by Barry Weisleder
It was a tough winter for the labour-based New Democratic Party. Federal Leader Jack Layton is bravely battling prostate cancer (we wish him a full and speedy recovery). Without missing a beat, he kept hammering the Harper Tories over more billions of dollars in giveaways to the giant banks and big polluters, drawing special attention to the $2.8 billion in profit over a three month span reported by the Royal Bank and the TD Bank in early March.
But the federal party and the Ontario NDP had less success with important policy issues like Palestine, the public funding of Catholic schools, and upholding the ONDP constitution.
Confusion and contradiction reign amongst NDP federal MP s and in the Ontario NDP legislative caucus. When a motion was presented by a Conservative MP in the House of Commons to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW, March 1-7) and to try to stifle debate on Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people, NDP House Leader Libby Davies opposed it. But right wing NDP MP s Judy Wacylycia-Leis, Pat Martin and Peter Stoffer, supported it. Layton tried to skate around it. But the NDP's continuing participation in the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, which equates anti-Zionism with anti-semitism and wants to ban criticism of Israel, really speaks volumes.
When a Tory motion against IAW came before the Ontario Legislature, ONDP Leader Andrea Horwath denounced it as “divisive” and “unhelpful” -- just after NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo had spoken for it.
While Horwath took no action against DiNovo, the Leader did stifle another member of her Ontario caucus. She ordered MPP Michael Prue to pull out of a public hearing on the topic of Ontario funding of Catholic separate schools on March 12 in Toronto. The event was sponsored by the NDP Socialist Caucus and attracted close to one hundred participants to a University of Toronto auditorium. Prue agreed back in December to address the hearing, which the NDP socialists organized to promote rank and file in-put into the official policy review on school funding mandated by the ONDP convention in March 2009. The Socialist Caucus calls for an end to public funding of religious and private schools. So does the federal NDP, as a result of an SC resolution debated and adopted at the party federal convention in 2004. Horwath's interference did not sit well with party members.
Neither does what came next.
The ONDP Executive proposed in March to postpone the Ontario NDP convention for a year, citing cost and effort that it thinks should be devoted to the provincial election in 2011. However, several problems arise. The ONDP constitution requires a provincial party convention every two years, not three. An election scheduled by law to occur nearly twenty months from now is hardly an unforeseen emergency.
But it gets worse. The Executive conducted a mail-in ballot vote of the 257 members of the ONDP Provincial Council on this issue – instead of bringing it to a debate and vote at the next council meeting in May. Problems with a site booking could have been overcome; there are many unionized, spacious, available hotels in southern Ontario. Finally, the number of councillors who actually voted (95-23, with no scrutineers present from those opposed to the cancellation) would not constitute a quorum at a properly convened provincial council meeting. While the Executive is ploughing ahead, it may face a shit storm in May.
As the Socialist Caucus has often observed, if the NDP wants to overcome the capitalist democratic deficit, both in terms of foreign and domestic affairs, it must first get its own house in order.