TTAWA – The New Democrats kick off a policy convention today they say will retool their party’s message and policies to better suit a government in waiting.
NDP Leader Tom Mulcair is billing his party’s event as a critical moment that will give New Democrats the vision and determination to carry them through to the next election.
Party members will vote on a change that’s been haunting conventions since 2009 — modernizing the preamble of the party’s constitution.
A panel has come up with a more moderate statement that drops numerous references to “socialism” and “socialist,” as well as the document’s anti-free market language.
Mulcair says the party will continue to fight for labour rights, but will also try to come up with a vision on how to have a sustained economy.
Anne McGrath, former chief of staff to late NDP leader Jack Layton, said all social democratic parties come to a point where they need to modernize and consider how they’re perceived by the public.
“It’s not going to be just about what resolutions get adopted, it’s going to be about how we actually conduct debates, and what the consciousness is of the people that are there about the importance of presenting the party as a replacement for this government,” said McGrath, now managing director of Ensight Canada.
The NDP’s discussion mirrors to some extent the debate Britain’s Labour Party had at a convention in 1994, with new leader Tony Blair leading the charge for the party to abandon a constitutional clause that committed to “social ownership.”
Longtime NDP observer David McGrane, a political science professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said he’ll be looking for some of the same trends inside the NDP as with Blair’s New Labour party — a moment where the party membership accepts the need to become moderate.
“There has been a culture change within the NDP itself, and it’s matured in a lot of ways … if the vast majority of delegates are onside with this, that shows a sort of culture change,” McGrane said.
“They’re accepting a modernization, but also a professionalization of the party, the idea that the party needs to have a good marketing skills, and they start with putting together a good preamble — one’s that quite wishy-washy, actually.”