The NDP’s Renaissance: Democracy and Renewal Within the NDP

tom mulcair election night

For many true dippers, through and through New Democrats, the last Canadian Federal Election was an excruciating ordeal. What looked like a historic run towards the first Social-Democratic government in Canada history turned into a nightmarish scenario for thousands of NDP volunteers, hundreds of NDP teams, candidates and their staff from coast to coast to coast.

It is a secret to no one that I participated in one of the NDP campaigns on the Island of Montreal, in the borough of Lachine and Lasalle and in the city of Dorval. During the three years of working in the riding of Lachine, I saw first hand what elected representatives with heart and courage can accomplish for social justice by fighting against poverty, racism and xenophobia.

MPs offices and staff can truly be at the service of the people, front-line services like fighting deportations, fighting for the betterment of poor working people’s pensions, fighting for mothers to receive their rightful universal child care benefit and most importantly creating a space of listening, a true channel between the voices that are silenced in our political system and Parliament. A true, though minor, revolutionary occurrence.

It was three years of seeing firsthand the gruesome side of the political spectacle. The daily sexism that young women and women in general faced both inside and outside of the House of Commons. The political plays and the political playbooks. The clientelism and tokenism and racism that is tenfold within our political system. The centrifuge forces that boil politics all down to the same one disconnected narrative, the photo-ops that are nothing more than smokescreens for the worst of political maneuvers.

As NDPers we get involved in a broken political process to bring about transformative change, to deconstruct the toxic power dynamics that keep voices outside of the political process. As an NDPer I got involved not for power as the sole objective. Instead, like many other dippers, it was for my heartfelt objective to fight alongside disenfranchised communities and sections of Canadian and Quebec society against all types of exclusions and all phobias.

It was to craft alongside members of marginalized, radicalized and ostracized groups a space in which their voices are heard. A space in which their stories are the narrative, the focal point and not a skit or a footnote.

I got involved in the NDP to share, to learn, to have the voices that are offend muted influence our decision making process and our policy and platform. I got involved with the NDP to uphold human rights, equity and social justice everywhere, both within Canada’s borders and outside.

In the last election, it seems we forgot that change beings within the realm of our own party. It must flow through the structure of the party itself. We failed terribly in last election and during the four years leading-up to e-day in creating the structure and environment that empowered and enabled change.

When we so badly needed change to be the fuel that would propel us to a historic victory, we were running on empty. Let it be clear from here on, the NDP won’t get into 24 Sussex Drive through the back door.

What hurt the most in the last election is that we underestimated ourselves. We underestimated the potency of the values and principals that are at the foundation of our political movement. Canadians weren’t asking for caution, they were asking for courage.

Courage to stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people. Courage to tackle fiscal inequity and financial deregulation. Courage to tackle poverty and to fight “deficit zero,” the golden rule of austerity, through progressive budgeting. Courage to have a vision for Universal Free Education, to work with the provinces–respecting provincial prerogatives, differences and jurisdiction– to create a framework for universal access to post-secondary education for all Canadians.

Canadians expected us to stand up to big oil, gas and mining companies and to offer a clear plan to bring the Canadian economy into the 21st century through the overhaul of toxic pipeline projects.

First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities were expecting the NDP, during the campaign, to put the spotlight on the suffocating poverty, disrespect and disregard they’ve been the victims of for centuries. To have a bold plan to deconstruct the dynamics of systemic racism that are embedded within the structure of our democracy.

It was our duty to put forward a global plan to create new structures and institutions, to change the structure of political system and our electoral model, to ensure that the concerns and aspirations of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities are not merely heard but the benchmark for all policy debate within this country.

Like many Quebeckers, I added my name to the initiative calling for a structural and ideological renewal of the NDP which appears in the pages of Le Devoir and the Toronto Star today. This implies a board debate within Canadian society that engages with activists and militants of all stripes, environmentalists, students, anti-poverty, anti-racist, LGBTQIA, First Nations, Inuit and Métis.

Here in Quebec we must reach out to the anti-austerity movement and campaigns that are happening right across this province. We must make the NDP the movement of movements again, a synthesis and space of debate and true participatory democracy for all Canadian progressives.

We have an obligation to our past and to the future to reinvigorate our internal democratic proceedings, to start a big conversation about what’s the future of the Canadian political left and what is the role of the NDP within the bigger picture, alongside grassroots mobilization, community and local initiatives and organized labor.

If the NDP is to have any relevance in the future, our party must create the space within itself where true democracy flourishes, that empowers the spaces of democracy that are already existent within the Canadian left, the spaces of democracy that have flourished in resistance to the policies of austerity, racism and the destruction of the environment.

For the NDP to be the vehicle of true democracy, of a more just, free and equitable Canada, this debate must start now.

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