As we start into 2020 every federal party is in a different spot. While the Liberals get ready to govern with their new minority and fewer MPs, the Greens and Conservatives are starting into leadership races to set their courses for the future. The Bloc Quebecois is happy to be where they are at and are focused on getting their mostly rookie caucus up to speed while Maxime Bernier’s PPC continues to lick their wounds and figure out if they have a future at all.
But when it comes to the New Democrats, there hasn’t been a lot of action so far, and for good reason. 2019 was a mixed bag for the Orange Team and they have spent the start of 2020 getting used to their new reality as the fourth party in the House of Commons. But while the Greens and Conservatives will have some excitement around leadership conventions this year and the Liberals will have their own convention in November 2020, the NDP is staying relatively low key, delaying their convention until early 2021. That has brought some commentary about the decision, and the wisdom behind it:
For starters, I want to point out that I have a lot of time for Matthew Dubé; he was a fantastic member of the NDP caucus, hard working as Hell and someone whose opinion is one that I hold in high regard. And I take his point about potential unintended consequences about delaying the next NDP convention into 2021. But honestly I disagree with the criticism of delaying this convention, especially from some other folks out there who are trying to turn this into some kind of vast conspiracy to ignore the constitution of the party. It’s far from being that, for many good reasons.
First off, it’s hardly a new thing for the NDP to delay conventions and it’s been done frequently in the past. Just look at the last decade, during minority and majority Parliaments, when the NDP was supposed to be holding conventions every two years. The summer of 2009 had the convention in Halifax, which was followed by Vancouver, in June of 2011. The next policy convention came in Montreal, in the spring of 2013, and then after that it was Edmonton in the spring of 2016. The point is that under different leaders, we’ve seen gasps of up to three years for conventions in the past, so the idea of delaying this convention a few months into the start of 2021 is not beyond the pale.
Secondly, for anyone who is trying to suggest that Jagmeet Singh is trying to duck a leadership review vote, that’s just flat out crazy talk. Jagmeet is one of the most popular leaders in the country and even though we New Democrats are great at shooting ourselves in the foot, we’re not so nutty as to turf Jagmeet right now. In fact, if this were all about Jagmeet “securing” his leadership, he’d move Heaven and Earth to make that convention happen sooner, not later, and take advantage of his strong situation right now. So just stop all the conspiracy talk, seriously, just stop.
While I personally have no issue with this decision to delay the convention, I do agree with the sentiment that Dubé puts forward about engaging members, keeping them around and potential unintended consequences. These are legitimate concerns that do need to be considered, but I would argue that this has been done in this case. Firstly, the party is broke right now and it takes time, money and resources to plan and run a national convention. Not only is a new staff getting together at the party right now, they also need to get prepared for the next election, whenever that comes thanks to our minority situation. This is a delicate balance, mostly because the NDP doesn’t control the timing of when it comes. So if I had to pick what I would want to see the party focusing on for the next half of the year at least, it would be raising money and getting organization in place to start candidate search and nomination meetings sooner than later.
That builds into the convention itself, because at that convention you can do candidate and activist training workshops, networking and the general building of momentum that you’ll need for the next campaign to come. And let’s be clear about this, there will not be a Federal Election until the Fall of 2021 at the earliest, mark it down. The fact is that neither the Conservatives nor the Bloc will take down this government in this year, and the Liberals will want to get at least two budgets under their belts until they start to think of trying to engineer their own defeat. That gives the NDP about 18 months at least to get ready, and in my mind, if you’re looking at a convention as that big “rah, rah” momentum building event and want members of riding associations to get the most out of it, it would be better to have it in 2021. And by having it in the Spring of 2021, it would happen early enough for party members to have a chance to debate policies that could easily be put into a platform for a Fall election if it came that early. That would answer a common complaint I’ve heard from so many members in the past, that policies passed at conventions go nowhere because of timing.
Finally, I’d agree with Dubé on another thing he said, which I think applies to this whole situation; None of this is ideal. Under an ideal situation, the party would have lots of money and lots of organizational capacity on hand to just make this happen, like we did in the past. But the facts we have before us today aren’t that, they aren’t ideal. That means having to make some tough choices about not only how the party spends its money, but how it uses the resources that it has on hand. In this case, I believe they’ve put the priority in the right place. It seems they are trying to avoid a repeat of the situation the party faced going into the 2019 election, where candidates were late getting nominated and things were not in place and ready to go. I credit Anne McGrath and the team at NDP Federal Office for taking this approach. It’s the right move, one that will put the party in a better spot by the end of this year and in a position to be ready to make the most of a convention in 2021.