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NDP convention targets inequality, as contentious planks threaten to steal spotlight

NDP targets inequality

Inequality is fast shaping up to be a key focus of the federal NDP policy convention as thousands of New Democrats gathered online Friday to kick off the three-day event.

Party members cast their votes recently to whittle down hundreds of proposed resolutions into a short list whose top policies include a $15 federal minimum wage and a call to "abolish billionaires" and for-profit long-term care.

Delegates also have the opportunity to insert the word "socialism" into the party constitution after members voted to scrub it from the preamble in 2013 under then-leader Thomas Mulcair.

The term, once a nearly taboo descriptor in federal politics, has surged back into discussion amid a widening wealth gap and the rise of avowedly social-democratic politicians such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the U.S.

While the inequality motif is poised to rally New Democrats around a common theme this weekend, the lead-up to the convention exposedfissures between party brass and the grassroots as well as among MPs.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said this week he opposed a resolution from a downtown Toronto riding association to phase out the Canadian military, a proposal that failed to make it to the virtual convention.

But several controversial resolutions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are among the top-ranked. One demands Canada suspend arms dealing with Israel. A second, endorsed by more than 40 riding associations, rejects a working definition of anti-Semitism set out by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance on the grounds it is used to chill criticism of Israeli policy.

The proposal found NDP lawmakers and party members on opposite sides of a sensitive issue that threatens to distract from the message of unity the party aims to project.

"I don't think it's going to overshadow, because we've got a lot of really important and exciting policy debates on issues that impact people right now in the pandemic," Singh said in a recent interview.

Those potential policies include pledges to cancel all outstanding student debt owed to Ottawa, mandate at least seven days of paid sick leave for federally regulated workers, prevent offshore tax avoidance and enable cities to establish fare-free public transit within a year of an NDP government taking office.

Other high-priority resolutions seek to set up high-speed internet in rural and Indigenous communities and implement all 231 recommendations to emerge from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls in 2019.

The proposals to be debated, voted on and distilled into policies by more than 2,000 delegates will serve as de facto planks to construct a platform ahead of a possible election this year.

The party's first television ad of 2021 will run Saturday, airing on Hockey Night in Canada as the Toronto Maple Leafs face off against the Ottawa Senators. Set to snappy, brass-driven music, the promo features shots of families and front-line workers and blares declarations that the COVID-19 pandemic "made the super rich richer" and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "is protecting their profits."

Singh figures prominently in the ad's photo slide show, but does not speak. He told reporters Friday he is expecting — though not hoping for — an election soon, hence the pre-emptive TV strike.

The NDP event will also vie for attention with a virtual Liberal policy convention happening simultaneously.

Former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent will help launch the convention with a speech Friday afternoon, followed by addresses from the leaders of the Manitoba and Yukon New Democrats.

B.C. Premier John Horgan — the only NDP leader who currently heads a government — will address attendees Saturday, with veteran leader of the Ontario NDP Andrea Horwath taking the virtual stage later on.

Singh aims to rally the base with the keynote speech Sunday, hoping to convey a sense of rah-rah enthusiasm despite there being no convention floor to stomp nor walls to rattle.



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