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This weekend in Hamilton saw the annual convention of the Ontario New Democratic Youth (ONDY), which turned into one of the most intense and crucial political battles that the NDP youth wing has ever seen. The ONDY has been sharply divided for weeks following the de-chartering of the Toronto Young New Democrats (TYND), one of the largest and strongest clubs, by the ONDY executive in a secret “in camera” meeting, using evidence that TYND members were not allowed to see. This un-democratic attack stemmed from the desire by members of the ONDY executive and certain Party staffers to rid the ONDY of so-called “radicals” by any means.

In response to this violation of their rights, members of the TYND, along with supporters from other cities in Ontario, formed the Slate for a Democratic and Activist ONDY in order to fight back against bureaucratic attacks, restore the democratic rights of ONDY members, and work to spread the activist model of club started by TYND through the province. The right-wingers, in the mean time, responded not with organizing, but with gossip. Several delegates arrived with stories of being approached by the right-wing and fed a series of slanders about the situation. This strategy utterly backfired as it only drove neutral people into the Activist camp. In an act of desperation, a few days before the convention, an email was widely sent to current and former ONDY members (suggesting that the email’s author somehow had access to the ONDY membership list) under the name of the “Coalition Against a Trotskyist Takeover.” The anonymous email denounced socialism as being “totalitarian,” and launched into utterly detestable red-baiting and McCarthyite rhetoric, effectively calling for the exclusion of all socialists from the Party. If the convention wasn't already polarized before these emails, then it certainly was afterward as they drove even more people, who perhaps hadn't been affected by the TYND scandal, into the ranks of the left.

This was a direct confrontation, between the tired ineffective methods and ideas of careerism and mindless “towing of the line” that have kept ONDY a nearly dead and declining organization for the last decade, and a new way of thinking that views the NDP as a place that accepts broad layers of youth and allows them the democratic freedom to directly shape Party policy into what they want it to be. The outcome of the weekend would show very definitively in which direction the young activists want their party to go in.

Day one

The convention opened on Friday evening with a brief agenda. The ONDY co-chairs and executive members were to deliver their reports to the delegates. However, when the issue of TYND came up, the hall immediately became heated. The overwhelmed speaker was hurled with questions (in the form of points of order) demanding that the supposed evidence against TYND be publically brought forward. Supporters of the TYND were greeted with loud pounding on the tables. The horrified looks on the faces of the right-wing suggested that it was only when they heard the thundering support for TYND that they finally realized the breadth of their opposition and the severity of their mistake to bureaucratically attack the membership. The report was stopped halfway through by a procedural point and never restarted.

Though no important votes occurred on the Friday night, it was becoming clear that the left had a majority. The activist methods of reaching into communities and giving them a democratic voice through the Party had mobilized large numbers of youth who otherwise wouldn't be involved in politics. The careerists, hoping merely to use the Party as a springboard into a cushy job, tellingly failed to mobilize more than a handful of supporters (some of whom would actually switch sides during the convention).

Day two

The second day centred primarily around policy debates. The Slate for a Democratic and Activist ONDY had proposed a number of policy resolutions on a variety of issues that affect youth in their communities. These included opposing police brutality, supporting universal dental care, a statement on the G20, and demanding the abolition of tuition fees, amongst others (see below for a full list of the resolutions put forward by the Activist slate). The right-wing put forward only a bare minimum of resolutions that focused on banal issues such as polling stations and mail-in votes (!), totally underscoring their complete disconnect from the day-to-day issues facing working youth, and their complete lack of concern about genuine political ideas. The main motions proposed by the right-wing were constitutional amendments that would attempt to increase the restrictions on what policies clubs would be allowed to advocate and would effectively remove any autonomy that the ONDY has, turning it into little more than a top-down controlled cheering section (which is precisely the stereotype of political parties that repels most youth).

It became very clear what issues and policies the youth wanted to discuss and which ones they did not when the results of a policy prioritization ballot, held the night before, were announced. Every single resolution proposed by the left slate was ranked at the top of the list, numbers one to seven, without exception.

The debates themselves showed a stark difference in both opinion and political approach. TYND activists shared stories of their experiences being beaten and harassed by police on the streets of Toronto, participating in a mass sit-in at the University of Toronto that was broken up by force, and being present at the mass arrests at the picket line of the Novotel hotel workers during the G20 summit (which saw half-a-dozen TYNDers thrown into the illegal prison on Eastern Avenue).

The careerists sputtered about how the grassroots policies of the left, taken from the daily living experience of working-class youth, were not appropriate as they didn't jive with the Party’s messaging points—as if the ONDY doesn't exist explicitly to influence and change Party policy in the interests of the youth! They then tried to water down the resolutions with amendments to make them “less objectionable to a wider voting base.” Such “watering down” only results in policy that is completely irrelevant to the mass of people. Corporate interests never water down their policies, so why should we? Voting turnout amongst youth, immigrants, the working-poor, and other marginalized groups is abysmally low precisely because people do not see politicians offering them anything concrete. Only by offering youth change and a way out of the status quo will these groups be won to the NDP. The supporters of the left, mostly drawn from poor, immigrant, and racialized neighbourhoods, personified the correctness of this belief.

The right-wing rested heavily on straw-man arguments, trying to give the activist resolutions meanings that they did not have. At one point, they introduced an amendment to the resolution against police brutality so that only “non-violent” opponents of brutality would be supported. They claimed that the resolution would advocate violence and attempted to paint the left as extremists. The debate was incredibly principled on the side of the movers of the resolution, arguing that the label “violence” is a slippery slope. Who decides what is, and is not, “violent”? Delegates shared experience of police beating protesters at the G20; one incident was recalled where a sitting female protester had her jaw kicked in by a riot cop. Stories were told of having to push cops off protesters, or utilize basic force in self-defence. One delegate told how, during a sit-in at UofT, he was charged with forcible confinement (defined as a violent crime), but that CUPE Ontario never wavered in coming to his defence. He said that people are innocent until proven guilty and that workers’ organizations shouldn't be passing judgment but unquestionably defending people's civil rights. The Left’s stand against this amendment was based on solid democratic principals—the idea that democracy applies to everyone, not just those who are “safe bets.” The right-wing spent the debate trying to create the idea that the resolution advocated violence in the image of the Black Bloc (something which was specifically denounced in another resolution). That was the difference between the two sides' approaches: one debated concrete and deep-seated principals, the other played with language and tried to turn it into slander for later.

Every policy that came up for debate on the second day passed without any watering down or meaningful alterations. By the end of the weekend, the delegates approved policies on a host of issues. They also passed a constitutional amendment that condemned the illegal process by which the TYND was de-charted, and enshrined the right of association, free speech, and an open process in the future. The debates were heated, and the passion of those defending the policies proposed came from a background of real personal experience with these issues, something the Party needs more of.

Finally, at the end of the day, workshops were held on a variety of different topics. TYND activists had originally proposed three workshops, but were told that there was no room and were only offered one space. However, it came as a surprise to no one that not only was there room, but the right-wing had scheduled the same workshop on fund-raising twice, one after another. These workshops were held at different ends of the same large hall, and it was painfully obvious to the lonely presenter of the fund-raising workshop what the youth were interested in discussing.

For its part, the TYND put on a discussion workshop on the experience of the G20. The talk ranged from first-hand accounts of being in the dog cages at Eastern Avenue, to the secret laws passed against people by the McGunity Liberals, to the huge bail-outs that the G20 is now forcing the working class to pay for, and finally ending in a discussion on the urgent need to make the NDP an active leader in mass events like this, which are certain to continue and increase in the future.

The second day showed that the activists had an overwhelming majority on the floor. The executives who, a month earlier, had thought that they could use the ONDY apparatus in a top-down fashion to destroy a youth club without having to even see the membership, were now being shown why genuine democracy will always be stronger than back-room dealing. But, they would not submit to the will of the majority without one last attempt to weasel out of democracy.

Day three

When delegates arrived on the morning of the third day, they were surprised to see a new registration table set up, with laptops manned by a handful of young Party staffers and a large printed out sign that quoted part of the ONDP constitution that pertained to who qualifies as a member in good standing, and is thus eligible to be a delegate to convention. The large sign now affixed to the table at the front of the hall read:

(2) Subject to this Article and to Article 11.03(3), an applicant for individual membership becomes an individual member of the Party

(b) upon the expiration of the 30th day after the application for individual membership and the appropriate membership fee are received by the Secretary of the Party, unless the applicant is given notice in writing by the Secretary of the Party that the application has been referred to the Provincial Executive.

The delegates arriving were informed that although they had received delegate credentials two days earlier and had been voting on policies all throughout the previous day, in order to vote in the elections they would have to have their membership confirmed in the Party database and would not be granted ballots unless they had joined the Party over a month ago.

This was totally in violation to the precedence set at every single previous ONDY convention, where young new members to the Party were allowed to sign membership cards and be granted full delegate rights at the door. This was traditionally one of the best recruiting tools for the youth wing. Moreover, this past-procedure was totally legal, because the organizers had conveniently “forgotten” to include the full portion of the constitution on their sign. Had they not tried to deceive the membership, the article would have been printed, in full, like this:

(2) Subject to this Article and to Article 11.03(3), an applicant for individual membership becomes an individual member of the Party

(a) upon acceptance of the application by the Secretary of the Party, or designate, or

(b) upon the expiration of the 30th day after the application for individual membership and the appropriate membership fee are received by the Secretary of the Party, unless the applicant is given notice in writing by the Secretary of the Party that the application has been referred to the Provincial Executive.

Section (a) of the very same clause, the part the organizers left out of their print-out, clearly states that a representative of the Party secretary can approve memberships on the spot and make delegates members in good standing of the party, thus qualifying them to vote. These people, who are supposed to be servants of the membership, were in fact attempting to misrepresent the ONDP constitution and disenfranchise young New Democrats from their rights, in order to rig an election. They could have easily approved memberships; instead they turned new activists away. What kind of people are these that go out of their way to shrink the youth membership and sabotage a democratic convention? On the one side, the left wants an open active party that welcomes new people in. On the other side, there is exclusion and a closed door to those who want to build the party. Many were disgusted by this and voted accordingly.

This undemocratic state of affairs was upheld by the chair of the meeting, who was immediately challenged from the floor and overturned. A motion was then moved to give all delegates the right to vote. Under sane circumstances, this would be totally redundant, especially because nearly all the supporters of the left slate had gone to the ONDP office in Toronto and personally had their membership signed and received. Clearly the “moderators” of this process were not interested in the rules. A debate ensued in which a host of points were raised including the notoriously inaccurate nature of the database, the attempt to deceive the members as to the actual wording of the constitution, the turning away of new youth who wanted a membership (not even voting rights, but simply a membership!), and the fact that the right-wing were clearly trying to keep people out of the Party, rather then bringing them in, in order to influence the outcome of an election. The ONDY Convention is the highest democratic body of the youth section and it voted to allow delegates their right to vote.

The threat exists that the right-wing will not accept their overwhelming defeat and will attempt to use their scandalous denial of memberships to try and overturn the election results (and effectively cripple the youth wing)! Hopefully they will see sense, not damage the Party, and allow the youth section to get on with building new clubs and mobilizing youth for victory in the 2011 provincial election. Despite the attempt to trick, deceive, and threaten the membership by those responsible for a decade of inaction, the democratic will of engaged and committed youth could not be stopped.

The New ONDY

As one would expect with such a great showing of so many committed activists, the Democratic Activist slate successfully elected candidates for every position on the ONDY executive for which it ran. A wave of enthusiasm swept the hall as, one by one, the victors were announced. As convention concluded, the crowd gathered outside with chants of, “This is what democracy looks like,” and the singing of “Solidarity Forever.” The newly elected executive immediately held a short first meeting with only one motion to consider: the immediate re-chartering of TYND as an official ONDY club. This passed unanimously.

As a sign of where the New ONDY is going, the second official act of the new ONDY executive was to send a delegation to the locked-out workers of U.S. Steel, who are members of United Steelworkers Local 1005. Picket support is a crucial part of the labour movement and on the very first day of its existence, the revived ONDY marched with its banner in support of locked-out workers defending their rights and their jobs from the program of austerity. The delegates received an extremely warm welcome, and were surprised to hear that news of the ONDY convention had already reached the picket even before the youth arrived. Through activist methods like this, the base of the Party can be grown through the grassroots. The NDP can become the party of the picket lines, the party of the streets and of the marginalized communities; it can become these things only by going out there and physically putting itself on the line, with the workers, with the youth, to defend socialist principals and policies that speak directly to those in need.

Going forward, the New ONDY has pledged to become one that builds mass support amongst the youth in the ridings and in working class communities. If ONDY can build a strong activist club in every city in Ontario, we could create a massive groundswell of support for the NDP and for left-wing policies generally. Imagine if those hundreds of thousands of youth, stacked into cramped apartments, suffering in poverty, and overwhelmingly alienated from the political process, were given a real voice to stand up and enact change. There is a massive power waiting to be unleashed that can wipe away the rule of the Liberals and Tories, and the Bay Street agenda they serve. This can be done by an NDP that is the voice of a mass movement—and the ONDY passed resolutions supporting this aim. The delegates of the 2010 ONDY Convention want to create a youth section that is built, controlled, and shaped by the youth and for the youth. This weekend represents the first step towards that goal.


Slate for a Democratic and Activist ONDY resolutions:

 

Universal Dental Care

Because dental care was not included into Canada’s revered universal health system, dental clinics are private entities driven by the profit motive.

Because access to dental benefits is limited to people with employment benefits or Ontario Works/Ontario Disability Support Program, there are 500,000 working poor individuals in Ontario without dental coverage.

Because oral health is an essential component of health and well-being. Poor oral health is a major risk factor to leading chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes.

Because the Liberals and Conservatives have supported a process of privatizing health care rather than a focus on expanding its services.

Because the current ONDP policy on universal dental care only covers children and youth under the age of 18.

We resolve that ONDY advocates to the ONDP for the expansion of their current platform to include a universal dental care system for Canadians of all ages and regardless of status.

We further resolve that ONDY calls for a publicly funded dental care system, the complete abolition of service fees and be included within the Canada Health Act.

 

Free Education

Because accessibility to higher education has reached critically low levels for the majority of youth both provincially and nationally

Because tuition fees are at levels which prevent large numbers of youth from attending post-secondary institutions, and those that do are saddled with crippling student debt averaging $30,000 per student

Because the membership of ONDY overwhelmingly approved the policy of free education, and prioritized it as the single most important policy for the whole of the provincial youth wing

Because we believe that access to education, like healthcare, is a right, not a privilege, and that we must put action behind what we believe in

We resolve that the ONDY reaffirm its policy of calling for universal quality education, the complete abolition of tuition fees, and proper government funding to institutions of higher learning

We further resolve that the ONDY launch an active campaign for free education to popularize the demand throughout the student movement, labour movement, and wider population.

 

NDP as a mass movement

Because the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) was founded as a diverse federation of different social movements, united by a democratic structure and striving for common goals

Because the CCF merging with the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) to form what became today's NDP was a step to continue, deepen and entrench the organic links between the Party and the working class, the youth movement, and the wider left

Because in order to win, the NDP must encompass, include, and unite all shades of opinion amongst the workers’ and youth movements, and the broader left

We resolve to make the Party the concrete representation of the collective will of the mass movement, where all shades of opinion (for example: union, environmentalist, socialist, anti-war, anti-oppression, etc.) are welcomed and encouraged.

We further resolve to actively seek to use the inclusive, open, and dynamic democratic structure of the Party to provide a space for dialogue, debate, and democratic decision-making for the working class and youth movements, in order to make the NDP more than just a political party, but rather a mass movement unto itself

 

G20

Because the G20 protests in Toronto in June represent an important event for the Party and the labour movement as a whole

Because it is vital that the NDP take a position of leadership in fighting against the G20’s agenda of austerity

We resolve that the ONDY steadfastly oppose the agenda of the G20, which seeks to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars of bail-outs to the wealthiest banks and corporations by attacking the living and working standards of workers and youth

We further resolve that the ONDY views the brutal police and government response to the protests as being both a blatant breach of democratic rights and civil liberties and, more importantly, the inevitable consequence and logical extension of the economic attacks on workers by the capitalist system.

We condemn the arrest of over 1,000, the largest mass arrests in Canadian history, and call for the release of all political prisoners and the dropping of all politically-motivated charges.

We call for a labour-led enquiry into the events of the G20, the police, the role of the so-called Black Bloc, and agent-provocateurs and infiltrators in the demonstrations.

 

Oppose Police Brutality and Defend Youth Rights

Whereas police harassment is a regular occurrence in working class and immigrant communities across Ontario, and particularly in Toronto.

Whereas there have been several incidents of police killings of youth during the last few years, often in very suspicious circumstances.

Whereas misconduct on the part of police have been recognized and even admitted during the past in relation to incidences of police killings and brutality.

Whereas it is evident that police engage in the profiling of youth, workers, and immigrants. Evidence has even come out in the corporate press establishing this fact.

Whereas many of our members in the NDP youth, particularly in the working class districts of Toronto, have experienced police brutality and have even been targeted and arrested as a result of their community activism.

Whereas the issue of police brutality resonates with the experiences of many working class youth and immigrants, and has even sparked significant demonstrations and activism in the past years.

Whereas activists of the NDP, particularly those active in the TYND, have been able to mobilize considerable community support and even recruit party members on the basis of anti-police brutality activism.

Be it Resolved that ONDY take a clear stance in opposition to police brutality, harassment, and profiling.

Be it Resolved that ONDY take a public stance, and become actively engaged, in the struggle against police brutality, in defence of civil rights and the safety of working class people.

Be it Resolved that ONDY firmly push the representatives and the leaders of our party to take strong, public and clearly-worded positions on the issue, particularly when such incidences occur.

Be it further resolved that ONDY also engage in campaigns to support party members who, through their civil rights and anti-police brutality activism, become targeted and arrested. This should include active mobilizing, awareness raising, public support, and financial legal support to our party members and other activists.

 

We Welcome Community Groups and Activists

Because, the ONDY constitution states that ONDY’s approach is, “Inclusive: uniting youth of diverse progressive ideologies to work in solidarity,” and

Because, many have identified the perceived distance between the NDP and community groups as a source of weakness of the NDP, and

Because, reaching out to those active in fighting against the Conservative and Liberal agenda and encouraging them to add their ideas to our movement is an excellent way to build the grassroots forces of the NDP.

Therefore, we resolve to open our doors widely to all those active in community organizations, whether they be socialist, anti-war, environmental, anti-globalist, trade union, feminist, or any other fighter against oppression or capitalism.

We further resolve to encourage such activists to take a full part in ONDY, to build clubs, present policy, run for positions and further enrich our democracy. In no way will we repress the freedom of association of any ONDY member to be active in an outside organization, unless that outside organization supports another Elections Canada/Elections Ontario recognized political party.

 

Justice Must Be Seen To Be Done

Because, the disciplinary sections of the ONDY constitution are necessary to defend our movement from people such as Bob Rae, and

Because, however, there is a real danger that these sections of the constitution will be abused to silence freedom of thought, opinion, association and expression amongst ONDY members, and

Because, such differences of opinion are natural and are best resolved through the democratic process of voting for resolutions and candidates, and not the disciplinary process, and

Because if justice is to be done it must be seen to be done.

Therefore, we resolve that any disciplinary charges tabled under the constitution must follow the principles laid out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Namely: Any person charged with an offence has the right - to be informed without unreasonable delay of the specific offence; - to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal; - to retain and instruct counsel without delay and to be informed of that right;

The above is to be interpreted that: 1) The 14-days written notice of discipline procedures outlined in Article 14, Section 2 of the ONDY Constitiution is to be interpreted to include specific written details of the allegations and not just a quotation of which part of the constitution has been violated. 2) All disciplinary hearings are to be held in the open, not in-camera, so that justice may be seen to be done. 3) At the request of the accused, disciplinary hearings must be held at a face-to-face meeting, not using an indirect conference call or internet method. 4) The accused have the right to face and cross-examine their accusers. 5) The accused have the right to present their own witnesses before the tribunal. 6) The accused have the right to retain legal council or designate a representative analogous to a union steward.