If a movement ever develops in Canada with the potential to change its political landscape, like England’s Momentum which helped elect Corbyn as Labour Party leader, or the U.S. youth who breathed life into Bernie Sanders campaign, then the Courage Coalition will very likely be its backbone. This deftly organized, loose alignment of activists represents the best connective tissue between mass movements and electoral politics on the Canadian left today.
The Coalition came together following Mulcair’s balanced-budget conservatism during the 2015 federal election. At the 2016 NDP Convention in Edmonton, over 100 delegates, many of them Young New Democrats, attended a pub night for Renewal, the first iteration of Courage. Renewal successfully campaigned for Mulcair’s replacement as NDP leader and promoted the Leap Manifesto.
By March 2017 these activists, identifying with the social movements in which many were rooted, and summoning the “courage” to call for an unapologetic left turn for the NDP, transformed themselves into Courage. This organization represented something new. Until recently, activist movements have been dominated by a spirit of anti-electoralism. In part, this is a legacy of the anarchist and participatory democracy sensibilities of the anti-globalization and Occupy movements.
In a sharp break from that tradition, the Courage membership, now in the low hundreds and mostly millennial – view the electoral arena as a valid space for tactically promoting their goals and advancing their perspectives. Not every Courage member is in the NDP (some are Greens, Québec solidaire supporters, or not electorally oriented), but many participate in the NDP while continuing to be active in union or grassroots causes. It’s understood in Courage circles, that, if elected, an NDP government would still need a mobilized civil society to compel meaningful change.
The ambitious alliance holds spirited discussions about policy and campaigns mostly online via Slack and Zoom video conferencing, creating a welcome pan-Canadian space for cooperation and solidarity. Importantly, an anti-oppression framework is central to the group and all decisions of consequence need 40% attendance by women, trans and non-binaries.
Courage’s unity is based on:
- A commitment to building community and capacity
- Democratic economic control
- An inclusive, anti-oppression agenda
- Climate justice and a green jobs strategy
- International solidarity, Palestinian rights, and welcoming refugees
- Decolonization and self-determination for Indigenous Peoples
- Asymmetrical federalism with equal treatment of all minorities
Campaigning on some of these items, Courage has made itself an attractive force. At the federal NDP convention last year in Ottawa, the group was a major presence in debates over democratization and Palestinian rights. In Ontario, the Coalition was key to the election of left-wing ONDP MPP Joel Harden in Ottawa Centre. Courage also helped elect an Edmonton city councillor, and is in the process of identifying left NDP candidates in the upcoming federal election to “endorse” and actively support.
The Coalition also attempts to reshape internal NDP culture, urging the Party to mobilize between elections on key concerns, to shift away from hierarchical, staff-driven leaderships, to emphasize membership engagement in decisions, and to deal with inner-party sexism, discrimination, sexual assault and harassment. In a bold move, its sights are set on winning support for A Green New Deal of the North.
Despite it’s clear perspective, Courage defines itself as a work in progress. There have been many other groups that have tried over the decades to win the NDP to transformative socialist change – the Waffle, the New Party Initiative, the Left Caucus, NDP for Leap, the Socialist Caucus. Courage has many antecedents. Will it succeed where others have failed or only been partially successful? As in England, it took the combined unity of a mass youth movement allied with critical trade union leaders in the BLP to put the coup de grâce to Third Way politics. It can happen here.
Harry Kopyto lives in Toronto. He works as a legal activist focusing on cases promoting movements for social change.
This article appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of Canadian Dimension (CD Goes Digital).