Let’s Put Democracy back in the NDP

Aligning the party with the will of the members and the energy of movements will make it a more effective force for change

May 15, 2017

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

» Click here to sign on to these proposals