canada may soon have a new left-wing party built on the bones of the NDP but also including many of the new crop of protest groups that feel more comfortable in the street than in Parliament.
The idea was floated last Saturday at a conference called Rebuilding The Left, which is also the name of an initiative that was launched with fanfare last fall to promote "anti-capitalist politics" but has since run out of steam. The meeting began with 100 people but dwindled to 35 by mid-afternoon.
What buzz there was at the meeting came from Judy Rebick, who unveiled a proposal for the NDP to lead the process of its own transformation. She and others, among them MP Svend Robinson and CAW economist Jim Stanford, are mustering support for a resolution to be put forward at the party's November convention in Winnipeg to have the party reinvent itself.
"The people in the NDP share our values," Rebick told the OISE audience. Furthermore, she said, it's in such desperate shape now that there's more openness among the powers within it toward a radical restructuring.
The new party that would come out of the New Politics Initiative (NPI) would be a federation of the more radical points of view present on the ground in Quebec City at April's anti-summit protest, with the slightly more mainstream people in sensible shoes one sees at many NDP gatherings.
"I am excited about the anti-globalization movement, but I am concerned about some of the politics," she said. "There's a notion that we don't need political parties. But I think a mass political party is important."
In a later interview, Rebick stresses, "What we're doing is calling on the NDP to call for the formation of a new party, so there's no splitting thing happening here. That's not our intention."
Overall, the reaction was positive, even from the Socialist Caucus of the NDP, which stands to be overtaken by this new initiative of party insiders and outsiders. Barry Weisleder, chair of the caucus -- whose conference starting on Friday, June 22, will be a sounding board for the new project -- says party brass have not welcomed bold initiatives over the years. "But the party establishment is much weaker today, so their response may be muted."
Meanwhile, on the listserve of NDProgress, a grouping seen to be on the party's right wing, there was at first some fear that the presence of a CAW economist in the NPI working group is a sign that the project is a takeover plot by the union's president, Buzz Hargrove, who is widely despised inside the party for his constant criticism.
But the discussants also note that the program of the New Politics Initiative (outlined at www.newpolitics.ca), which includes reform of the party to make it more responsive to the wishes of the grassroots as well as changing the election finance system to ban corporate donations, is one that they, too, could support.
For his part, Hargrove hasn't yet commented on the initiative, but he makes it clear in an interview that the CAW's Jim Stanford doesn't speak for him. "There are a lot of other things that are happening," Hargrove says, "and I've been doing a lot of listening, a lot of consulting with people, and I would think by late summer, early fall I'll make a decision about whether the NPI is where we want to head."
Stanford says, "The NDP and the left in general are at a point where merely calling for proportional representation and other policy changes will not light the fires of excitement. We need to think big. A lot of people on the more activist left -- engaged in social movements and the anti-globalization movement -- are just so uninspired by the NDP as it currently stands that we need something pretty far-reaching. But we want to do this in a way that builds on the strengths of the NDP and the good people in the party."
Robinson, who presented the proposal to his fellow NDP MPs on Monday, says the project will bring together current party members, the lapsed and those who have never signed up. "It could form the basis of some very exciting developments in progressive politics in this country," he enthuses.
Former leader Ed Broadbent, who hosted a well-received conference in Montreal two weeks ago on the future of social democracy, knew little about the proposal when contacted Tuesday. However, he says it sounds as if it might fly.
"It would be fully consistent with what a lot of people have been talking about, up to and including (NDP leader) Alexa McDonough herself. This is the time for renewal and looking at a lot of new ideas, policy directions and structural changes, and from what you've said, I think this initiative would be quite consistent with that."
However, a highly placed source at NDP HQ in Ottawa sounds much less optimistic. "I'm a little nervous about it," the party insider says, because it jeopardizes the work of a steering committee just announced by the party leader herself. "You can make all that work irrelevant if you call for a new founding convention."
The New Politics Initiative will be formally announced at a June 20 news conference in Ottawa. Toronto will get a chance to have a say in the fall, at one of a series of public meetings taking place across the country.