The NDP Convention started early Friday afternoon in Ottawa with a routine debate on the amount of time available for debate on the motions.
The backdrop to this debate was hours of morning sessions where delegates argued over the order of the hundreds of motions that were served by dozens of riding associations. Many activists were at Ottawa’s Shaw Convention Centre at 5:30 AM to stake out a spot to win a place at the microphone.
There are five policy blocks of 60 minutes each to debate these motions. The party ordered the motions in such a way that didn’t account for how many ridings endorsed various motions. More controversial motions were below less controversial motions on the same topic.
There were two motions served with support from more than thirty riding associations: one to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel and one to change the NDP policy to advocate more aggressively for free post-secondary higher education tuition fees.
Despite the mobilization of activists who brought both motions forward, only one of these motions was placed at the top of its block.
While there was near-unanimous support to move the tuition fee policy motion to the top of its policy block, the vote to move the Palestinian motion to the top failed by only 11 votes: 189 in favour to 200 opposed.
Among those who voted against this motion were MPs Guy Caron, Alexandre Boulerice, and Nathan Cullen.
Amy Kishek was one of the delegates organizing to serve this motion. “I’m disheartened that the NDP establishment and caucus are not willing to extend love and courage to Palestinian people,” she said. “We are in a moment of peak displacement of Palestinian people in modern times, and while other counties have stepped up to recognize Palestinian rights as of late, the NDP won’t even entertain the discussion. I am encouraged however that party members will continue to fight for the rights of oppressed people everywhere,” said the delegate from the riding of Brampton East.
Bob Chandler, a labour activist and delegate from the riding of Toronto-Danforth, said that he thought that the opposition coming from the party establishment was “a holding action” because “they know they’ll eventually lose.”
Chandler argued that this will likely change as there are generational issues at play: older labour activists for whom the liberal, Zionist labour tradition remains a factor that influence some towards support of Israel, while younger activists tend to be more vocal in their opposition to Israeli occupation.
The motion had received unanimous support from the Young New Democrats.
The tuition fee motion supported by more than 30 ridings was moved to the top of its block with near unanimous support.
Both policy blocks will be debated on Saturday.
The opening ceremonies were heavy on speeches from NDP officers, including president Marit Stiles, outgoing national director Robert Fox, acting national director Melissa Bruno, and Jack Layton’s son and Toronto City Councillor Mike Layton.
Stiles bucked common practice by presenting a new anti-harassment protocol before presenting her report. The protocol was developed by a sub-committee of the federal council.
“There are women in our party … who have survived unacceptable and unwelcome behaviour by people who have wielded power over them,” said Stiles. “On behalf of your party, we are sorry. You were failed and we apologize”
The new policy expanded the scope of the former policy to include a NDP activities and members. Stiles said that the new policy has an action plan to ensure that it can be put into action. It includes language about improving candidate screening, developing leadership and ensuring accountability, Stiles said.
She said that the policy would be “test driven” at this convention, and she invited delegates with an experience of harassment to give their input.
Tania Jarzebiak, outgoing NDP treasurer, reported that the party has been only able to fundraise half of what they fundraised during 2011. In 2017, they raised $7 million. Their target is $10.5 million in 2018, which remains four million dollars lower than the high watermark after the Orange Wave. She highlighted the NDP’s plan to boost their fundraising: through mail-outs, phone calls and new digital tools.
Friday afternoon, the first policy block was debated for one hour. Motions passed that support enhancing the Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, to support Jordan’s Principle (which would prohibit denying healthcare to Indigenous patients if provincial and federal jurisdictions argue that it’s not their responsibility), and to call for an inquiry into the Phoenix payroll disaster.
The day also included a video message from Jeremy Corbyn and Women’s March on Washington co-organizer Tamika Mallory, who appealed to delegates to organize outside of their own communities and to truly diversify progressive social movements.
“If you are meeting about people and the people most impacted are not at the table the meeting should be cancelled” said Mallory.