To read Christo’s full coverage of the 2021 NDP convention, click here.
The 2021 NDP convention wrapped up today, and it provided a potential roadmap to NDP success in the next election, as well as a more just, equal, and humane Canada.
Off the top, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh gave a competent speech outlining the NDP vision while dismantling the disingenuousness of the Liberals and Conservatives when they feign concern for the working class. One crucial point by Singh acknowledged that COVID has not hit all Canadians equally, and that we are not “all in this together.” As Singh noted, the COVID storm is engulfing us all, but while some of us are in luxury yachts or stable ships, millions of poor and marginalized Canadians have no boat at all, and are struggling to keep their necks above water.
If we want to build a truly just post-COVID Canada, we need to realize that our country before and during this pandemic is a deeply unequal one. As for Singh’s leadership review, he passed it with a relatively comfortable margin given that nearly 90 percnt of the delegation wanted to see him continue as leader into the next election.
As for the party’s presidential election, we saw a relatively close contest by NDP convention standards. Dhananjai “DJ” Kohli won the job with approximately two thirds of the vote, but Jessa McLean put up a valiant effort in her own right, winning significant support from the membership. Kohli—the federal NDP’s first racialized president—made a convincing case that the party must strive to build a multiracial working-class movement if it wants to achieve power and results.
We also saw some crucial amendments that introduced policies integral to building a socialist Canada. As I’ve been noting in both Canadian Dimension and Passage, I am a firm supporter of nationalizing the telecommunications industry, and felt it was one of the most important resolutions on offer in this convention. Unfortunately, the lack of time for debate left it on the cutting room floor. Luckily, some delegates were able to take a resolution on the provision of high-speed internet to rural and Indigenous communities and add an amendment which demands this work be done via a crown corporation that would provide high speed internet access to all Canadians. This was a fantastic win and a pleasant surprise.
The constitutional amendments were more controversial. Many felt the party brass put forward a resolution which would allow it to postpone conventions for up to a year beyond their usual dates, but it was defeated by delegates. Subsequently, an amendment which would expand the allocation of delegates to unions narrowly achieved the two-thirds majority, but was opposed by some delegates who felt it would weaken local riding associations because the model would count a union’s entire membership toward their delegate quota even if those union members were not NDP members. For their part, union delegates asserted that this resolution was required to ensure meaningful representation for unions within the NDP going forward based on the party’s historical relationship with labour. This conflict was exacerbated by the fact that the process of debate was less than transparent, with no CON speakers being called before the debate was closed.
There was also a concerning moment when a powerful emergency motion by Toronto Centre candidate Brian Chang on fighting anti-Asian violence was amended against his wishes. Specifically, the resolution was changed to remove references to white supremacist terrorism against racialized people, which many felt diluted the stark discussion this party and our country must have. This was a moment for the membership to listen to members like Chang, and it didn’t rise to the occasion.
All of this was rooted in a process that fundamentally lacked accessibility, so much so that the party had to refund delegate fees for those members who could not participate on account of a lack of disability accommodation. If the NDP is to do another digital convention, fundamental changes are needed to ensure people can meaningfully participate, and there is sufficient time to debate a broader portion of the party’s priorities. As it stands, despite a lot of progress, many people feel soured by events of the weekend.
Nonetheless, I look forward to the next convention that has delegate prioritization while having transparency and higher speeds of the open mics on the convention floor. I do feel that the roots of a more responsive convention have been planted, and these will only continue to grow. While not always successful, the left was well organized before and during this convention, and groups like Courage made a real impact in not only which resolutions were prioritized, but in ensuring progressive action could be wrung out of this process.
Above all, as with any convention, the real test is what happens going forward. Every Canadian party has passed ambitious policies at their convention only to have them watered down or ignored when it comes time for elections and policy implementation. And so it is up to the NDP leadership along with the membership to ensure the priorities of this convention are taken seriously.
If Singh and the NDP caucus fail to champion these priorities—from taxing the rich to challenging profit motives to upholding human rights at home and abroad—the grassroots will be disillusioned, and the party will fail to energize progressive Canadians. If they do carry forward the best of this convention, however, Singh and company will have a good platform upon which to build a campaign that not only differentiates the NDP from the Liberals and Greens, but strikes a blow against the neoliberal capitalist consensus that pervades this country.
As I noted at the start of this convention, the NDP must trust in its membership and in the progressive values of Canadians. While the format of this convention didn’t fully facilitate member participation, their energy still shined though. The party must reflect that light and magnify it if it wishes to succeed.
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.