NDP sets sights on party building

James
James McLeod
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New Democrat Leader Lorraine Michael is greeted by party members Saturday morning as she gets ready to give her speech at the NDP biannual convention in St. John’s. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

New Democrats spent a weekend at the Battery Hotel, focusing less on big ideas, and more on nuts and bolts.

There was plenty of talk about government programs, public policy, and social justice, but the real focus of the party’s biannual general meeting was much more down-to-earth.

“In 2014 we’ll be one year away from the election; I want to be well on the road to building once again a strong team of candidates ready to be the government of Newfoundland and labrador,” NDP Leader Lorraine Michael declared in her Saturday morning speech to party delegates. “I want to know in 2014 that we will have the capacity to run full campaigns in every district in the next election, not just that we’ll have candidates, but that we’ll be able to give greater support to all of the candidates, not just some.”

The NDP is currently riding high; after a breakthrough result in the October 2011 general election which saw the party win five seats in the House of Assembly, the party saw its popularity briefly edge even higher than the governing PC party in a poll earlier this summer.

 

But underlying the enthusiasm of the weekend, there was a sense among party organizers that the current popularity is soft, and without a meaningful party structure, it could vanish as quickly as it appeared.

“Right now there are 11 active district associations,” said party president Kathleen Connors. “Leading into the election, we want to have 48 district associations out there.”

In the coming months, the party plans to hire a full-time paid organizer for the first time in more than 20 years.

“We can have all the ideas we want, but when you’re depending 100 per cent on volunteers, you just can’t do all that you want to do.” Michael said. “Lots of things fall between the cracks.”

Similarly, the party needs much more money. The party relies heavily on a system of monthly contributions from supporters; in the next couple of years, Connors said, the party leadership plans to push for those contributors to give more, and get more people signed up to donate money.

There is one area, though, where the party seems to feel that it’s already on solid ground: its ideas.

“We’re very strong on policy; it’s never been something we’ve been weak on. We know what our values are,” Michael said. “It didn’t take money to have good policy. It didn’t take money to have good discussion.”

The major workshops the party ran on Saturday dealt mostly with things like “fundraising” and “Building the NDP in your district.”

In debating policy resolutions, nearly all of the motions passed with overwhelming support, publicly backing the positions that Michael and the rest of the NDP caucus are already taking.

The party membership voted that the Muskrat Falls project should be referred back to the Public Utilities Board for a comprehensive review, that Bill 29 amendments to access to information legislation should be repealed, and that low- and middle-income senior citizens should receive a grant to help pay property taxes

Party members were also jubilant all weekend about the fact that the biannual convention was the largest one ever in the party’s history.

The party briefly dealt with online criticism after they required journalists to agree not to attribute quotes to specific delegates without approval during policy debate.

Party officials said the limits were necessary to protect government workers and regular people who feared reprisal for being politically active.

But critics online immediately seized on the irony of restricting what journalists could report, especially given that the party specifically passed a resolution criticizing the Dunderdale government for being “restrictive” when it comes to access to information.

By mid-afternoon, journalists were told that the whole thing was a misunderstanding, and that there were no restrictions on attributing quotes during the course of policy debate.

Around 200 delegates were registered to attend.

“This might be four or five times what I’ve been used to seeing, certainly more professional, more organized, the materials are better, and of course, that’s all building on the results of the past election,” said Jim Gill, a longtime member.

Another faithful party member, Sandra Perry, said that she was most struck by the number of young people involved.

“I think the youth and their knowledge of current events and their commitment to social justice are absolutely going to have an impact on how the party is going to function in the next few years,” she said. “They’ve got so much to offer, it can’t be overlooked, and they’re going to become, very quickly, the backbone of the party in my opinion.”

 

jmcleod@thetelegram.com

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: NDP, Battery Hotel, Public Utilities Board

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Albert
    October 22, 2012 - 20:29

    Robb, I have to disagree with your comments. Without the unions, we would still be paying the same high prices for the goods we consume. The only difference would be corporations netting more profits, while workers would be struggling to survive. Workers earning a higher wage is much better for an economy than having more working poor living on the poverty line.

  • TTJP
    October 22, 2012 - 12:22

    I'll keep this comment shorter than my previous comments addressing MANITOBAN UNIONIST and ROBB, so to RANDY I say this: Lorraine Michael is the most poopular opposition leader in Canada, and the only opposition leader to place above 50% in approval rating. Meanwhile, the Liberals weren't even polled. What does THAT say about her leadership?

  • manitoban unionist
    October 22, 2012 - 09:23

    party building, ARE YOU JOKING? here in manitoba this bunch called the NDP have us over a billion dollar deficit and growing for the fiscal year. user fees on just about everything, 2.5 cents on gasoline, millions wasted on a museum and a football stadium, highway/roads crumbling, and health care in a complete mess. as a union member myself the NDP government have us paying the highest provincial tax in westerned canada. the ndp continue to blame the feds for their spending problems rather then themselves. as your ndp mp cleary said himself on the weekend, and i quote: GOD HELP US ALL !

    • TIM
      October 22, 2012 - 12:10

      I am not familiar with the NDP in Manitoba to any great extent so I cannot comment fully on the politics of the province. However, I CAN say that just because a party is a failure in one province, how does that mean ALL other provincial versions of political parties are automatically failures? By that same standard, wouldn't that mean that all PC's and Conservatives are unelectable because of Harris, Peckford and Dunderdale? Or all Liberals because of McGuinty, Smallwood, or Campbell? This argument makes no sense. The only thing voters can do is look at the platforms and policies of each individual party and, if the incumbents or they have previously held power in the province look at their track record. However, to say a party in one province will be a disaster because a similar party in another province was, is nothing but outright illogical.

  • Robb
    October 22, 2012 - 07:52

    Party building....????...you mean union building. I would not let an ndp tie my shoe, unless of course they were being paid $50 an hour to do it. See the prices of food lately....?....overpriced labour driving it through the ceiling, and the ndp can actually smile....???

    • TTJP
      October 22, 2012 - 12:19

      Yes, we have the third-fastest growth in food and housing prices in the country. However, we have been there since 2006, when the minimum wage was only between $8-9 if I recall if not lower. In fact, This province actually has the second lowest median income in the country, only surpassing New Brunswick by about $400. So the idea that labour costs are driving up the cost of living is absolute nonsense. As well, corporate profits in NL equal 25% of NL's GDP, the highest in Canada and more than double the national average. So yes, the NDP advocates for higher wages. But that is mainly because a) as the third-highest GDP per capita in Canada, NL can do a bit better than last place with incomes, b) the cost of living IS actually going up according to our GDP per capita ranking while wages are not, and c) the fact that corporate profits are so high demonstrates that critics should look a little further up the corporate ladder than the cashiers at Sobey's for why the cost of living is going up.

    • Tim Jamison
      October 22, 2012 - 16:20

      Unions (and higher taxes) are why Americans pay an average of 60% less for airfare than we do. Which is why millions of dollars worth of Canadian money goes to America every year because people drive across the border to catch their flights. There is a story in the Globe and Mail about this, if you wish to fact check what I am saying. Just search for it using their search engine. This is just one small example of how union-friendly policies (and high tax rates) damage jurisdictions. To those of you who enjoy not getting laid off, Lorraine and her successors have to be kept out forever.

  • Randy
    October 22, 2012 - 07:43

    NDP needs a new leader. The current one will only prevent good candidates from running. People are turned off by her. We elect pragmatic leaders, not uncompromising ideologues. Only reason she is leading the NDP is because no one else wanted the job when she did. Anyone else would have the good sense to step aside for the good of the province. She makes it look like she is afraid someone will come in and do a better job than her. Sad.