Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

S-word stumps the NDP

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Canada's three main political parties all exhibit the symptoms of an identity crisis in the sense each party has members pulling in different directions, but the NDP is the only group that gets hung up on one word, over and over again.

That word, of course, is socialism.

The S-word does not appear in the constitution of Manitoba's NDP, but it's been part of the federal party's constitution since it was founded in 1961 out of the ashes of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (farmer-labour-socialist).

One of the ironies of NDP angst is the party and its CCF predecessor have achieved most of what they wanted in the early days of Canadian socialism -- pensions, a shorter work week, universal medicare, minimum wages, union rights, more rules and so on.

In fact, many observers, particularly the American variety, wouldn't be too wrong if they described Canada today as a socialist country.

Unfortunately for the NDP, the word evokes many images, from totalitarian dictatorship to the moderate mixed economies prevalent in Europe and elsewhere today.

There is no single definition for socialism, which embraces many theories and forms of government, but one of its basic tenets in democratic countries is a commitment to making life better for working people, which is something everyone supports.

Of course, it's the details that matter. Conservatives might say a strong economy is good for social programs, while leftists might argue strong social programs are good for the economy. Both would be right.

The NDP is proposing a new set of guiding principles at its annual convention this weekend that downplays the outdated left-wing rhetoric and emphasizes basic principles of social justice. For old time's sake, there would be just one reference to "democratic socialist traditions."

In the end, it probably doesn't matter what they do. The Liberals and Conservatives will continue to call them dangerous socialists; Prime Minister Stephen Harper will still be labelled a neo-fascist, while Liberal heir apparent Justin Trudeau will be nailed for being lost in the mushy middle, representing nothing and standing for everything.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2013 A8

History

Updated on Wednesday, April 10, 2013 at 8:25 AM CDT: adds image

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