By Kevin Werner, News Staff
If the mountain is unable to come to the New Democrats, then its leadership is prepared to move to the mountain.
Newly installed federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, and Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath acknowledged that both parties need to expand their traditional membership if it ever wants to become the next government.
“We have to connect with people who share our progressive values,” Mulcair told reporters after his speech to about 1,000 delegates in Hamilton ended what party officials say was a successful three-day convention. “I want to move the centre to us.
“We have to be lucid about the fact some Canadians have looked to us in the past, and said these are very good ideas, but they weren’t ready to give us the keys to operate a G7 economy like Canada,” said Mulcair, who became the federal party’s leader last month, succeeding the late Jack Layton.
Mulcair, who in a scathing attack on the Conservatives, said they are putting Canadians at risk for cutting food inspectors and airline safety, said the NDP government stands for creating prosperity for all people, sustainable development, fair trade, and “good confident public administration.”
Meanwhile, the Conservatives sent out over 5,500 notices to civil servants, putting their jobs at risk. In addition, about 100 food inspectors are expected to be cut even though 23 Canadians died during the 2008 listeriosis outbreak inOntario.
“It’s an indication their priorities are not well ordered,” said Mulcair. “You already have cases of people dying which is unthinkable in a first-world country.”
Despite the sometimes raucous federal leadership race, and fractures exposed within the provincial NDP during the party’s convention, Mulcair says its members are willing to change if it means getting elected.
“NDPers are reflecting back the message that yes, this is what we want,” said Mulcair. “We want to form an NDP government. We’ve always had the best ideas, but we want to put those ideas into practice.”
Horwath, who at times during the convention had to endure confrontational views from some union leaders, such as Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federal of Labour, who are urging her to take a harder line against Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty and force another election because of the Liberals idea to impose a wage freeze on union members.
“What (people) want to see is real solutions to the problems they face every day,” said Horwath.
She disputed the idea she is trying to lead the NDP to the middle, and diminishing the party’s popular leftist side.
“I don’t think people in Ontario or across Canada actually think about those things,” said Horwath. “When you talk about labels like that you lose people.”
The party’s convention attracted a record 1,066 voting delegates, 122 more who turned out for the 1999 leadership convention also staged inHamilton. Horwath also received 76.4 per cent support from the delegates, which she said was more than what she got when she won the NDP post. And in last October’s election, the party saw 17 MPPs elected.
“This is the first time in 20 years we have seen growth,” said Horwath. “We ran a campaign on everyday people.”
Mulcair, who stood on the stage with Horwath, surrounded by local and federal NDP MPPs as the delegates stood and cheered, said both he and Horwath are very much alike as they both lead revitalized parties into successful futures.
“We are both pragmatists who want to lead social democratic governments, who look at the public interest first and foremost,” said Mulcair. “We have to connect with people who share our progressive values. We know 61 per cent of Canadians want a more progressive government than the one being offered by (Prime Minister) Stephen Harper. He got 39 per cent of the vote.”