The federal NDP may emerge this weekend no longer the avowed socialist party of J. S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas.
It’s a transformation decades in the making, and it strikes UBC academic Maxwell Cameron as barely dramatic.
The Straight asked the political-science professor about the new attempt to ditch the socialist language of the party’s constitution. New Democrats are holding a three-day convention in Montreal until Sunday (April 14), the same day Justin Trudeau will likely be crowned the new leader of the Liberal Party of Canada.
“Today, the NDP is a parliamentary party just like the Liberal party,” Cameron said by phone. “Given that that’s the case, giving up the pretence to being something that they’re not is not so painful.”
The proposed rewording of the NDP’s constitution bears little resemblance to the Regina Manifesto of 1933, the founding document of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, forerunner of the NDP. The manifesto declared that no CCF government will rest “until it has eradicated capitalism”. The first CCF government was elected in 1944 in Saskatchewan under Douglas.
But the CCF itself evolved in terms of its position on capitalism. Although it maintained in its Winnipeg Declaration in 1956 that “public ownership” is the “most effective means of breaking the stranglehold of private monopolies”, it also recognized the “need for private enterprise”.
The NDP was formed in 1961, with Douglas as leader. “I would not have said that the NDP was a party…even from its conception…[that] was aimed at a socialist revolution, even by democratic means,” Cameron said.
The NDP’s constitution declares adherence to “democratic socialist principles” like “social ownership”. The draft wording of the proposed preamble contains none of these ideas. But it cites the NDP’s “social democratic and democratic socialist traditions”.
In 2011, the party, led by Jack Layton, failed to eliminate its constitution’s socialist language during a convention in Vancouver.
NDP MP Don Davies said that the reworking of the party’s constitution has been an “ongoing project”.
“From time to time, parties need to refresh their message, and their challenge I think is to do so while honouring their core principles,” Davies told the Straight by phone.
Asked about the NDP’s core values, the Vancouver Kingsway MP replied: “Social justice, economic justice and fairness, environmental sustainability, democratic decision-making, and being concerned for the common welfare of all people in Canada and the world.”
Davies dismissed as “mischief” suggestions that the NDP is moving away from the left and shifting toward the centre or the right.