February 23rd, 2018

Divided New Democrats look to chart path to 2019 election


By Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press on February 13, 2018.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh speaks at a press conference as he unveils the NDP's top priorities ahead of the federal budget on Tuesday, February 13, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle

OTTAWA – New Democrats from across the country will start to gather in the capital on Thursday, hoping to lay the groundwork for victory in next year’s federal election – and to confront deep divisions and challenges within their party.

NDP leader Jagmeet Singh kicked off the festivities a few days early by laying out Tuesday what he wants to see in the Trudeau government’s federal budget, which will be unveiled Feb. 27.

The demands included a universal pharmacare program, more money for affordable housing, an end to boil-water advisories on First Nations and more protections for workers’ pensions when companies go bankrupt.

Singh has distanced himself from Tom Mulcair’s commitment that an NDP government would stick to a balanced budget, saying as recently as last week that he opposes “austerity” and supports stimulus funding when required.

But the NDP leader indicated Tuesday that the costs of the pharmacare program, at least, could be covered if the Liberals close a controversial tax loophole for stock options, which critics say benefits the wealthy, and crack down on tax havens.

“The government has shown that it just doesn’t get it when it comes to what workers are going through,” he said. “While they’ve said a lot of fancy words on addressing inequality, they haven’t yet produced the results that people need now.”

The NDP had sponsored an opposition motion echoing their leader’s demands for action on the so-called stock-option deduction and tax havens in the budget, but the Liberals voted it down a few hours after Singh’s news conference.

On the surface, Singh’s demands appeared like the foundation of a possible NDP platform for the 2019 election. They were also extremely similar to some of the policy proposals that New Democrats will debate at their convention this weekend.

The list of policy proposals, released Tuesday, includes a heavy emphasis on Indigenous rights as well as pharmacare, environmental sustainability, more support for refugees, the decriminalization of all drugs, and free university tuition.

Yet the list also includes potential landmines that could deepen the already sharp divisions over pipelines and natural resources symbolized, in part, by the feud between Alberta and British Columbia over the Trans Mountain Pipeline.

Among the more explosive policy proposals is one, sponsored by 12 riding associations, that dives right into that conflict by explicitly opposing the pipeline, Another calls for protests against pipelines and fracking.

Neither Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose government supports Trans Mountain, nor B.C. Premier John Horgan, who opposes it, will attend the convention, even though they lead the only two NDP governments in the country.

The resolutions also include, among many other things, calls to censure Israel and support the Palestinians; for the government to cover birth control for women and medical treatments for trans people; and for Canada to leave NATO.

There are also several resolutions calling for the party to formally adopt the Leap Manifesto, a controversial treatise that divided the New Democrats during the party’s last convention because of its opposition to fossil fuels.

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