The New Party Initiative

I’ve never joined a

political party, never even been to a political convention. Last election, after

being dragged by the hair to the ballot box, I was overcome by a wave of ennui

more acute than the pain suffered by my friends who simply ingested their


Does this mean I’m a

no-brain, knee-jerk anarchist, as many a Globe letter-writer has claimed?

Perhaps. But then why

do I find myself agreeing that we need a new Left political alliance, maybe even

a new party?

What’s clear is that

the Left as it is currently constituted – a weakened NDP, and an endless series

of street protests – is a recipe for fighting like crazy to make things not

quite as bad as they would be otherwise. A revolutionary goal for the Left would

be to actually made things – close your eyes and imagine it – [ital] better


Is the New Politics

Initiative the answer? It could be.

First, the basics. The

NPI, leaked to the press recently, is not a new party trying to overthrow the

NDP and crown Svend Robinson King of the Socialists. It’s a political idea about

what a new party could and should be: more internally democratic, committed to

electoral reform, tied to grassroots movements (www.newpolitics.ca.).

It is not doing what

most people I know have already done – i.e. writing off the NDP entirely.

Instead, it is putting forward a concrete proposal for the NDP to adopt

resolutions at its November convention that would transform the party into this

new entity. Already, some of the most grassroots-minded NDPers have endorsed the

idea, as well as respected activists and authors including Judy Rebick and Jim


And no, I haven’t

decided if I’ll sign yet. The real question for people with itchy, painful party

allergies like mine, is this: what happens in the unlikely event that the NDP

membership actually goes for it? That’s when the idea for a new politics turns

into a living process – and the real test begins.

To those outside the

Labour-NDP axis, all this talk still looks like the usual suspects jockeying for

position. Genuinely new politics would mean bringing together communities that

have nothing to do with the Canadian left as it looks today – either with the

NDP, or the mass street protests like those that took place in Quebec City. This

task doesn’t just requite better "outreach." It requires wiping the slate clean,

systematically identifying the constituencies that are suffering most under the

current economic model – and are already organizing against it most forcefully –

and building a national vision from there.

Who am I talking about?

Here’s a start, by no means complete:

  • The burgeoning city

    power movements – environmentalists, anti-poverty activists — who finally

    have proof that the federal and provincial downloading buck stops with them.

    And it comes up considerably short, with not nearly enough to cover basic

    human needs like water safety, public transport, and housing.

  • Immigrant

    communities who have always voted Liberal and are now questioning that

    allegiance, having just discovered, via the draconian Bill C11, that they are

    in this country on a guest pass.

  • Left-wing

    Quebeckers, fed up with the PQ’s endless postponement of action on social

    issues, and looking for alternatives.

  • First Nations

    communities whose prospects for real self-government are once again being

    delayed, this time by paternalistic concerns about "governance" and federal

    defiance of Supreme Court rulings on resource control.

  • Resource communities

    – whether Prairie grain producers, West Coast loggers and fishers, or PEI

    potato farmers – who have already found out that there is no level, free-trade

    playing field when your biggest trading partner writes the rules and breaks


Bringing these, and

other, forces together would draw out deep conflicts between Natives and

non-Natives, unions and environmentalists, urban and rural communities – as well

as between the white face of the Canadian left and the darker face of Canadian

poverty. To overcome these divisions, what is needed is not a new political

party – not yet — but a new political process, one with enough faith in

democracy to let a political mandate emerge.

That could well mean

re-examining some of the traditional left’s most basic ideas about how to

organize a country. After all, the thread that connects municipal rights to

sustainable resource management, as well as Quebec sovereignty to Native

self-government, is not a stronger central state. It is a desire for

self-determination and local control.

Creating this process

would be an arduous long term project. But it would be worth it. Because it is

in the connections between these largely off-the-map issues and communities –

not in the current internal squabbles – that you can detect the rough outlines

of a powerful, truly national Canadian Left-in-waiting.

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