New Democrats reconvene as hiccups, frustrations plague national policy convention

New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a national policy convention as they struggled to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan.

Members complain some virtual meetings lacked closed captioning, sign language and translation services

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh will speak to the party's grassroots members on Sunday to wrap up a three-day virtual policy convention that has been plagued by technical issues. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

New Democrats reconvened Saturday for the second day of a national policy convention as they struggled to push past the glitches of the virtual event's opening sessions and rally around keynote speaker John Horgan.

The premier of British Columbia — the only NDP leader who currently heads a government — kicked off the proceedings by saying B.C. is proof positive that Canadians are ready to see New Democrats in power.

"What we demonstrated in British Columbia is you can govern like New Democrats," he said, stressing the B.C. and federal parties' role in shoring up pandemic relief such as paid sick leave.

"Let's say to those parties that like to campaign as New Democrats, 'Get out of the way, we're already here."'

Horgan, who took the helm of a minority government in 2017 and won a majority last October, stressed the diversity of the B.C. NDP caucus, where women hold slightly more than half the seats. He also encouraged the rank and file to keep pushing for better health care, affordable housing and national child care — a notion proposed repeatedly by the Liberals since 1993 but never realized.

Horgan addressed more than 2,000 delegates assembled via screens around the country today, who began Saturday by debating resolutions on social security, green programs and issues of human rights and discrimination.

Captioning, translation problems

The first two days of the convention have been riddled with glitches.

Party members complained some meetings lacked closed captioning, sign language and translation services, while others criticized party brass for assigning only 40 minutes of debate for each set of policy proposals — there are seven sets, arranged by category.

Multiple points of order and points of privilege from delegates derailed policy discussions Saturday afternoon, while slow internet connections and mute buttons disrupted the flow of the NDP's first-ever national virtual gathering.

"I'm extremely disappointed with the way things are going," one delegate told convention co-chair Jeremy Boulanger-Bonnelly. "This is not working."

Delegate Dorian Pearce dubbed the convention an "absolute failure."

"It's been a complete mess, everything from interpretation to reading resolutions from the wrong resolution," he said.

Pearce requested that the entire event be postponed "because the party is clearly unable and too incompetent to be able to pull this off."

Grassroots vs. party brass

That prompted backlash from another delegate, further bogging down the process. Others complained about speakers being "cherry-pick(ed)" from the online queue, prompting convention co-chair Vicky Smallman to say that speaker lists are cleared periodically.

Divisions between the grassroots and party brass also bubbled up, revealing tensions over how far left the party can veer without losing its shot at power.

Jessa McLean, a two-time NDP federal candidate from Ontario running for party president, criticized Leader Jagmeet Singh on social media for calling on police agencies across the country to create anti-hate crime units.

"We are going to fight systemic racism through more policing???" McLean asked Saturday on Twitter.

Horgan seemed to anticipate the friction earlier in the afternoon, saying that arguments are a "good thing."

"That's why we are a fresh and robust party, because we take these things head on," he said. "We argue with each other to come to the best possible outcomes."

On Friday, delegates voted in favour of the two resolutions that made it to the virtual floor — one calling for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $20 and one that would impose a one per cent tax on fortunes over $20 million.

Andrea Horwath, the 12-year leader of the Ontario NDP, also spoke to the virtual gathering Saturday.

Singh aims to rally the base with a keynote speech Sunday, hoping to convey a sense of enthusiasm despite having
no convention floor to stomp or walls to rattle.

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