Today, the NDP got down to business and discussed policy, policy and more policy. In fact, the difference with Liberal policy conventions and NDP policy conventions, is that at NDP policy conventions, policy is discussed.
I started following the day with interest as delegates debated building an oil pipeline from Alberta to Eastern Canada. The advantages — according to the delegates — would be that such a move would create hundreds if not thousands of jobs and it would maintain sovereignty over Canadian energy distribution as distribution channels now run through the US. The clear disadvantage? That would be a nod to the reality that Canadians consume oil and export oil from the oil sands — a sticky point to a party that ran on a moratorium on future oil sands development in the previous election. In the face of recognizing economic realities and lofty dreams, the party faithful sided with the latter firmly saying “no” to our own oil production and transport.
From there, delegates went onto women in “peace-building” (is this the same as Conservative “peacemaking” — or closer to Liberal “peacekeeping”?) The resolution carried as no controversy could be found in a feel good resolution for everyone. Then foreign aid came up and Libby Davies took the microphone to describe the conditions of the people in the Gaza strip after she had returned from… the West Bank. No mention of Israel, though one delegate found the Canada-Israel Committee’s presence at the conference “interesting”. There was some other drama as some delegates debated the highly generalized language of the foreign aid resolution which described aid to “countries”. One delegate moved to discuss aid on a case-by-case bilateral basis. There were also some procedural debates. One French-language resolution was discussed which may well have been lifted by the Bloc Quebecois mandating the use of the French-language by all Quebeckers. Further, a policy resolution on EI firmed up the party’s position closer to the 360 hour mark similarly being proposed by the Liberals.
Leo Gerard was one of the showcase speakers of the day. The president of the United Steelworkers certainly gave the best crowd-pleasing speech of the day but appealed to the worst elements of partisanship as he, at different times, called both Harper and Ignatieff “the prince of darkness” and called ideological opponents in the US healthcare debate “redneck jerkoffs”. Frankly, if the NDP is to ever be taken seriously, this sort of language is unacceptable from a showcase speaker during the convention of a mainstream political party. In fact, to emphasize the fact that the NDP is still not taken seriously, there will be little to no critical coverage of this language in the MSM tomorrow, as there would have been screaming headlines if this had occurred at a Conservative or Liberal convention.
Next, the results of the party executive elections were announced. Peggy Nash replaces Anne McGrath as president of the NDP while Rebecca Blaikie was elected treasurer. A motion was made to
destroy recycle the ballots. Nash served as an MP for the NDP in the 39th parliament and then most recently as an adviser to the CAW. Blaikie is daughter of the former NDP MP and Dean of the House of Commons Bill Blaikie.
Next, Marshall Ganz — a Harvard lecturer and labour organizer — spoke to the crowd about his experience as a community organizer and as a campaign organizer for the Obama campaign. Ganz gave the most informative speech of day for assembled delegates. Though Ganz spoke about the “politics of hope”, the NDP would be better served going negative against Michael Ignatieff as the Liberal leader has left them a lot of room to maneuver on the centre-left. To stake out their place there, the NDP will have to define Ignatieff more aggressively than recent Conservative efforts did with the now famous Just Visiting ads. Particularly notable moments of culture shock were apparent from Obama speakers in their use of biblical parables to illustrate “teachable moments” at this convention. The party of prairie preacher Tommy Douglas has taken a long road eschewing social justice drawn from religious inclination to one taken from a more atheistic worldview and Obama campaigners seemed to be out-of-place making religious analogies to a largely secular party.
After Ganz, the party went back to policy debate and discussed a state-focused nuclear disarmament resolution in a “hey, remember the 80s/something happened on 9/11?” moment. As conflict has moved from cold-war area politics to one with asymmetrical non-state actors post 9/11, the NDP still seems bent on having the same “world without (US) nukes” policy discussion instead of addressing the real and present danger of global terrorism. Another striking moment came during the international policy discussion portion when NDP MP Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre) suggested that Tamil actions in blocking traffic in Ottawa and occupying a highway in Toronto were legitimate methods for Tamils to get the attention of the Canadian government.
The keynote of the day was Betsy Myers, the COO for the Obama campaign. According to her agency website, Myers banks between $15-20k per speaking arrangement. Myers talk was relatively light and uninspiring for delegates, but involved a Q&A session hosted by NDP national campaign manager Brian Topp. During Myers speech to party faithful, union delegates were notably absent from the speech. While union organizers make up an important part of the NDP field operation, they may have been upset by the party brass importing some expensive American talent to tell delegates about the shiniest new campaign techniques.
Union delegates absent from Myers speech and Q&A
After the Myers segment, Dippers poured out to hospitality events including a Keith’s brewery tour hosted by the NDP Nova Scotia Provincial caucus, that despite just forming government in that province, only managed to bring out five MLAs to the reception. Another big event of the evening was the Charlie Angus-sponsored Canadian Private Copying Collective gathering at the Delta. Of the federal caucus, only Angus and Bruce Hyer were present (a reader writes to inform that Claude Gravelle, Carol Hughes, Malcom Allen, Glen Thibault, Brian Masse, John Rafferty, Andrea Horwath, Ken Neuman, Leo Gerrard, and Andrew Cash also showed up during the event). They were joined by Canadian artists Eva Avila of Idol fame, Chris Cummings, Teresa Ennis, and Marie Denise Pelletier. The other free event was the NDP “tweetup” on Argyle street attended by Paul Dewar, Niki Ashton, Megan Leslie and Brian Masse. The VIPs, not at the brewery tour, copyright party or tweetup, must have been gathered at the Delta for a closed-door $300 “winner’s circle” meet-and-greet with Betsy Myers where MP Olivia Chow reported that Myers said that the NDP “[gives] voice to the voiceless”. Indeed.
Despite an initial setback after the party banned one of their leading activists, the eNDProhibition movement is making its voice heard at the NDP convention and is reportedly being more shrewd than the members of the Socialist caucus who are bluntly and clumsily pushing to nationalize everything. Dana Larsen, the NDP candidate who was fired during the last campaign for being pro-drug, was similarly barred from attending the NDP convention. The advocates for marijuana are looking for any small victory for their cause such as having the resolution on psychoactive substances debated on the floor. The eNDProhibition activists were seen lobbying GLBT delegates making the argument that they too once faced discrimination within their own party (Tommy Douglas’ views on homosexuality).
Some eNDProhibition buttons seen at the convention
Tomorrow will be an interesting day as the convention closes and the NDP debates their convention-headlining moment: the possible rebranding of the party. Observers will note a blue colour has washed over the NDP website and former party communications guru Ian Capstick noted to me that orange is simply terrible on camera. During the keynote, Myers spoke against a blue backdrop complete with “Jack Layton” in large letters overtop a barely visible “NDP-NPD” sitting next to large Obama logo. The party of Layton seems dedicated to embracing the success of the new American president who is for everything from the death penalty, to nukes, to civil unions over same-sex marriage, to two-tier healthcare, to increased troop presence in Afghanistan, to free trade with Colombia, to keeping Omar Khadr locked up. Layton may be embracing the blue colour in a nod to the US Democrats who turned red states into blue states for Obama in the 2008 election. The NDP slogan “it can be done” is somewhat similar to “yes we can” but seems to be more “convincing a disbeliever” in tone rather than a collective and affirmative call to action.
If Marshall Ganz could have given one lesson to delegates it would have been that without a personal story from each and every person about why they believe in your candidate enough to work on your team, the slickest political package and most sophisticated social media operation will never win a campaign. You can fly in the top-paid political talent, but without a strong field team you’ll be spending more time convincing people that “it can be done” rather than everyone believing that “yes, we can”. This weekend, the NDP may yet illustrate that it will fail at its own expensive imported lesson.
UDPATE: The NDP will not change its name. But not for a lack of trying. The delegates were only given an hour to debate an omnibus resolution on party constitution matters. No time was left to discuss the name change. As James Moore says, “everything old is new again”.