Uncategorized Archive

Communications for All – Part I

A strategy for democratic, popular control of our internet, phone systems, platforms and data

High prices. Dismal customer service. Poor network coverage. Tiny data caps. Huge overage charges. Dishonest marketing. Confusing contracts. Canadians are well acquainted with the rage-inducing dysfunctions of our telecommunications sector.

The architects of this system are a handful of corporate behemoths that control virtually all of our communications infrastructure. The Big Five – Bell, Rogers, Telus, Shaw and Quebecor – have perfected the art of squeezing ever-greater profits out of Canada’s captive market of mobile phone and internet users. In 2017, the profits of Canada’s “big five” telecommunications providers totalled $7.49 billion, and their profit margins have reached an astonishing 46.2 per cent.

Canada’s Big Five refuse to produce local content without generous public subsidies, but wrap themselves in the flag when facing the prospect of foreign competition.

Wielding their control over the nation’s cables and signal towers, the Big Five shut out smaller companies and keep prices high. They delay the rollout of new technologies and seek to undermine net neutrality protections. They slash funding for local journalism and outsource jobs abroad despite record profits. They refuse to produce Canadian content without generous public subsidies, but wrap themselves in the flag when facing the prospect of foreign competition.

High-speed internet and mobile phone service are a necessity for work and life in the 21st century but the monopolization of these essential services means that the rural-urban and rich-poor divisions are growing in Canada. Low-income Canadians struggle to pay for these essential services and are disproportionately shut out by the rising cost of connectivity. Those who live in rural and remote communities are forced to pay high prices for slow, unreliable service due to a lack of infrastructure investment.

There are proven, better ways to provide communications for everyone. In many European countries, affordable broadband internet and mobile phone service and even unlimited mobile data are a reality, thanks to stricter regulations and greater competition. In Helsinki, the local administration has created a free, city-wide WiFi network, offering speeds higher than in many other European capitals. In Chattanooga and other American cities, municipalities have created local broadband providers that provide faster speeds at a lower cost than the corporate ISPs. In Uruguay, the publicly-owned ANTEL has made the South American nation a world leader in fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) and wireless connectivity.

Even within Canada, the otherwise bleak telecoms landscape features a few bright spots. In Saskatchewan, SaskTel has proven that publicly-owned telecoms can help lower prices and ensure better service for rural customers without acting as a drag on the public treasury. And in many rural communities, municipalities are by-passing the corporate behemoths and setting up their own broadband service providers.

We can build a national, publicly-owned network that provides high-quality, affordable service to everyone. We can use the profits currently pocketed by shareholders to instead fund local culture and journalism in the public interest. And ultimately, we can protect our personal data from the prying eyes of spy agencies and Silicon Valley corporations and put “big data” to work for socially desirable ends.

To accomplish this, we propose four major steps towards a socialized telecommunications system:

Establish a national publicly-owned provider from the bottom up

The fight for a publicly-owned broadband and wireless infrastructure will be waged at many different levels, but it does not start from scratch. Existing public infrastructures and organizations, such as power companies at the municipal and provincial level and Canada Post, the CBC and even a repurposed Canada Infrastructure Bank at the federal level, will be key to creating a viable public sector challenge to the monopolistic Big Five. The struggle at all levels should carry a common demand: a federated and cooperatively managed telecommunications system in public hands. [Skip to this section]

Use regulatory powers to increase quality of services, end monopolistic practices and reduce prices

In the name of letting the “market” decide, our complacent, regulatory bodies captured by industry lobbyists have allowed the dominant telecom firms to build hugely profitable empires that make a mockery of any notion of public service. By enforcing existing regulations and enacting new ones, we can tilt the scales toward the common good, break up the vertically-integrated monoliths and give publicly-owned service providers the access to existing infrastructure they need to expand rapidly. [Skip to this section]

Nationalize the telcos and implement cooperative federated control in the public interest

Years of privatization and deregulation have produced a telecommunications system that is a costly, inefficient, bureaucratic mess. Our ultimate goal must be an integrated, national network under democratic control, but this is impossible if we allow the present balkanized system of rival corporate fiefdoms to persist. Promoting alternatives is good, but on its own this strategy risks letting the ruling telecoms corporations hold on to the most profitable parts of the network while publicly-owned providers serve the most costly areas. By redirecting profits we can ensure equitable access to remote and low-income users, invest in improvements to service and fund community-controlled production of culture and journalism. [Skip to this section]

Start building the data commons and take back the platform layer

Access to data has rapidly emerged as one of the most important economic drivers of the 21st century. Beyond privacy and control of data, we must create democratic alternatives to concentrated corporate control. If data is the future, we should control access, ensure privacy, and ultimately use it to improve delivery of public services and enhance democratic control of the economy instead of selling mass-scale behaviour manipulation to the highest bidder. In short, the data layer should be managed as a commons, and the power of public telecommunications should be used to shift social media and collaborative platforms away from corporate “walled gardens” and toward the kinds of open standards and federated services that made the internet so uniquely useful in the first place.[Skip to this section]

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Abolish the digital divide; establish public alternatives

Internet connectivity is a vital part of everyday life in Canada. Increasingly, the internet is the medium of choice for staying in touch with friends, watching films, listening to music, searching for jobs, doing school work, accessing government services, paying bills, following the news and even waging political campaigns. Culture and entertainment, work and education, love and friendship, politics and business – our lives have become inextricably intertwined with the net.

The CRTC recognized this reality in a December 2016 ruling, declaring high-speed internet to be an “essential service.” But the CRTC’s ruling also acknowledged that high prices and a lack of infrastructure in remote and rural areas mean many groups of Canadian society find themselves unable to access this essential service. Low-income families, First Nations communities and rural and remote municipalities find themselves on the wrong side of a growing digital divide.

Stagnant working-class incomes are challenging enough. Combining them with the worst instincts of corporate telecom monopolies that raise the cost of broadband internet access and mobile phone service means many people now struggle to pay their telecom bills. For lower income households, internet and mobile phone bills account for nearly 5% of expenses, a bite out of the family budget that is two and a half times larger than for average income families. Millions of Canadians can’t afford to pay for broadband service unless they sacrifice other necessities, such as food, clothing, and healthcare.

Faced with such an excruciating choice, many poor and working-class Canadians are forced to do without internet connectivity entirely. Mobile phones and broadband internet are nearly ubiquitous in households earning over $82,000 per year (i.e. the top 40% of the population by income) but access to the internet is far less widespread for those in the bottom 40%. Nearly one-third (30.1%) of households in the poorest fifth of the population do not subscribe to a mobile wireless service, while nearly one-fifth (19.7%) of those in the second lowest fifth stand in the same position. Consequently, Canada ranks a lowly 24th out of 35 OECD countries in terms of mobile phone adoption. Internet access at home is similarly class-skewed, with 35.6% of the lowest income quintile and 17.9% of the second lowest quintile lacking a connection at home.

In Northern or rural areas, internet users pay even higher prices for slower and less reliable connections. Over 2.4 million Canadians (almost equivalent to all of Metro Toronto, or the entire Greater Vancouver area) cannot access the broadband speeds deemed essential by the CRTC at any price, for lack of adequate infrastructure. First Nations communities “are the most disadvantaged communities in almost all respects,” the CRTC notes.

Internet users may be suffering from high prices, poor coverage and shoddy customer service, but Canadian telecom companies are doing great. In fact, they’re among the most profitable in the world. The telecommunications sector’s operating profits are consistently two and a half times higher than those of other non-financial industries, according to StatsCan. In a 2008 analysis by Merrill Lynch, the Canadian wireless market was the most profitable of the 23 countries surveyed. Seven years later, the investment bank repeated its analysis and found that the situation in 2015 was much the same. The Canadian wireless industry profit margin of 46.2 per cent was bested only by Portugal’s 47 per cent. In the bottom-ranked U.K., by contrast, telecoms could only expect a margin of 24 per cent. It’s easy to squeeze out robust profits when you don’t think about quality for remote users or providing affordable options for half the population.

Postal workers fighting privatization, linked up with journalists threatened by newsroom cutbacks could make a politically potent constituency behind a radical proposal for a national public provider.

Establishing publicly-owned broadband ISPs and wireless carriers – mandated to provide low-cost, high-quality services to all Canadians – is a crucial first step to abolishing the digital divide. The task of forging an inclusive, democratic and cooperative telecommunications system is daunting, but we are not starting from scratch. The key is to piggyback on already-existing public infrastructure and institutions, such as municipally- and provincially-owned power companies. Many municipalities have already connected public buildings with fibre optic cables, whose unused capacity (known as “dark fibre”) could serve as the basis for an alternative network infrastructure.

Consider one bold, homegrown idea: communications scholar Dwayne Winseck has outlined a radical proposal for building a public telecoms challenge to the existing oligopoly at the federal level. Winseck proposes the merger of Canada Post and the CBC to create the Canadian Communication Corporation (CCC) with a mandate to become the fourth national mobile wireless provider. “The CCC,” Winseck declares, “could be to the broadband internet and mobile-wireless centric world of the 21st century what the Post Office was to the print world of times past.” The CCC would blanket cities with open access networks, develop public WiFi, mobilize the “vast stock” of under- or unused municipal fibre optic cables, and extend broadband internet access to people in rural, remote and poor urban areas. It would also fund public art and culture directly rather than through “an opaque labyrinth of intra- and inter-industry funds overseen by a fragmented cultural policy bureaucracy.”

The CCC could repurpose some of the CBC’s existing spectrum holdings and broadcast towers for mobile wireless service coast-to-coast-to-coast, real estate could be combined and used to site towers, local post offices used to sign up cellphone subscribers and sell devices, and Canada Post vehicles given more windshield time making sure that the country’s system of correspondence, communication and parcel delivery run as they should.

In a similar vein, CUPW has argued that Canada Post should get involved in broadband internet services and suggested that the federal government could “use Canada Post as a way of building the backbone of a new high speed network.” To begin the process, the union called on Canada Post management to create a Broadband Digital Strategy committee comprised of management, unions, Internet advocacy experts and representatives from other postal systems which already offer Internet services. Postal workers fighting privatization, linked up with journalists threatened by newsroom cutbacks could make a politically potent constituency behind a radical proposal like Winseck’s.

A guiding principle should be that infrastructure built with public funds should remain in public hands, instead of padding the bottom line of the already-profitable telecommunications giants. Currently, federal and provincial governments support the extension of telecommunications infrastructure to remote and rural areas through special funds and subsidies. This effectively lets the corporations off the hook for the cost of connecting more sparsely populated (and thus less profitable) regions while allowing them to keep the infrastructure once it is built. The Canada Infrastructure Bank, repurposed to support public enterprise instead of its current mandate of privatization, could also play an important part in financing the rollout and expansion of public telecoms infrastructure.

We are not obliged to wait for political change at the federal level to implement public alternatives. A fascinating example of what can be done through municipal broadband initiatives comes from an unlikely place: Chattanooga, Tennessee. A mid-sized, declining industrial town in the south with a population of 170,000, Chattanooga began its transformation into a pioneer of municipal broadband in 2007. That year, the Electricity Power Board (EPB, the city’s power company) decided install a “smart grid,” overlaying the power grid with fibre optic cables that track customers’ usage, allocate electricity more efficiently and help reduce outages. In the process, the EPB created a communications network that spanned the whole city and was many times more advanced than what was currently on offer. Confronted with the neglect of the area’s telecoms infrastructure by the dominant ISPs (Comcast and AT&T), the EPB decided to offer high-speed residential internet connections directly to the population via its fibre network.

Chattanooga’s ultra-high speed internet has attracted startups, creating a mini tech boom, and the superior public provider forced Comcast and AT&T to upgrade their networks and lower their prices.

Almost overnight, Chattanooga’s power company became the leading ISP in the city. The EPB has signed up 84,000 internet subscribers, representing more than half of the market share in the area, by offering connections with speeds many times faster and at half the price of its private sector competitors. The EPB also gives discounts to low-income residents and is a source of revenue for the city. Its ultra-high speed internet has attracted various startups to the town, creating a mini tech boom. The competition has forced Comcast and AT&T to upgrade their networks in the area and lower their prices.

Spurred by Chattanooga’s successes, over 450 towns and cities in underserved regions have jumped on the municipal broadband bandwagon. Socialist city councillor Kshama Sawant has called for Seattle to follow this path as well.

Multiplying Chattanooga-style municipal broadband initiatives in cities and towns throughout Canada is critical to challenging the duopolies that dominate broadband internet service at the local and regional level. Several Canadian municipalities have developed their own municipal broadband services. In Alberta, residents of the town of Olds have ultra-high speed internet thanks to a community-owned and -operated fibre optic network called O-Net. A one-gigabit connection from O-Net costs just $57 per month, while slower services in Calgary from Bell and Rogers cost between $115 and $226 per month.

It may be possible to apply the Chattanooga model on a much grander scale via provincially-owned power utilities. Hydro-Québec, for instance, has installed a similar fibre optic-based smart grid and since the early 2000s the public utility has studied the possibility of connecting clients in regions without access to high speed internet. Underserved municipalities have been demanding that the electricity company use some of its excess fibre capacity to connect them. And in the recent 2018 provincial elections, the left-wing party Québec Solidaire vowed to create a nationalized internet backbone provider, Réseau Québec, that would extend affordable fibre optic connections to rural areas in collaboration with internet cooperatives and other locally-owned ISPs.

Wireless plans in Saskatchewan are $50 to $70 cheaper than their equivalents in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, thanks to SaskTel.

Another interesting example of what can be done at the provincial level to challenge Canada’s telecoms oligopoly comes from Saskatchewan. The Big Three claim that high prices for mobile phone services are an inevitable consequence of our country’s immense geography and sparse population, rather than due to a lack of competition. This obfuscatory nonsense is spectacularly disproven by Saskatchewan, the province with the lowest population density – and the lowest rates for cellphone services. The province’s mobile phone users get lower prices and more data for their mobile phones than in other provinces because of the competition provided by SaskTel, the last provincially-owned telecoms company left standing in Canada after decades of privatization.

Wireless plans in Saskatchewan are $50 to $70 cheaper than their equivalents in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia, thanks to SaskTel. Competition from SaskTel has forced the Big Three to lower rates for their Saskatchewan customers, by up to 40% for some plans relative to other provinces. In Regina, data-heavy plans are 26% cheaper than they are elsewhere in Canada. Prices are so low, in fact, that Canada now hosts a thriving black market of Ontarians clandestinely obtaining prairie mobile phone plans. And only SaskTel (along with MTS in Manitoba1) offers unlimited data plans. Even industry consultants hostile to the notion of a publicly-owned telecoms company admit that Saskatchewan has the best wireless rates in the country thanks to the “wild card” SaskTel.

Sasktel has lowered prices, maintained high quality service and innovated, all while paying its CEO and board of directors one-tenth of neighbouring Manitoba’s privatized telco pays its corporate leadership. Taking SaskTel national could be an interesting way of challenging the hold of the Big Three over wireless.

SaskTel has enjoyed tremendous commercial success, taking a 67% share of the wireless market and regularly returning tens of millions of dollars in dividends to the provincial treasury. Endowed with a strong public service mandate, SaskTel has eschewed the abusive salesmanship of its rivals and invested heavily to ensure truly province-wide wireless coverage. While Bell, Rogers and Telus have limited their infrastructure spending to Regina and Saskatoon, SaskTel has built cell towers throughout the province. The crown corporation also boasts the lowest number of complaints per subscriber among wireless carriers, and year after year has won top marks for customer service from marketing firm J.D. Power. And contrary to the received wisdom that public enterprises are less innovative, SaskTel has been a leader among wireless carriers in upgrading its network and adopting the latest technological advances. It has accomplished all this while paying its CEO and board of directors one-tenth of what MTS (Manitoba’s privatized telco which is of similar size and was sold off in 1996) pays its corporate leadership. Taking SaskTel national, as UNIFOR’s David Coles proposed in 2014, could be an interesting way of challenging the hold of the Big Three over wireless.

To realize such latent possibilities will require a major political fight. Every step of the way, the EPB and the city of Chattanooga have faced intense lobbying and hostile media campaigns funded by the incumbent corporations. Tennessee state legislators have restricted the EPB’s expansion into underserved neighboring areas and imposed limits on the discounts the company can offer to low-income clients.

In Saskatchewan the current provincial administration is more interested in hobbling, rather than expanding, the crown corporation. To pave the way for its eventual privatization, Brad Wall’s conservative Saskatchewan Party government has sought to undermine SaskTel by cutting it off from new sources of revenue and limiting its activities outside of the province. Fortunately, the Wall government has been stymied up to now by the manifest unpopularity of such a move, even with the Saskatchewan Party’s own political base.

Continue reading Part II.

Main writer/researcher: Nikolas Barry-Shaw (with contributions from several Courage members)

Canada Must Oppose the Attempted Coup in Venezuela

On January 23rd, the Canadian government joined the United States and a handful of other nations in recognizing Juan Guaido as the President of Venezuela, following a weeks-long conflict over the legitimacy of sitting President Nicolas Maduro.

Courage strongly believes in the right of Venezuelans to resolve this crisis internally without the threat of foreign intervention. If the Venezuelan people do not believe the government of Nicolas Maduro is legitimate, we support their right to hold free and fair elections to determine their own future. The Trudeau government’s attempt to weigh in on this conflict by supporting a self-appointed president with no democratic legitimacy, before the Venezuelan people have been given the opportunity to make their own decision, continues a centuries-long tradition of Western imperialism and paternalism towards Latin American countries.

If the modern history of Latin America has taught us anything, it should be that US-led intervention in the affairs of Latin American countries is virtually always an excuse for the United States and other Western states to pursue their own imperial interests. From Chile to Honduras, Panama to Cuba, Guatemala to  the Dominican Republic, the United States has a decades-long history of using their economic and military influence to install brutal dictatorships and corporatist client regimes across this part of the world, resulting in the disenfranchisement and immiseration of millions of working class Latin Americans.

The United States is attempting to orchestrate the current coup in Venezuela in a fashion that appears markedly similar to its prior transgressions. The Trump regime has been involved in plots to oust Nicolas Maduro for over a year, and has spent tens of millions of dollars supporting the right-wing opposition in Venezuela. This reality, in conjunction with the fact that Venezuela has the largest oil reserves of any country on Earth, makes it clear that this is yet another example of the United States prioritizing its own economic interests over the wellbeing of Latin American people.

Canada itself has a troubling pattern of supporting this approach of destabilizing governments at the whim of the United States and major corporate interests. Canada, under Trudeau, supported the illegal government that came to power in Brazil after a soft coup deposed and jailed Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party in 2016. Under the Harper government, Canada funded destabilization efforts in Venezuela, immediately recognized a coup government that deposed Paraguay’s popular left-wing president Fernando Lugo in 2012, and provided praise and funding when the Honduran military kidnapped and deposed their democratically elected president Manuel Zelaya. In 2004, the Martin government sent troops to support the notorious coup against Haiti’s reformist centre-left president Jean Bertrand Aristide, and in 2002, the Chretien government expressed no objection to the first US-backed coup attempt in Venezuela against Hugo Chavez. The minority Harper government invited one of the leaders of the attempted coup to speak in Ottawa in 2006.

Whether it’s acting as a junior partner to America’s attempts to police its so-called “backyard”, or directly advancing the interests of Canadian companies’ resource extraction projects abroad, Canada’s habit of complicity in imperialist adventures must end. As an organization that believes all people, in all nations, are entitled to self-determination, Courage strongly condemns Justin Trudeau, Chrystia Freeland, and all of the members of the Canadian government who have espoused support for this illegal coup against the current Venezuelan government. We urge our government to allow Venezuelans to make their own decisions on these matters without the influence of foreign interests, and encourage Canada to establish a policy of non-intervention in the affairs of other nations going forward.

Want to join Courage and vote on our future positions and initiatives? Find out more here.

Big Organizing: Lessons from Ottawa-Centre

This event was organized by Courage in Ottawa on July 26, 2018. Watch the whole thing here:

By energizing hundreds of volunteers with a bold message, a principled candidate and a break from the traditional mould of campaigning, the Joel Harden campaign turned a long shot campaign into a decisive victory. The Liberals had held the provincial riding of Ottawa Centre since 1995, and Harden faced an uphill battle against the high-profile Liberal and sitting Attorney General Yasir Naqvi. However, Harden won with a convincing 13% margin over Naqvi.

How did the NDP take back a Liberal stronghold with an uncompromising message and energized members? The answer is called “big organizing”, a set of techniques that draw heavily on the organizing that led to outsized results for the Bernie Sanders campaign and many progressive victories since then.

We hear from key organizers with the campaign:
• Jillian O’Reilly, a longtime ACORN activist
• Peyton Veitch, from the Canadian Federation of Students
• Miles Krauter, founding member of Ginger Group Ottawa

Moderated by Graciela Hernandez, President of Ottawa-Centre provincial riding association

They share with us the secrets to the success of the campaign, discuss what they’ll do differently next time, and how big organizing can be used to stop the radical right in its tracks.

The Poverty of the NDP’s Democracy in February 2018

It’s right there in the name of the Party, but democracy has been a problem for the NDP lately. These difficulties have been thrown into relief in the leadup to the Party’s biannual convention, taking place in Ottawa this weekend.

In 2018, here’s how the NDP’s democracy at Convention works.

  1. Riding associations vote to endorse resolutions.
  2. Those resolutions were then sent to the National Director (until recently Robert Fox; currently Melissa Bruno).
  3. The National Director decided the order in which the resolutions would be considered, in some key instances changing their titles.
  4. Some members of Federal Council (and a few others) selected by the National Director then had the opportunity to provide feedback, which the National Director could integrate or not, as they saw fit. The result is this file.
  5. Delegates will gather in a room first thing in the morning on the first day of convention to vote on changes to the order.
  6. As many as 10 from each of seven categories of resolutions are debated and voted on on the convention floor, and it’s often as low as five.

Here are some of the results of this democratic process:

  1. The Palestine Resolution, which received at least 28 endorsements from riding associations and backing from both party activists and elected officials, was ranked #37 out of 45 resolutions in order of consideration, and given the snarkily non-descript title “Peace in the Middle East 1”. For comparison purposes, the top 10 resolutions selected in the same category (“Redefining Canada’s Place in the World”) had a combined total of 17 endorsements.
  2. The Free Education and Guaranteeing the Treaty Right to Education Resolution, which was endorsed by at least 33 riding associations (as well as CUPE national and CUPE Ontario), was ranked #18 out of 82 resolutions in the “Investing in a Canada where no one is left behind” category. The top ten resolutions in that category had a combined total of 15 endorsements, and the resolution received the distinctly indistinct title “Post-Secondary Education”.
  3. The Internal Democracy Resolutions were ranked #14, #28, and #43 out of a total of 49 despite receiving over 10 endorsements, and several other resolutions that attempted to address the same issues (lack of democracy, federal staffers overriding local decisions) were also ranked low.
  4. Two attempts to fix (and democratize) this terrible system through a pre-convention online ranking system (titled “7-42-18 Resolution Ranking via Digital Secret Ballot” and “7-45-18 Modernization and Democratization of Convention Resolution Process”) were ranked #42 and #45 out of 49 in the same “Building our momentum” category.
  5. One resolution approved by the Port Moody—Coquitlam and Timmins—James Bay EDAs was modified by party staff without any notice being given to the sponsoring EDAs.
  6. Many clerical errors were introduced that would have been prevented or corrected by an open process. For example, “3-29-18 Abandoning the historically disastrous ‘war on drugs'” reflects an old version of the resolution which had since been updated.

It’s clear that this system is broken, and that the party’s accountability to its members is minimal, and still in the process of dwindling. The aversion of the party’s unelected staffers toward the membership is the subject of long-standing complaints.

This is an upside-down way of running a political party. The Party’s members are its greatest asset, and continue to show up despite how ill considered they are by the Party apparatus itself. But what if the party actually embraced the members, and the democratic functions that could empower it?

While long-term fixes are in order, the Party’s current leadership must account for these decisions. Why are they so brazenly defying the will of the membership when it comes to what is discussed on the convention floor? What criteria have led them to treat grassroots movements who painstakingly organized significant support for their proposals with such low regard?

During this Convention, we urge our fellow delegates to unite to defy and correct this anti- democratic process, by:

  • Prioritizing resolutions that have clear grassroots mobilizations behind them so that they reach the floor
  • Prioritizing and voting for resolutions that would reform the anti-democratic prioritization process, in particular “7-45-18 Modernization and Democratization of Convention Resolution Process”
  • Calling the NDP staff and leadership to account for its lack of open processes and rejection of democratic norms


Decriminalization Resolution

Canada’s overdose crisis is getting worse, not better. Last year, there were more than 4,000 deaths. In 2018, there will be more.

Together, we’re pressuring the NDP to decriminalize possession of all drugs, to end the war on drug users.

In Ottawa alone, where convention is being held, there are an average of four overdoses every day — that we know about. Many more refuse to call 911 for fear of arrest.

Can you help? us promote this resolution at Convention? If so, click here!

The following resolution has been endorsed by Courage:

BE IT RESOLVED that Section 3.1.h in the policy book be amended to read:

  1. Adopting an evidence-based harm reduction approach to drug use and health delivery.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Section 3.1.h be amended to read:

  1. Decriminalizing drug possession and developing legislation to shift drug policy from the criminal justice system into the regulatory framework of healthcare.
  2. Promoting policies that tackle the root causes of addiction;
  3. Reallocating policing and incarceration resources to fund: education, treatment; and harm reduction programs;
  4. Establishing a mechanism to automatically pardon all individuals with criminal records for possession of narcotics for personal use;

Let’s Put Democracy back in the NDP


Within the NDP, many dedicated grassroots activists suspect that their voices are unheeded, while their creativity and expertise is unused. Many feel taken for granted and only valued as a donor base for the party.

Everything the NDP accomplishes is due to its thousands of dedicated volunteers. Instead of treating them as a liability, we believe that the NDP should make full use of the intelligence, creativity and experience of its members.

Democracy is the best tool we have to do that.

The following proposals are based on the experiences of Courage members, nearly 400 responses to our survey, and many resolutions from riding associations that were not discussed or voted on at the 2016 Convention in Edmonton.

Movements fuel the NDP’s successes

Many political parties, and the NDP in particular, owe their existence to grassroots movements. Before they become laws or platform planks, the party’s most transformative policies are generated and popularized by grassroots activism and organizing, usually outside the party. Whether it’s the labour movement, feminist groups, Indigenous mobilizations, LGBTQ2 advocacy, environmental direct action or others, the NDP owes much to movements.

The NDP’s many political victories are the blossoms, but movements are the roots. To keep it growing, the NDP must nourish the roots that it comes from. If the NDP can keep it roots healthy, it can extend its reach and resonance, and speed up positive transformations of our society and economy.

Courage proposes that the NDP:

  • Mobilize its members between elections in support of non-electoral campaigns, including campaigns that are not lead by the NDP itself;
  • Hold trainings (from online workshops to training camps) in a variety of skills for organizing and campaigning;
  • Allow and encourage use of mailing lists to promote regional and local movement activity that broadly aligns with the party’s platform;
  • Sponsor speaking tours of grassroots activists, inviting its members and supporters into dialogue about cutting-edge issues;
  • Recognizing that different currents of thought exist within the party, allow and encourage tendencies to form, so long as they respect some basic rules;
  • Commit resources to the equitable participation and political advancement of women, people of colour, LGBT2Q, Indigenous, disabled and otherwise vulnerable or stigmatized communities and peoples both within the NDP ranks and as part of all of the activities listed above.

A peoples’ platform

The NDP’s policy book—the result of countless hours of work by party members—has been neglected and suppressed. During the last federal election, it was even removed from the party’s web site. The policy book is the centrepiece of the NDP’s democratic functioning of the Party and cannot be ignored or neglected.

The work that members and Electoral Riding Associations put into the consultations, drafting and debating of policy motions must be respected. Those who run election campaigns and create messaging for parliamentarians must echo the democratic mandate of the policy book.

It’s time to take the members’ voices seriously, and to expand support within activist communities. It is time to create a common, inclusive vision for our economy and society that we can collectively promote, and hold our leaders accountable to.

Courage proposes that the NDP:

  • Through deep consultation with members and allied communities, develop a vision for our government, economy and social issues that goes beyond the tinkering of recent years;
  • Use all available means to canvas membership regularly on policy priorities on local, regional and federal levels, make the results available, and account for discrepancies between the will of the members and the choices of party leaders;
  • Hold regular policy debates and discussions, inviting elders, experts and activists to present the case for different positions;
  • Renew the expectation that role of both leader and staff is to promote, communicate and ultimately implement the platform democratically created by party members.

Leadership starts at the grassroots

Concentration of power in the leader’s office has created an unvirtuous cycle within the Federal NDP. In many cases, decision-making power has been removed or overridden within riding associations. Even the Federal Council is out of the loop on many key decisions.

Members are increasingly treated as ATMs rather than skilled agents for political transformation, and many former party activists see little point in participating.

For those who do participate, loyalty and obedience are often rewarded, while independent thinking and activism are too frequently discouraged. As a result, the considerable talents of many members are wasted.

At least one leadership candidate has picked up the slogan “the NDP doesn’t need one new leader, it needs thousands.” Here’s how we can put that into practice.

Courage proposes that the NDP:

  • Ensure that when new members join, they are presented with opportunities to participate in discussion, learn new skills, and help to shape the direction of the party;
  • Hold regular educational events aimed at deepening members understanding of issues, and training sessions aimed at skill building with a view to building a robust democratic culture;
  • Create accountability measures for staff members and recall mechanisms for elected party officials (both within the NDP and those who hold public office) to ensure they uphold a high standard of transparency and adherence to party policies.

Campaigning to our full potential

Campaigns have too often occasioned a sinking feeling. Dedicated volunteer effort is taken for granted, while a coterie of insiders close ranks to stage-manage our collective efforts.

This way of running campaigns is ultimately detrimental to the NDP.

Aligning with members’ skills, insight and priorities will result in more effective campaigns, broader participation, and greater enthusiasm.

Courage proposes that the NDP:

  • Build on campaign practices that
    • a) are led by members and enhance their knowledge and skills
    • b) make maximum use of the insights of those organizing on the ground
    • c) achieve mass participation that reflects the diversity of the society we serve
  • Reform the election planning committee structure to
    • a) ensure decisions are rooted in i) the policy book and ii) input gathered from the members in the period before the writ drops;
    • b) institute checks and balances to ensure that power does not become concentrated in a few hands
    • c) add accountability measures for staff who violate the party’s high standards of democratic functioning and respect for the will of the members;
  • Ensure that any interventions that override the will of EDAs (candidate selection in particular) meet a high standard of accountability and transparency, and are consistent with the expressed will of the membership and the policy book.

Decolonizing with Indigenous allies

To be a truly modern political party, the NDP must align itself completely with the moral and constitutional realities of nation-to-nation relationships.

Federal and provincial governments are in the habit of violating the sovereignty, land rights and treaty rights of Indigenous nations. These habits violate the law of the land in every sense—from the laws of Indigenous nations to Canada’s constitution. The NDP must continue to build and strengthen relationships with Indigenous-led movements for decolonization, while ensuring that its policies are deeply aligned with those movements.

Courage proposes that the NDP:

  • Form a committee of activists and legal experts that will vet each new policy proposal, and when necessary, propose amendments that would bring the policy into line with relevant sovereignty, land rights, treaty rights and constitutional questions;
  • Solicit proposals for the increased participation of Indigenous nations and communities in governance (within the party and in government) in a way that respects the diversity of political cultures and orientations toward the Canadian state;
  • Approach policy—particularly in health, education, child welfare, justice systems—with a view to full implementation of both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action and the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommendations, bringing a critical analysis of how systems shape Indigenous peoples’ access to resources and land.

Convening our movements

Like campaigns, conventions should be an apex of democratic energy, a place where ideas and proposals are urgently debated, where political interests collide, divide and combine, and a collective will emerges from the ferment.

There is room for showcases—preferably to highlight emerging leaders and connections to movements—but the spectacular should not come at the expense of the substantial. Many resolutions, the result of careful debate and coordinated efforts by riding associations, seem to disappear as soon as each convention ends.

Courage proposes that the NDP:

  • Overhaul the process by which resolutions are debated and adopted:
    • Democratize the process of prioritizing and debating resolutions;
    • Increase the number of resolutions that are debated and voted on;
    • Explore online options for voting and debate to maximize participation;
    • For all resolutions passed on to the federal council, members should have access to a full report on the results of those votes within a reasonable delay;
    • Maintain an online record of all votes and resolutions, accessible to members in perpetuity.
  • Create space for, and encourage, the participation of unorganized workers (e.g. freelancers, young workers, fast food workers, parents, homemakers and other unpaid labourers);
  • Facilitate caucuses, networking sessions, and tendencies organizing at the convention through meeting rooms, access to announcements, and other communications resources.

» Click here to sign on to these proposals