Former federal NDP leader Ed Broadbent says the best electoral hope for the party, as it gathers for its virtual convention this week, is the passage of resolutions that help build a “simple, clear and honest” offer to voters.
Mr. Broadbent, the NDP’s leader from 1975 to 1989, said one of his predecessors, Tommy Douglas, always advised picking three points to campaign on, not four, five or six. He used to say “know what you’re talking about and explain them to Canadians, and you have a good chance of winning,” Mr. Broadbent said in an interview.
The virtual convention runs Friday to Sunday amid speculation about a federal election this year. The NDP under current Leader Jagmeet Singh is now in fourth place in Parliament.
“[Today’s New Democrats] should keep it simple, clear and honest and a limited agenda and people will listen,” said Mr. Broadbent, once touted as Canada’s most popular federal leader, and now chair of the Broadbent Institute, a social-democratic think tank.
Mr. Broadbent said he hopes convention delegates will pass a series of resolutions consistent with NDP caucus advocacy on such issues as long-term care, pharmacare, or taxing wealth as part of a tax-reform package. There has been some controversy about resolutions to dismantle the Canadian Armed Forces and tax all of the assets of billionaires.
“The convention could pass a limited number of positive resolutions that are quite progressive and, at the same time, avoid passing resolutions that have no bearings in the lives of ordinary people. They have to avoid the pitfalls of negative resolutions, if I can put it that way, and put the emphasis on a limited number of positive things,” Mr. Broadbent said.
Karl Bélanger, a principal leader to former NDP leader Tom Mulcair and press secretary to former leader Jack Layton, added the NDP needs to avoid resolutions that turn off some voters.
“We have seen [Conservative Leader] Erin O’Toole fall into that exact trap just a couple of weeks ago with regard to climate change,” Mr. Bélanger said in an interview.
Mr. O’Toole continues to face questions after delegates at last month’s Conservative policy convention voted against a resolution that would have included the statement “climate change is real” in the party’s official policy document – a sharp contrast to Mr. O’Toole’s keynote speech a day earlier, in which he said the party needed to “boldly reclaim the environment as an area where Conservatives are leaders.” The vote occurred before Mr. O’Toole’s speech and the results were announced afterward.
Mr. Broadbent is among a roster of convention speakers that also includes B.C. Premier John Horgan, former Alberta premier Rachel Notley and Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath. The latter two are currently opposition leaders.
Mr. Horgan’s office said, in a statement, that he will use his convention remarks to, among other things, highlight joint efforts between Mr. Horgan and Mr. Singh to advance a national plan for paid sick leave.
The NDP, which has 24 of 338 seats in Parliament, faces challenges in various provinces including Quebec, where the party has fallen to one seat now from 59 in 2011. “I would like to see us get back into Quebec, but I know that will be an uphill battle,” Mr. Broadbent said.
Mr. Broadbent once led the NDP to winning 43 seats over all – a record that held until the party won 103 in 2011 under Mr. Layton.
Asked about Mr. Broadbent’s comments, Mr. Singh’s chief of staff said that most voters want to see policies come out of conventions that practically address problems in their lives.
In an interview, Jennifer Howard said resolutions up for debate deal with such issues as making public transit more affordable and dealing with the costs of cellphone and internet coverage.
Ms. Howard said Mr. Singh regards the resolutions as guidance from the party membership as things to consider, and that they can form the basis of the party’s campaign platform, which remains in development.
She said one of the goals of the convention is to make clear the party is ready to run a campaign during the pandemic.
The current plan is a leader’s tour respectful of local public-health guidelines, deploying a bus and plane, and possibly welcoming members of the media.
She said the NDP will be releasing a new TV ad, in 30- and 60-second versions, during televised hockey this Saturday. The ad highlighting NDP contributions to the policy debate, around such issues as paid sick leave and income support, will feature Mr. Singh and “everyday Canadians” concerned with pandemic-related challenges.
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