NDP tempers historical socialist rhetoric by adopting new mission statement

The NDP looks a little less socialist than it used to.

New Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favour of changing their constitution at the party’s policy convention Sunday, a move that effectively removed much of the socialist rhetoric that helped define the party’s raison d’etre for decades.

After a fiery debate and numerous procedural delays, 960 delegates voted in favour of the resolution to amend the preamble to the constitution – essentially the NDP’s mission statement – while 188 voted against. The changes required a two-thirds majority to pass.

“I’m a social democrat and it’s a social democratic party, but you’ll notice that both of those words are still in the preamble,” Mulcair told reporters shortly after the vote.

“A lot of Canadians share our vision and our goals in the NDP. We just gotta make sure that by modernizing, by using the language that resonates with a wider public in Canada, that we’ll be able to do what we have to do, which is to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives in 2015.”

Social democracy, he said, is about “removing inequalities in our society.” While many of those battles — such as those related to improving working conditions — have been won, he said today’s fight is about the inequalities between generations and the need for sustainable development.

Mulcair argued the purpose of the change is to “connect and reach out beyond our traditional base,” while still acknowledging the party’s traditions. He added it’s not so much about “bringing the party to the centre” as some critics, including party stalwart Ed Broadbent, have charged, but rather about “bringing the centre to the party.”

The new preamble was drafted by notable party members, including former national leader Alexa McDonough, former Manitoba MP Bill Blaikie and past party president and leadership contender Brian Topp, upon instruction from the late Jack Layton after the party failed to agree on an earlier revision at the last policy convention in 2011. It’s considerably longer than the original and focuses on the principles of “sustainable prosperity,” “freedom and democracy” and a “rules based economy.”

It also references the party’s “social democratic and democratic socialist traditions,” and affirms pride in its “political and activist heritage.”

It was amended slightly by delegates to also include a commitment to “First Nations, Metis and Inuit,” as well as support for “intercultural integration.”

Speaking Sunday in support of the change, Blaikie said he opposed the amendment the last time the party tried to alter the preamble because it went to too far in trying to water down references to socialism.

“This doesn’t sound like a party that’s in any danger of losing its identity,” he told fellow delegates. “What this preamble does is maintain our uniqueness, maintain the essentials and maintain the momentum so that some day we might (not) just have a unique left-wing party in Canada, we can have a unique left-wing Canada.”

The original preamble indicated the party believed “social, economic and political progress” could only be “assured” by applying “democratic socialist principles to government and the administration of public affairs,” and went on to define the term “democratic socialist.”

A small but vocal group of far left party members interrupted proceedings on numerous occasions over the weekend to protest the direction the party was headed and the plan to change the preamble.

“The NDP cannot advance by attempting to become a replica of the Liberal Party or to take its political space in the electoral spectrum,” said Barry Weisleder, the chairman of the party’s unofficial socialist caucus.

Meanwhile, 38 resolutions passed at the weekend convention are expected to inform the party’s next election platform. The resolutions ranged from combating tax havens, supporting trade unions and developing a national mining strategy, to reversing employment insurance cuts, supporting veterans and reinstating supplementary health care benefits for refugees.