The September 2006 Federal NDP Convention marks a turning point; either the NDP continues to sink into middle-of-the-road irrelevancy, or it mobilizes millions of workers and youth against the conservative agenda.

As delegates arrive in Québec City for the Federal NDP Convention, the Canadian population is disenchanted with their political leadership. It is common knowledge that the Conservatives did not win the election with any rightward turn of the public. The Liberals lost the election after 13 years of corrupt corporate-friendly government and the Conservatives were seen as the only credible alternative. This in itself was a missed opportunity for the NDP, especially in Québec. However, the party did manage to equal its highest ever vote, which was a significant advance that could have been built upon.

After Harper became Prime Minister, he proceeded to govern in identical fashion to the Liberals. This is hardly surprising given that they both follow the wishes of the same corporate masters. It started with the cynical David Emerson floor crossing affair, and continued with the refusal to lower flags or allow the media to film the return of killed Canadian soldiers. However, the real Achilles heel of the Conservatives appears to be support for George Bush’s “War on Terror”, typified by the Canadian-led mission in Afghanistan and the support for Bush and the Israeli state over the war against Lebanon. This is a new development in Canadian politics where domestic issues normally predominate, but the increasing number of Canadians coming home in body bags is concentrating the minds of the general public. We face the prospect that the minority government could be brought down over its imperialist foreign policy.

Now in opposition, the federal Liberals are doing everything in their power to put on a left face to undercut NDP support. What is scandalous is that the NDP leadership is allowing them to get away with this. The Liberals are gaining ground at the expense of the NDP, which now has only 15% support in the polls. Is there any better sign that left-wing ideas are popular than the fact that the Liberals, masters of political opportunism, are pretending to be left? Despite this, the NDP leadership continues to follow the line of middle-of-the-road moderation leaving no observable difference between themselves and the Liberals. On Lebanon it even appeared that the Liberals were taking a firmer stance against the Conservatives. Instead of coming out for a clear anti-imperialist position, the leadership appeared to go underground, waiting for the polls to appear, in fear of being labelled unpatriotic or pro-terrorist. Now that there are a number of polls showing that Canadians oppose Harper on Lebanon and Afghanistan the NDP’s response is seen as too little and too late. Opportunism is no way to show leadership and the NDP is becoming marginalized because of it.

The real story of the last few elections is the massive abstention rate. Up to 40% of the voting public do not vote. In the main, these people are poor, young, female, or immigrants. These are not people who do not care about politics; they just understand that politicians do not care about them. These are the people who would have the most to gain from a socialist NDP policy. A policy against imperialist wars and racism that targets immigrants and their families at home and abroad. A policy of free education and childcare. A policy of an increased minimum wage and reduction of the working week to create full employment. It is beholden on the delegates present in Québec City to support such policies and most importantly hold the leadership accountable so that they become the heart of the NDP’s platform.

Above all, we need an NDP leadership that is not myopically obsessed with manoeuvres on Parliament Hill. If the Conservatives are to be brought down, resulting in increased NDP and not Liberal support, it must be done on the streets. A working-class NDP, standing on socialist policies, is the only way to show that both the Liberals and Conservatives are both parties of big-business. The NDP has a huge bureaucracy; instead of protecting their positions they should spend their time helping to organize opposition to the war in Afghanistan, Lebanon, and wherever Bush next sets his sights on. Many more could also be mobilized for universal childcare and to stop the privatization of Medicare. The NDP has about 80,000 members and the support of 2.5 million; add that to the millions more who do not vote but are looking for a lead and you have a recipe for victory. Gone is the time, if there ever was one, when it was possible to just passively win at the ballot box. In these times of war and conflict, left-wing movements such as those in Bolivia, Mexico, and Venezuela have been able to gain support through mobilizing the mass of the workers and the poor. This can only be done by offering real change that benefits the working class rather than tinkering with the system. At the September 2006 convention the NDP must attach socialism and activism to its banner if it is to advance in the months and years ahead.

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