The new NDP

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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.

Organizations: NDP

Geographic location: Canada

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Recent comments

  • Jason J.
    April 17, 2013 - 13:51

    Hey BC, word to the wise, the NDP have basically destroyed N.S since they came to power 4 years ago, just as they did the other provinces. They have broken every promise, raised every tax and user fee over and over, slashed health care and education, flip floped on everything they screamed about for years in opposition. ( don't even bother with the "balanced budget comments, nobody believes it but them) Our gas, power, electricity and tax rates are among the highest in North America now because of them. Do yourself a favour and RUN! The only party with secret hidden agendas is the NDP, pray they never get the keys to Ottawa, and hope they don't get the keys to BC.

  • Politically Incorrect
    April 17, 2013 - 07:19

    The NDP was never a socialist party. In fact any pretense of socialism was dropped in the Winnipeg Decleration of Principles (sic.) by the CCF in 1956 in reaction to the McCarthyist scare. Eventhough the Party is drifting to the right, as a social democratic party, it remains starkly different from the liberal democratic parties, both of which prefer to cede the responsibilities of democraticly elected governments to oligarchical capitalists to chart the social and economic course for society. At least the NDP understands that elected governments should be responsible to the people and, as a result, can bring postive changes to improve the quality of life for the general population. One only has to compare American standards of living compared to Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. If Canada falls in the middle it's only beacuse of the political pressure of the presence of the NDP and the post-war CCF.