegates worked so hard crafting and prioritizing.

The undertaking of a digital convention must be incredibly challenging, and I commend the party for doing its best under extremely difficult circumstances. The party should likewise be commended for finally democratizing the resolution priority process. In the past, the ranking of resolutions was distant from the party rank-and-file, and as a result, the most ambitious and controversial resolutions were buried. Outside of convoluted early morning committees, the party insiders got to decide the rankings. At this year’s convention, all delegates got to rank their top ten priorities, and it led to a better—and I would say more left-leaning—selection of policies.

But that only matters if there is sufficient time to debate resolutions on the floor, and there was nowhere near enough. Today’s main plenary agenda ran from 2:30 to just after 6:00 pm. But in those three and a half hours only about 40 minutes were allocated to discuss the resolutions from Section 1 (Innovating and prospering in a new energy economy). Most of the agenda was packed with formulaic remarks and panels that—while having a purpose in some capacity—did little to actually shape the future of the NDP over the next two years. This means that this section had dozens of resolutions submitted, 20 prioritized, but only two debated on the convention floor.

Unless some extra time is found on the convention agenda (extremely unlikely), some vital resolutions will go without support. These include resolutions calling for the re-nationalization of Connaught Labs, abolishing billionaires, fighting tax havens, and creating a public telecommunications company. None of these were ranked lower than #7, but because of the 40-minute allotment, and the constant loss of time due to technical difficulties and switching between delegates, none will be heard. And while the party’s federal council will technically consider all outstanding resolutions not debated, this often leads to left-leaning policy sitting on the cutting room floor.

This is discouraging because the two resolutions delegates did debate showed real promise. Impressively, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh himself spoke to the need for a wealth tax and an 80 percent top marginal tax rate on all incomes above $1 million dollars, and delegates on the floor were able to amend a $15 dollar minimum wage resolution into one demanding a far more ambitious $20 baseline. But all that positive momentum was soured by a lack of meaningful debate on other important matters.

Sadly, this situation will likely repeat over the next couple of days, because most resolution blocs are no longer than an hour, and likewise contain dozens of resolutions whittled down to 20 which will almost certainly leave all but two to four being ignored. And when potentially controversial resolutions arise—like ones dealing with Israeli apartheid—they will certainly gobble up increased time given multiple speakers on both sides of the issue. This means that in future blocs, the following policies may not even see the light of day:

  • A national free public transit system
  • A Green New Deal
  • Cancelling student debt
  • A comprehensive medicare system (including dental, pharma, and optical)
  • Migrant workers’ rights
  • A gender-equitable post-COVID Canada
  • Defunding the RCMP

Delegates worked very hard on these resolutions, and it is disrespectful of their time and their efforts to be discarded. Even if you don’t think that this is a cynical effort to stifle debate, the effect this will have is essentially the same. While the agenda is already set—and any changes would require unanimous consent—the party must find some way to extend time for debate. As a start, it should stop the bloc clock when switching between delegates, or when debate is delayed by muted mics and other such things. They also don’t need to provide 20 minutes to vote on resolutions, and would be better off shifting much of that time into the debates themselves.

As I noted in my piece previewing the convention, the resolutions on offer were incredibly encouraging, and I was buoyed by the left-wing energy on display from the rank-and-file. I closed that article by noting that the NDP has an opportunity to trust in its membership and the progressive values of the Canadian working class in crafting party policy. But if we only debate a miniscule fraction of what’s on offer, how can we say the next platform will meaningfully represent the will of the party?

Christo Aivalis is political writer and commentator with a PhD in History. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, and Passage. He can be found daily on YouTube and at his new podcast Left Turn, Canada.

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