Times sure have changed. Not too many years ago, socialists were a dime a dozen. Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find one at an NDP policy convention.
That’s not really true, of course. You could find a good handful. But not near enough to prevent the party from stripping socialist language out of its constitution — as the federal New Democrats did at their gathering last weekend.
A huge majority of delegates — 86 per cent — voted Sunday to excise several references to socialism in a new preamble to the party’s constitution.
“A lot of Canadians share our vision and our goals in the NDP,” Thomas Mulcair told reporters after the vote. “We just gotta make sure that by modernizing, by using the language that resonates with a wider public in Canada, that we’ll be able to do what we have to do, which is to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2015.”
Socialism, in other words, is a bad word.
It’s an interesting turn of events. For decades, the NDP has been in large part an uneasy alliance between ultra-socialists, labour advocates and a mishmash of left-leaning academics. Whenever one ideology started to dominate, the others would drag it back into conformity.
Ironically, by removing some of the strictly socialist or anti-business language, the NDP is only catching up with its own history. The party has long endorsed the basic tenants of modern capitalism.
In the last election, for example, it was Jack Leyton who proposed a reduction in small business tax — a quiet, sensible policy introduced in the middle of bitter partisan rancor over corporate tax rates.
Leyton was perhaps the party’s most successful leader, apart from the halcyon days of Ed Broadbent in the 1970s and ’80s. That said, the NDP’s rise to opposition status in 2011 was due primarily to its anomalous surge in Quebec.
In Newfoundland, the NDP has seen a similar surge in success. Local NDP Leader Lorraine Michael was voted the most popular local opposition politician in Canada in a poll earlier this month. Much of that can be attributed to Kathy Dunderdale having tied for least popular premier.
Some party stalwarts worry the NDP is sacrificing its principles in exchange for electability. But principles aren’t much use without the latter. Just ask Stephen Harper. He goes out of his way to keep far right-wing voices from bubbling to the surface.
Don’t expect the NDP to swing that far away from its roots, though.
As Mulcair points out, the terms “social democrat” and “social democratic party” are still contained in the party’s constitution.
And don’t expect the labels to go away, either. No matter what their constitution says, New Democrats will still be dismissed as communists, socialists and money-wasters — usually by governments who seem to excel at the art of over-spending themselves.