November 16, 2013 - 7:26 PM
VANCOUVER - Canada's former ambassador at the United Nations says British Columbia's New Democrats are throwing themselves into a long and trying weekend as they gather to dissect last spring's devastating provincial election loss, but he urged the party to emerge united because B.C., Canada and the world need strong social democrats to "twist the tail of capitalism."
Stephen Lewis was the keynote speaker as the convention opened Friday night in Vancouver.
Federal NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was scheduled to speak Saturday as was outgoing B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix, who announced he was leaving his post after the election defeat that saw the NDP blow a 20-point lead in the polls and lose their fourth straight election to the B.C. Liberals.
"This isn't going to be an easy convention," said Lewis, who was leader of Ontario's New Democratic Party in the 70s.
"There will be angry voices. The microphones will incinerate on occasion. There will be episodes of collective catharsis. I beg of you by the end of it to jettison the carping and the agitation."
Lewis said the issues of child poverty, gender equality and aboriginal rights at home and abroad need strong champions to bring awareness and change to their plight.
"We're at an incredible historical moment," Lewis told cheering NDP delegates.
"We have the opportunity to redefine the meaning of democratic socialism against the backdrop of ruinous capitalism. There are so many issues out there, domestic and foreign, on which countless lives depend and you, this convention here assembled, have a remarkable opportunity to twist the tail of capitalism and set a new agenda for humankind."
Lewis then launched an attack on Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, saying Harper has implemented an agenda that has seen Canada decline on the world stage.
"We've abandoned the great badge of honour we once wore as peacekeepers. We scorn the United Nations," he said. "It's a glossary of failure on virtually every front. Internationally, we've become a second-rate country with a second-rate reputation — thank you Prime Minister Harper."
Outgoing B.C. NDP president and former NDP cabinet minister Moe Sihota said last spring's election defeat was a deeply personal and devastating political blow, but he urged the party to rebound and look to B.C.'s diverse multicultural communities, aboriginal peoples and young members to rebuild the party's new political future.
Sihota asked convention delegates to look around and ask why the face of the party includes fewer and fewer people from ethnic and aboriginal communities.
He said the NDP lost election votes in the province's Indo-Canadian and Chinese-Canadian communities, and if the party does not win them back and include other multicultural groups it won't win elections.
"We need to dedicate party resources to enhance our communications capacities in the South Asian, Korean, Chinese and Filipino communities," Sihota said. "We need to include and give a meaningful seat at the table to our aboriginal brothers and sisters."
Sihota said the election defeat still hurts, but New Democrats should not apologize for supporting labour, environmental and social justice causes.
New Democrats opened the convention by observing a moment of silence for iconic B.C. forest union leader Jack Munro who died Friday after suffering from cancer.
Dix called Munro a political and social giant in British Columbia and said he was already missed.
B.C. Federation of Labour president Jim Sinclair said Munro spoke the truth to everybody he met. Sinclair raised laughter in the convention hall with a tribute to Munro's often salty language.
"Thanks Jack, for a God-damn job well done."
University of the Fraser Valley political scientist Hamish Telford, in an interview prior to the convention, said it appears B.C.'s NDP remains in a state of denial over its election defeat and its political future.
Telford said he believes many New Democrats feel they can win the 2017 election if they pick a new leader or build stronger bridges between the labour and environmental movements, but New Democrats are refusing to deeply consider and confront whether the party brand no longer appeals to voters, especially after losing 19 of the past 22 B.C. elections.
News from © The Canadian Press, 2013