Home > NDP, Ponderings > Beatty/Orchard Highlights Need For NDP Membership Reform

Beatty/Orchard Highlights Need For NDP Membership Reform

January 7, 2008

I’m sure by now, most of you know about Dion’s appointment of Saskatchewan NDP MLA Joan Beatty as a candidate for the federal Liberals, and I’ve got my snarky comments on the issue in.

However, I think that this appointment highlights the need to reform the rules of membership for the New Democratic Party.

At present, anybody who wants to join the NDP must join both the federal party and the provincial party of the province in which they live (except Quebec). Individual memberships are handled by the provincial parties (as per Article 3.1.2 of the NDP Constitution).

So what if one wants to join the federal NDP but not their provincial NDP? What if one wants to join the provincial NDP and not the federal NDP? Well, one is out of luck; they must join both parts of the NDP.

The requirement to join both parts of the NDP is based on one faulty assumption: that the federal and provincial scene are the same and that if one is inclined to one part of the party, they must be inclined to the other. However, real life is much more complex. Sometimes people support the NDP in one political scene and support another party altogether in a different scene, for many different reasons.

The current NDP membership rules take away one’s right to political self-determination in all Canadian political scenes by forcing one to join both sections of the party. This unnecessary removal of political self-determination seems wrong to me.

Away from the philosophical, the current NDP membership rules have many practical negative effects on the NDP.

One is that the shared provincial/federal membership lists could be made inaccurate for a portion of the party’s purposes. For instance, if the provincial section was using the list, if might have people on it who have no interest in the provincial party, just the federal. The same could be true the other way around. This leads to a waste of resources: a section of the NDP could be wasting scarce time and money sending information letters, donation appeals, appeals to volunteer, and other things, to people who are not interested.

Another negative effect is that a section of the NDP could be missing out on a lot of volunteers and money simply because the people who would provide these resources are willing to join one section of the party, but are unwilling to join the others. Let me use BC as an example. There are federal Liberals that support the BC NDP but do not support the federal NDP. Because they do not support the NDP federally, they cannot join provincially. If one can’t join, then why devote volunteer hours and money? If a federal Liberal wants to participate provincially in BC, the only real choice they have is the BC Liberals (which are more like Conservatives). So the BC NDP might not only be losing money and volunteers, but practically giving them away to the opposition!

So, the question is, how should the NDP membership rules be reformed? I propose creating a membership system in which one defaults as becoming a member of both parts of the party, but one has the ability to opt out of membership of a part of the party.

I think there is no question about it: the NDP has to change its membership rules somehow. Otherwise, we will continue to have negative media when a politician that supports one part of the party but not the other decides to switch political scenes (well, okay, Beatty has admitted that she did it because the Saskatchewan NDP is in opposition and the Federal Liberals might soon be not, but maybe other politicians might have better principles). Otherwise, we will continue to unnecessarily deny political self-determination for regular members. Otherwise we will continue to waste vital resources that we need to win.

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Categories: NDP, Ponderings
  1. January 7, 2008 at 11:32 am

    Its the same here in Saskatchewan. Though I am involved in both provincial and federal NDP parties there are many people I know who are only supporters of one and not the other. Couple that with a Provincial NDP party that is much more centrist than its Federal counterpart (and I would argue more of a Liberal oriented party than NDP) and a confusion by members and voters between the two parties leads to many headaches. While I don’t expect that a separation of the memberships will ultimately separate each wing of the party from the repercussions of the others bad policies, it would serve to clarify things.

  2. January 7, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    I’m not totally opposed to this, though I’m not sure it’s as much of a problem in provinces where the NDP is typically an opposition party as it is where they are strong provincially. Also, I’m not so sure the membership rules are a very big barrier to volunteering. Plenty of non-members work on NDP campaigns already, perhaps because they like the candidate in question, even if they’re lukewarm to the party. Most of the people I know, online and in person, consider membership one of the last things they’ll do, after donating, volunteering, etc. I didn’t bother to get a membership until I was asked to serve on my riding’s executive, and I’m not sure I would’ve if I didn’t want to serve in that particular capacity.

    However, if one were to seperate federal and provincial membership, I would hope that the lists would be split more accurately and the databases have more rodust controls then they are now. One would hate for a federal Liberal/provincial NDP voluteer to get their hands on federal NDP information via working on a provincial campaign. All it would take is a few log-ins to NDPVote during a provincial campaign for the Federal Liberal to sabotage the next federal election campaign.

  3. January 7, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    love your comments, I am adding you to my blog roll!!

  4. Drew Adamick
    January 7, 2008 at 1:39 pm

    Spliting the membership for the federal and provincial NDP will attract many federal Liberals to provincial NDPs. This is especially true in BC. Many federal Liberals (including myself) would love to join the BC NDP but for the dual membership. Like NBCD says, without attracting that support, the BC NDP is doomed to the opposition benches for years to come.

    Because of the lack of a real centrist alternative in BC, federal Liberals divide their support among the main provincial parties. The BC Liberals have attracted perhaps the most support of federal Liberals because of the “similar” name, but in reality the BC Liberals are just Socreds in pantyhose. Those federal Liberals who are progressive/can’t stand working with Socreds/Conservatives within the BC Lib big tent on the right are excluded from participating more actively in the BC NDP because of the dual membership. Some (like myself) go to the Greens as the closest alternative to us for a truly Liberal party in BC, but this causes a split in the progressive vote- leading to endless free enterprise/centre-right governments.

    In essence, progressive federal Liberals are the main swing vote in BC politics. Currently disillusioned with the BC NDP because of the inept/incompetent Clark government and weary/scared of Gordon Campbell’s politics, we find ourselves with no real alternative except for the Greens- leading to vote splitting on the centre-left. We effectively determine who will win provincially indirectly.

    A successful political organization attracts as broad a base as possible in order to win. The BC NDP is the primary provincial centre-left vehicle, but is not successful because of restricting membership requirements and an often unflattering image, causing potential supporters to move to other choices thus allowing regressive BC “Liberals” to win and take the province in the wrong direction. Its high time the BC NDP seriously consider rectifying this problem.

  5. January 7, 2008 at 6:19 pm

    I propose creating a membership system in which one defaults as becoming a member of both parts of the party, but one has the ability to opt out of membership of a part of the party.

    Huh. I’ve always opposed membership reform, but could support something along these lines.

  6. dirk
    January 10, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    No to the change.The last thing the NDP needs is a wishy washy membership.That doesn’t know if they are Liberal or NDP.
    What the NDP needs to do is just work harder to attract more members.It needs to pull in and attract those peoples that normally do not vote, i.e the youth.
    That is the only way forward for the NDP.
    Leave the membership tricks and scheming to the Liberals and Conservatives.The NDP has principles and these principles must not be messed with.
    One must be 100 percent NDP one can not be 1/2 or 3/4 NDP.If that were the case we might as well call ourselves “New Liberals”

  7. Northern BC Dipper
    January 10, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    The NDP has principles and these principles must not be messed with.

    So, that means that we can never change out party to suit the needs of people when the times change? That sounds silly and dangerous to me.

    One must be 100 percent NDP one can not be 1/2 or 3/4 NDP.

    Sounds simplistic to me and not like the real world at all.

    I don’t see how you can force anybody to be “100% NDP” unless they are willing to do so. The current rules don’t make a member “100% NDP” simply because it forces people to join both parts of the party.

    While we are at it, we might as well ensure that an NDP member is “100% supportive of all actions that the party takes”, or “100% [insert quality here]”.

  8. Deanna
    January 10, 2008 at 10:03 pm

    I long for the option of belonging to the federal NDP party without belonging to the provincial NDP. While the provincial NDP is certainly a better choice than the Liberals, I have long been disillusioned by them. I remember when I was impressed by them, but those were in the Harcourt days and long in the past now. In fact, I would love to see more than 2 parties in the provincial legislature, so I occasionally fork out money to the BC Greens, even though I’m not interested in joining the Green party either. I feel kind of lost on the provincial scene, since the Dippers here are not particularly progressive and tend to lean a lot more centerist than I’d like, in attempt to take votes from the Liberals. There’s no left wing party here to keep the center honest – the NDP here in BC fulfill the same role as the Libs do federally, while our so-called Libs may as well be the Conservatives.

  9. dirk
    January 11, 2008 at 12:39 am

    N BC Dipper said…”Sounds simplistic to me and not like the real world at all”..

    well than call me “simple”.I just don’t see nor can see any reason for an NDPer to support the Provincial party but not the Federal party or visa versa.

    NBCD said…”I don’t see how you can force anybody to be “100% NDP” unless they are willing to do so. The current rules don’t make a member “100% NDP” simply because it forces people to join both parts of the party”…

    its not about forcing anyone to do anything.But if one joins the NDP one joins because one is in over all agreement with the Party,one joins willingly nobody is forced.

    NBCD said…”While we are at it, we might as well ensure that an NDP member is “100% supportive of all actions that the party takes”, or “100% [insert quality here]”….

    again I am talking overall,of course one can not expect all NDP members to support everything the Party does,not even I am in 100 percent agreement at all time,indeed most times.
    My support of the NDP is critical at times,but none the less I will vote NDP because overall they are closest to what how I see things.
    Indeed there are some NDP candidates I find to be totally inept,but again I will still vote for the NDP.

    I don’t understand why you think I want to force anyone to do anything.
    But I just do not understand why one would want to belong to two Party’s.Both the Provincial and Federal wing of the NDP,should complement each other.
    Give me one reason why someone might vote NDP at one level and Liberal at another.Sorry but I just don’t get it.

  10. Northern BC Dipper
    January 11, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Dirk,

    If you read the comments above, you’ll find at least two people who explain why they would like the option to opt of out one of the two parts of the NDP.

    And I’ve explained this before: when one joins the NDP, they must join both provincial and federal parts. They have no choice to join only one. So if one wants to join the provincial (or federal) part, they are forced to join the federal (or provincial part). And, let’s face it, the provincial scenes and federal scene in Canadian politics are quite different.

  11. Dirk
    January 12, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Well I guess we will have to just disagree.
    But one last comment I do not,nor will I ever see the point of this.
    Although I will concede the point on the membership list. It should clearly show which section of the Party inspired members to join the NDP and if they would prefer to work with/receive literature etc,from the Provincial or Federal wing or would they mind supporting both.
    Part of my reasoning is that I do not trust Liberals…. on the Federal side the Liberals are responsible for NAFTA and many other so called “free Trade” policies that have negatively impacted working Canadians.
    Here in BC the Liberal had passed legislation that took away public employees right to strike and they have watered down labor standards at every turn.
    The NDP was born of working peoples,in direct opposition to the self serving Party’s of big business i.e Liberals & Tories.
    Why would we want members that support Party’s such as the Liberals,who do every thing possible to screw working people.
    As for the media well the media’s negative portrayal of the NDP has always been there,after all their owned by corporations .
    Its not going to change by reforming NDP membership rules so as to allow cross party membership.

    BCND said…”And, let’s face it, the provincial scenes and federal scene in Canadian politics are quite different”…

    Perhaps when it comes to responsabilities and jurisdictional issues but other than that its still about protecting ordinary Canadians/working Canadians and ensuring their interests are not sacrificed unfairly in favor of big business.
    You know like the Liberals and Cons do not do.

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