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NDP to debate new harassment policy at this weekend’s party convention

By Samantha Wright Allen      

In the wake of allegations against a former and current NDP MP, anti-harassment approaches will be ‘front and centre’ of discussions, says the NDP national director.

NDP members are set to debate a new harassment policy at their convention in Ottawa this weekend, in the wake of a National Post report last week of allegations of sexual misconduct against former NDP MP Peter Stoffer, centre, which came just a week after the party launched an investigation into Saskatchewan NDP MP Erin Weir, right, for alleged harassment. New Democrat leader Jagmeet Singh, left, said in a statement on the Stoffer case that he believes the women who came forward.
The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade, file photographs

The NDP’s largest-ever policy convention comes to Ottawa this weekend as delegates grapple with the party’s response to recent harassment allegations levelled at an MP and former MP.

At least one delegate-driven resolution to strengthen the NDP’s anti-harassment policy is expected to be debated, and party members will have a first look at the party’s own revised anti-harassment policy, after a months-long revision process.

More than 1,800 delegates have signed up—a policy convention record—for the Feb. 15 to 18 event to discuss almost 400 resolutions, the best of which will help form a platform leader Jagmeet Singh will sell to Canadians over the next two years in the lead-up to the fall 2019 general election. 

But it may be the emergency resolutions that steal the show. Over the last two weeks, a current and former NDP MP have been accused of harassment. Saskatchewan MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan, Sask.) has denied wrongdoing, and the party is conducting a third-party investigation after MP Christine Moore (Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Que.) said in an email to caucus that “There are too many women [mostly employees who have] complained to me that you were harassing to them,” though no specific allegations were brought forward. 

Former longtime MP Peter Stoffer, who was defeated in the 2015 election, has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct in what former staff and caucus members described as an open secret. Mr. Stoffer apologized for his behaviour but denied any sexual misconduct, calling himself “a hugger” and “a touchy person.”

The party’s response should be a focus of the convention, as far as Ian Capstick is concerned. The founder of the media relations firm MediaStyle and a former NDP press secretary said while the discussion is both uncomfortable and awkward, the party needs to “fix the idiocy” all MPs have helped create in Canadian politics.

Former NDP press secretary Ian Capstick said addressing harassment within the party should be a focus at its convention this weekend. The Hill Times file photograph

“What I hope is that we see some creative New Democrat men stepping up to own some of the responsibility they have with regards to this incident and others and figure out how we’re going to root out misogyny, homophobia, bullying, and a host of other well-known things that happen on Parliament Hill. That’s critical because everyone is watching and New Democrats need to lead the way,” said Mr. Capstick.

“This policy convention is going to be a battleground for that,” he added.

He said Mr. Singh’s team, made up of more millennial staff than ever before, represents a “generational change” in Canadian politics and he thinks they are listening.

NDP interim enational director Melissa Bruno said over the last number of months a working group of the party’s federal council members has been reviewing the NDP anti-harassment and discrimination policy to make it “more robust.”

The Canadian Press reported this week that delegates will be presented with the revised policy at the convention, which will include guidance on bringing forward a complaint. A senior party official speaking to CP said the party had realized its existing policy was too narrowly focused on activities at conventions and didn’t relate to staff working on campaigns or office relationships.

Separately, a resolution from delegates to boost the party’s anti-harassment policy is high on the party’s prepared list of priority resolutions to be discussed at the convention, but given the urgency around the issue, it’s likely emergency resolutions will be brought forward on the subject as well. Emergency resolutions can be presented as late as Feb. 16 and are slated for discussion for 30 minutes on Feb. 18, compared to the usual hour granted for blocks of discussion.

It’s definitely front and centre for our mind and I’m sure it is for delegates,” said Ms. Bruno.

The party will also have anti-harassment officers on hand at the convention, as it has in years past, to help facilitate a “safe environment,” Ms. Bruno said. The party’s president will read a statement on the subject to kick off the event.

“It sort of sets the tone and the expectation for delegates for the entire weekend,” she said.

Former Quebec MP Élaine Michaud, who was defeated in the 2015 election after four years in the House, said the fact that formal complaints in the case of Mr. Stoffer had been made to the party’s leadership but not enough was done is “troubling to me and I hope the party takes it seriously.”

The policy package has been whittled down to 397 resolutions from the more than 1,000 and not all will make it to the convention floor. The 151-page document is broken down to seven themes, each getting about an hour of debate, with only the 10 to 20 resolutions at the top of the list likely to be addressed. The themes are: governing, sustainability, human rights, innovation and energy economy, social support, international issues, and the general party-focused “building our momentum.”

It will be an opportunity for the party to put “more meat on the bones,” as MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.) put it, for the party to serve to Canadians.

MPs said the convention can serve as a springboard for the leader who, as a third party leader and one out of Parliament, at times struggles to get coverage.

MP Matthew Dubé (Beloeil-Chambly, Que.) said there’s “more work to be done” getting Mr. Singh known to Canadians and to flesh out some of the party’s key policy messages of the last few months on issues like inequality and the environment. 

“It’s great to talk about inequality, but what does that mean?” he said. “It’s vague. There’s not necessarily anything specific related to that. And that’s what’s fun about a policy convention is you can start getting out those specific notions.”

Here are some other debates sure to hit the floor this weekend:

Leap Manifesto

Two years after the Leap Manifesto made waves at the party’s Edmonton convention, it’s unclear what direction the party will take on the divisive policy document penned by Canadian social and environmental activists, which seeks to restrict fossil fuel usage and, if adopted, would be expected to veer the party more to the left. Mention of the manifesto appears in four separate resolutions, which are in the low 40s to 60s on the themed priority lists. Some of the Leap authors are convening ahead of the convention in an Ottawa event that features organizers for U.S. Democratic Senator Bernie Sanders and British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Leap Manifesto co-author Avi Lewis chats with a fellow delegate at the 2016 NDP convention in Edmonton, which adopted a motion to continue discussions of the policy document. The Hill Times photograph by Laura Ryckewaert

Riding associations across the country have held discussions on the Leap Manifesto, said MP and party Quebec lieutenant Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont-La Petite Patrie, Que.), his included.

“I think there’s a large agreement that we will take some good ideas in the Leap Manifesto—doesn’t mean as a party [we] have to officially adopt a document that is from outside the party.”

MP Murray Rankin (Victoria, B.C.) said Leap “continues to be a significant issue” in many ridings near Toronto and the Lower Mainland in British Columbia.

“It’s been a galvanizing set of ideas,” but by no means the only focus on energy and environment, he said, adding “climate change is the crisis of this generation.”

One resolution calls on the party to recognize it “has sparked a vital debate,” while another goes further, saying it should endorse the document’s vision.

Eliminating tuition fees

More than 30 riding associations are calling on the party to, if it forms government, work with provinces to offer free tuition for post-secondary education.

Ms. Michaud sits on the Yukon riding association, which was one of the signatories, and said she hopes to see it high on delegates’ minds.

“It’s one of the resolutions that has gathered the most support from [riding associations] across the country and it shows that it’s an important debate to have and there is definitely a momentum to bring education to the forefront,” said Ms. Michaud.

It’s currently ranked 18 in its section, so that specific resolution may not make to the floor. Resolutions that don’t get discussed will be deferred to federal council.

The call for affordable or free tuition appears in at least six different resolutions.

Palestine-Israel

Everything that touches the question of the ongoing conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is “hotly debated” at convention, said Ms. Michaud. This year, six resolutions mention Palestine.

“It’s a hard issue for the party. A lot of activists within the NDP feel like we haven’t done enough to support human rights for Palestinians,” she said. “We need to have this debate. It’s an important one to have for the party.”

One resolution is high on the list related to “Canada’s place in the world,” putting it behind only arms exports and NAFTA. But it’s the least controversial of those in the package calling for a stronger approach to Palestine. The resolution most likely to make it to the floor says the NDP condemns violations on “both sides in this conflict” and United States President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Further down the list is a resolution supported by about 30 groups calling on Israel to “end its occupation.” Another calls on the party to condemn Israeli settlements, while a third says the NDP should support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to put pressure on Israel. The NDP Socialist Caucus, which is not an official party body, is sure to be a vocal group, though the language of its resolution didn’t make the policy booklet.

While former leader Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Que.) was open in his opposition to the BDS movement, Mr. Singh has presented an opening for a party, given that he in the past voted against a legislative motion condemning the BDS campaign.

During the leadership race in response to candidate questions, Mr. Singh has said he would “consider supporting the use of targeting sanctions against Israel” and is willing to support “mandatory labelling of products” from Israeli settlements and last year he tweeted “I stand for Palestinians’ right to freely determine their political status.”

swallen@thehilltimes.com

The Hill Times

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