the ndp establishment faces atricky problem heading into the party's convention in Winnipeg this weekend. Yes, it can crush nuisances like the New Politics Initiative, those pesky activists who want to wind down the NDP and start a new party. But that wouldn't fit with the story the powers that be want to have emerge from this crucial convention -- it's supposed to be about renewal, stupid, a party boldly charting a new course for the future.
"Everything is on the table,' leader Alexa McDonough has been saying since she brought the party to the point of oblivion in the last federal election.
Kneecapping Judy Rebick and company would be decidedly offside and dangerous. A practised media spinner like Rebick would no doubt tell the waiting TV cameras that the party is not about change but about preserving the status quo.
Of course, many in the audience will have little use for Rebick et al. Think about it. Who shells out thousands of dollars to go to Winnipeg in late November to lock themselves into three days of stale air? Why, the party loyalists, of course. The last thing many of them want is to destroy the party they've worked so hard to keep alive.
But there's one thing that the prairie folk with the nose-ring crowd probably agree on: the rank and file have had enough of the party establishment, "the right-wing out-of-touch NDP bigwigs,' as one respondent told the NDP renewal committee earlier this year.
And there are signs that the establishment is feeling the heat. In a departure from other conventions, there's word that there will be no official slate for key leadership spots up for grabs in Winnipeg. The slate is the traditional means that those at the top use to ensure they're granted a ruling apparatus they can work with.
Says Ontario NDP secretary Bruce Cox, "I don't think this is the convention to be at saying, "Here's the slate.''
Federal secretary Jill Marzetti says slates have been more a part of provincial conventions. At federal confabs, there've been few contests for top spots, so slates haven't been needed. At this meet, more positions than ever before are being fought -- and still no insider election lists.
As a sign of the flux, consider what has happened to the campaign of Adam Giambrone, the 20-something who was facing off for the party presidency against old-timer Dave McKinnon. McKinnon has now dropped out and will be working the floor for -- wait for it -- Giambrone, the youngster who he earlier suggested needed to do some growing up before he became prez.
Joining McKinnon in the cheerleading for Giambrone, a past candidate for T.O. city council, is none other than Michael Lewis, political director of the United Steelworkers and charter member of the NDP establishment. Lewis also happens to be the author of the watered-down resolution that calls for renewal but keeps everything in the hands of the party overlords. It's his motion that will upstage the NPI motion at the convention.
Weren't you supposed to be the agent of change? I ask Giambrone, who's opposed now only by a member of the Socialist Caucus. Aren't you afraid of being taken over by Michael Lewis? "We're going to balance that," Giambrone says, pointing out that he also has the endorsement of people like MP Svend Robinson and members of the NPI.
Is it a case, as Giambrone insists, of all sides coming together in his campaign to work on a common renewal for change? Or is it the powers that be taking action so a political contest pitting the old against the new is deftly moved off the floor?
Similar moves are afoot to take the wind out of the debate on one-member-one-vote (OMOV). Passionately supported by some, it's opposed by the labour movement, which would lose its guaranteed delegate allotment in important votes like that for party leader.
To take the sting out of the plan for labour, there are signs the party's invisible hands will add to the resolution a section guaranteeing labour 15 per cent of all votes for party leader.
"Every member should be equal,' says OMOV activist and local dance personality Michael Isaac. "(The watered-down resolution) is not anyone's first choice. It's a fallback position.'
If that is to be the fate of the OMOV resolution, then this will have been just another NDP convention, a gathering of the faithful where the hidden hands of party apparatchiks subvert democracy by playing the angles. The question is whether all the groupings that are hungry for change -- the New Politics crowd, the rump Socialist Caucus, the centrists pushing for an end to union contributions and for a system of one-member-one-vote in leadership selection -- can work together. Or will they fight among themselves as the powers that be want them to?
The only thing they agree on, it seems, is that a new crew deserves its chance in the driver's seat to chart a new course and maybe make some wrong turns. About time.