NDP looks towards 2015 with softer language in party books

MONTREAL – Tom Mulcair is calling his party’s weekend policy convention a critical pivot — one where the NDP wheeled away from stridently socialist language and solidified its embrace of cutting-edge campaign techniques in advance of a 2015 election.

New Democrats voted overwhelmingly Sunday to strip most of the references to socialism from the preamble to the party constitution, including the support of “social ownership” and business-unfriendly language.

In its place is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink statement that refers to the party’s social democratic “roots,” removing inequalities in society, and Mulcair’s main focus on sustainable economic development.

“That’s a better way for us to reach out beyond our traditional base, talk to Canadians who might share our vision, who might share our goals, but who weren’t too sure,” Mulcair said at an end-of-convention news conference.

“The goal of the exercise is to be able to communicate to a larger public, what social democracy is, it’s about removing inequalities in our society.”

Over the course of the three day convention, nearly 2,000 delegates also attended election readiness seminars, and heard from a top Obama-for-America field organizer about how to mobilize support.

Mulcair told reporters at the close of the convention that the NDP is working with some of those experts in order to adopt the techniques and use them in Canada — including in some of the critical suburban ridings in the Greater Toronto Area.

The NDP formed official opposition during the 2011 election but more than half its seats are in Quebec.

“We’re doing the groundwork, we’re reaching out beyond our traditional base, we’re working with those cultural communities, we’re connecting with people who share our values and we’re going to make them understand that we’re going to be there for them after an election when we form a government,” Mulcair said.

At the same time, the NDP leader is refusing to talk about the Liberal leadership race, and even less about the presumed winner, Justin Trudeau. Mulcair’s latest tactic has been to frame the New Democrats as the only true competition against the Conservatives — a scenario where the Liberals bleed away any remaining hold on progressive voters.

“The Liberals are the ones who said there was a blue door and a red door,” Mulcair said of a line used by former leader Michael Ignatieff in the 2011 election campaign.

“The answer from Canadians is don’t let the orange door hit you on the way out.”

Mulcair’s team did succeed to put behind it the debate over the party’s language, something late leader Jack Layton had not been able to do at the last policy convention in 2011.

What was supposed to be a passionate, lively debate over the preamble to the party’s constitution was quickly cut short by delegates who seemed simply wanted to get it over with Sunday afternoon.

The discussion wound up being summarized by two 20-something young women from Quebec — one associated with Quebec’s student movement, and another who sits on the party’s provincial executive.

“Now is not the time to take the risk of being confused with the Liberals. It’s precisely their lack of position on important positions that caused Canadians to turn towards the NDP,” said Atefa Akbary, a member of the party’s “socialist caucus.”

“The modernization excuse doesn’t hold up, because Liberal ideas have already been heard, and they’re old ideas that don’t serve anyone.”

Catherine Hame spoke in favour of the change: “Today, in supporting this preamble massively, we would be giving ourselves the tools necessary to unite behind our leader Tom Mulcair and beat the Conservatives in 2015.”

In the end, the vote was 960-188.

Some of the other policy resolutions passed Sunday:

– Including the impact on workers in the net benefit test under the Investment Canada Act, and lowering the threshold for an overall review.

– A national affordable housing strategy.

– A reversal of changes to Employment Insurance program, and add more staff to Service Canada to reduce wait times.

– A lengthy resolution on veterans issues, including a reform of the Veterans Review and Appeal Board and the principle that all veterans should be treated equally regardless of where they served.

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