Tiny socialist caucus raises ruckus at NDP convention

A small group of socialist delegates continues to cause a ruckus at the NDP convention in Montreal, drawing the ire of mainstream delegates.

Party forces protesting delegates to put away anti-drone banner

A small group of socialist delegates continued to cause a ruckus at the NDP convention in Montreal Saturday, drawing the ire of mainstream delegates. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

A small group of socialist delegates continued to cause a ruckus at the NDP convention in Montreal Saturday, drawing the ire of mainstream delegates.

At the same time, the tension suggests the debate set for Sunday over taking the word "socialist" out of the party's consitution could be fraught. The move, which former NDP leader Jack Layton supported before his death in 2011, was set aside at the party's last convention.

The socialist delegates voiced concern Friday over the party's use of American Democrats as speakers. Then on Saturday, they were forced to put away a banner condemning U.S. President Barack Obama's use of drones in Pakistan, with which they greeted other delegates as they arrived at Montreal's Palais de congrès.

The socialist caucus is a tiny part of the 2,161 delegates at the party's convention, but they're making their presence felt. On Friday, socialist delegate Barry Weisleder interrupted proceedings to argue the party should take the hour provided for Jeremy Bird, who was Obama's national field director in 2012, and spend it debating policy. He said the U.S. democrats have nothing to teach the NDP.

Former party president Anne McGrath said on Twitter that the caucus isn't officially recognized.

Delegates only meet every two years for policy conventions, with only an hour set aside for subjects as broad as the economy or the environment, so some speakers have complained there isn't enough time provided to debate the issues in front of them. Panels open to all delegates — but closed to reporters — decide before the convention starts on which 10 to 12 resolutions per subject matter will make it to the floor of the convention for debate.

On Saturday, Weisleder and other socialist delegates booed Bird after his speech. Weisleder told CBC News that NDP National Director Nathan Rotman pulled his voting credentials after that.

NDP officials said Weisleder was told his credentials could be pulled, which involves sending the issue to a committee before deciding. After reviewing the issue, however, they decided not to send the dispute to the committee.

The delegates, whose banner said "Stop Obama's drone wars," were told three times to put away the banner, including once by security, who were asked by the party to approach the protesters.

'Minor act of protest'

John Orrett, a spokesman for the group, said the U.S. is violating Pakistani airspace and killing innocent civilians with the drones. He said the delegates were concerned about the party hosting "speakers highly favourable to the Democratic Party in the United States."

Aside from Bird, Joseph Stiglitz, an economist who advised former president Bill Clinton, spoke to the convention on Friday.

"We're a labour party. The Democratic Party of the United States is a party of Wall Street. It's a party of the war machine," Orrett said.

"We're proud members of the NDP and come election time we call for an unequivocal vote, we totally support the NDP and we totally want Tom Mulcair to become the next prime minister of Canada."

"You could say it was a minor act of protest," Orrett said.

Orrett said the socialist delegates eventually put away the banner.

"We thought our point was already made. Not a lot of harm was done. There wasn't a lot of inconvenience and we didn't want to create a lot of inconvenience, so we went along with their wishes and put it away."

The vast majority of delegates voted against the motions brought by Weisleder on Friday and again on Saturday. On Saturday he wanted an anti-pipeline resolution brought forward for debate.

'Not about the media'

Rotman says the banner broke the rules.

"We have a material distribution process. Things have to be bilingual, union-bugged [have union logos] and approved by the deputy national director [of the party]," he said.

"They didn't go through the process so it was asked to be removed."

The banner was bilingual, but the English was in larger font than the French.

Asked whether taking down the banner was about getting the socialists out of the view of the media, Rotman said no.

"It's not about the media. It's about where democratic debates happen at a convention. They happen in respectful ways, at microphones. Not through outside protests in the hallway outside of convention."

There's no resolution at the convention about the use of drones by the U.S., Rotman pointed out.

"Jeremy Bird in particular is a community organizer who has worked with all kinds of grassroots organizations, including unions like the United Food and Commercial Workers, and certainly both unions and political parties around the world from the left are very interested in learning from their experiences," he said.

Ornett said he wasn't aware of the rules.