The federal NDP kicked off its national convention in earnest Friday with a sober apology from the party’s president to all those members, supporters, volunteers and MPs who have suffered harassment or discrimination.
“There are women within our party — volunteers, staff, MPs —who have survived unacceptable and unwelcome behaviour from peers and people who wield power over them,” Marit Stiles told the nearly 2,000 delegates gathered in a convention centre not far from Parliament Hill.
“They have been embarrassed, demeaned and violated. And in too many cases saw those in powerful positions ignore that conduct or worse, sometimes excuse it.
“Let me say on behalf of all of us, your party, we are sorry. You were failed, and we apologize.”
The mea culpa was the latest development as the anger and frustration over sexual misconduct that birthed the #MeToo movement has caused upheaval across Canada’s political scene as well.
The NDP has not been spared: former Nova Scotia MP Peter Stoffer, long a party stalwart in Ottawa, has faced allegations of sexual misconduct from several women, while the party has launched an investigation into allegations of harassment against current MP Erin Weir.
Stoffer and Weir have denied any wrongdoing, but the allegations have nonetheless shaken the foundations of the third-place party, which espouses to be a champion of equality and inclusiveness.
Stiles promised the NDP would do better as she introduced a proposed, party-wide policy “to renew and deepen our commitment to end discrimination and harassment and create an environment that is safe and welcoming for all.”
The question of how to better safeguard against misconduct is only one challenge facing the party during this weekend’s convention, where New Democrats are hoping to build momentum heading into next year’s federal election.
Delegates were also presented with a grave assessment of the party’s finances, thanks to a precipitous decline in fundraising since the last federal election in 2015 that has seen the NDP’s budget fall from $18 million in 2015 to $6 million the last two years.
The trend is starting to reverse, said NDP treasurer Tania Jarzebiak, but the party still has $3 million in external debt from the last election, and owes money to many riding associations that will need the cash soon to start preparing for 2019.
There was some good news: The number of party members blossomed from a low of 41,000 in March 2017 to 124,000 in August, thanks, in large part, to the leadership campaign that ultimately elected Jagmeet Singh.
But only 30,000 of those members have donated to the party, Jarzebiak said, and only 9,000 were monthly donors, “so we have work to do.”
Aside from money, the party also faces some potentially divisive battles over proposed policy resolutions, though one aiming to have the NDP endorse a controversial boycott and sanctions campaign against Israel won’t be debated.
Delegates will also hold a mandatory vote on Singh’s leadership, though he only became leader in October.
While Singh is expected to easily survive the leadership review, the stakes are nonetheless high for him as New Democrats will look to him to infuse the party with energy coming out of the meeting and heading into 2019.
Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press