Senior NDP members propose less ideological, less outdated guiding statement

OTTAWA – NDP brass are taking a second shot at jettisoning some of the socialist baggage that many — including party leader Tom Mulcair — feel might hold them back in the next federal election.

A committee of senior NDP members is recommending the party modernize its guiding statement by making it less ideological and prescriptive, and dropping most of its many references to socialism.

A proposed rewrite of the opening lines of the NDP constitution was sent to party members Wednesday, in advance of next week’s policy convention in Montreal.

At the last convention two years ago, attempts to do away with the word socialist from the preamble split the rank-and-file, even though the idea was endorsed by late leader Jack Layton.

The existing statement outlines the “principles of democratic socialism,” including the concepts of “social ownership,” “social planning,” and the idea that goods and services should be directed toward the people “and not to the making of profit.”

A committee that includes former Manitoba MP Bill Blaikie, former leader Alexa McDonough and former leadership candidate Brian Topp came up with a compromise.

The proposal is a much longer preamble, and makes just one mention of the party’s “social democratic and democratic socialist traditions.”

Topp noted that the opening words of the preamble, that talk about building a better country — “of greater equality, justice, and opportunity” — was inspired by the letter Layton penned to Canadians before his death.

He added that the new version is less prescriptive.

“It’s an acknowledgment of our heritage, it points to the party’s deep roots and its principles without getting too tangled up in specific tools in the toolbox,” said Topp. “A constitution preamble is not our platform, it’s not our list of proposals in any given election — it’s attempting to summarize what we’re trying to do.”

Mulcair has made it clear he doesn’t care for the “1950s boilerplate” language used by the NDP, and that it needs to reach out beyond its usual far left-wing base.

To that end, he has tried to portray his party has having sound economic policy, with solid ideas about public administration.

The proposed text is not nearly as unfriendly to business and the free market as the existing one.

“New Democrats affirm a role for government in helping to create the conditions for sustainable prosperity,” says the proposed preamble.

“We believe in a rules-based economy, nationally and globally, in which governments have the power to address the limitations of the market in addressing the common good, by having the power to act in the public interest, for social and economic justice, and for the integrity of the environment.”

The NDP’s policy convention is being held the same weekend that the Liberals elect their new leader.