Over the weekend of Apr. 13, federal New Democrats held their bi-annual policy convention in Montréal. The convention was host to many policy changes, but in the eyes of the media, the most noticeable policy vote was on the preamble of the party’s constitution.
Frequently, the media reported that the proposed changes to the preamble that was passed on Apr. 14 took all references to ‘Socialism’ out of the party’s constitution, and effectively moved the party closer to the political centre.
However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. In reality the new preamble still mentions the party’s ‘Democratic Socialist’ roots, but places a new emphasis on the core issues the party pursues including environmental concerns, First Peoples’ rights, education, seniors’ care and sustainable economic growth.
Ultimately, this is just a rephrasing of the party’s long held values, and has absolutely no bearing on current or future party policy. Yet, the media has sold the narrative to Canadians that this change to the party’s constitution signals a rightward shift for the party toward the ideological centre, a place many argue is currently occupied by the Liberals and their newly elected leader, Justin Trudeau. Even though consistently in the past we’ve seen Liberals run populous centre or centre-left campaigns, and then govern from the centre-right, so ultimately it’s nearly impossible to surmise where they actually stand at any given moment.
Many purport that the majority of Canadian’s lay in the political centre so if New Democrats hope to win, that’s where they ought to be; but in reality, Canadian political identity is much more complicated than that. Many of us don’t think in terms of left or right, and instead search for logical and pragmatic policy. This is shown by how dynamic the polls have been in this country since the last federal election. In fact, shortly following the election, unsurprisingly, the Conservatives held the greatest levels of support. However, shortly after the election of Thomas Mulcair as leader of the NDP, New Democrats were shown to be leading in many polls. Now, with Trudeau II as their leader, Liberals enjoy a lead in most public opinion polls.
Above all, this shows that heading towards the next election in 2015, all three parties are in the running, and that Canadians in many cases aren’t entrenched in ideological loyalties.
This means that the NDP’s preamble doesn’t mean a whole lot to the average Jane. What wins elections in Canada is a sound explanation of a policy positions, effective organization and charismatic, pragmatic or inspiring leaders; not an arbitrary discussion of who is further to the ‘left’ or ‘right’. Most Canadians aren’t swayed by terms like Socialism, Libertarianism, Liberalism, or any ‘ism’, frankly. If parties want to grow their support they need to have strong policy and the ability to have honest and frank discourse with Canadians. It’s the only true way to strike a chord with the majority of Canadian families, and if Liberals or New Democrats want to win in 2015, they better get started now.