IN THE NEWS ~ NDP pushes strategy session to mid-September in Québec City, as party juices up for fall session

 

NDP pushes strategy session to mid-September in Québec City, as party juices up for fall session

 

The NDP caucus, led by party leader Jack Layton, will meet in Québec City for a two-day strategy session on Sept. 13-Sept. 14, before the House returns, in the province where the party won an historic 59 seats and launched it into official party status with 103 seats in the Commons in the last election.

"With a big delegation in Quebec it's nice to have it in Québec City," said NDP national caucus chair and new Quebec NDP MP Nycole Turmel (Hull-Alymer, Que.) of the party's choice of location. The party has 68 rookie MPs, including 58 from Quebec. The MPs will converge on Quebec's historic capital of Quebec City at the Hotel Place Royal.

"Québec City is probably about one of the most symbolic and important places in the entire province," said NDP pundit Ian Capstick, pointing to a 2006 NDP convention in the capital city. "It's also where the New Democratic surge in Quebec started."

At the NDP's 2006 convention in Québec City, the party adopted the "Sherbrooke declaration" which, among other things, recognized the "national character" of the province of Quebec within the Canadian federation. The convention was also where leading NDP MP Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, Que.), at the time a provincial Quebec Liberal, turned orange, said Mr. Capstick.

"I think the strategy is making sure that the province of Quebec knows that the New Democrats are there standing on behalf of Quebecers just as solidly and just as strongly as the Bloc Québécois was," said Mr. Capstick.

Ms. Turmel said the meeting's agenda will be decided at a strategy planning committee meeting scheduled for the first week of August.

Though the specifics are yet to be determined, Mr. Capstick said he expects the party will focus on whatever the government decides will be legislative priorities.

"In addition to that, you'll likely hear a healthy dose of conversation about pensions," said Mr. Capstick.

NDP MP Peter Julian (Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.), who is deputy caucus chair, echoed Mr. Capstick's postulations about the upcoming summer caucus meeting.

"Part of the Parliamentary agenda will be raising serious concerns about where we feel the government is taking the wrong direction, direction that Canadians don't want to see, and another part of that is putting forward real alternatives so that Canadians can see what an eventual NDP government would be doing," said Mr. Julian.

Mr. Julian described the party's mood as "buoyant," saying the NDP and its many rookie MPs are excited about the new opportunities they have been given by voters.

This year's election not only brought in a substantially larger NDP caucus, it brought in a much younger one as well. NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, Que.) was only 19 years-old, with only one year of political science studies at the University of Sherbrooke under his belt, when he became the youngest person elected to Parliament in Canadian history in May.

Among the other young 20-somethings who have joined the NDP ranks are five University of McGill students and one Carleton University assistant pub manager, MP Ruth Ellen Brousseau (Berthier- Maskinongé, Que.) who made headlines during the election campaign for her infamously ill-timed Vegas vacation and for never having visited her riding.

And with so many new and young MPs, the question begs asking about whether or not this year's summer caucus meeting will include an extra dose of training for the rookie NDP MPs.

According to Ms. Turmel, more training will "probably not" happen at the caucus meeting. This decision likely is a result of the fact that the NDP, according to Ms. Turmel, has been training their new MPs all summer.

"The whole summer they are having training once a week or twice a week, depending on the subject...it's regular for the new staff, they had a meeting last week on how to reach out in the riding...it's a variety of subjects," said Ms. Turmel.

Ms. Turmel said the training sessions are run by the party and mostly have taken place at the party's national headquarters on Queen Street in Ottawa.

Though formal training likely won't be on the summer caucus meeting agenda, Mr. Capstick said it's important to keep in mind the opportunity for informal mentoring and conversations to take place.

"They're going to be able to share some meals together, they're going to be able to share informal conversations, veteran Members of Parliament are going to be able to talk to rookie Members of Parliament about what to expect in a full session of Parliament," said Mr. Capstick.

The NDP caucus flexed their new official opposition muscles in the short session of Parliament that followed the May election with a nearly 60-hour filibuster against the government's back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers, a move that grabbed headlines for the party and their leader, Mr. Layton (Toronto-Danforth, Ont.).

But since the filibuster flurry subsided, the NDP and Mr. Layton have stayed off the media's radar.

Ian Wayne, Mr. Layton's deputy director of strategic communications, confirmed that the NDP leader is currently on vacation.

"He's had a very, very tough year, let's face it...Jack is an incredible man who needs some time off, hopefully nobody begrudges him that," said Mr. Capstick.

And the need for time off is a partial explanation for the nearly-fall date of the NDP's summer caucus meeting. While Mr. Capstick said the NDP normally hold its summer meeting in September, he noted that this year, it's happening a few weeks later.

"The campaign, for everybody, was a long campaign, plus the election, plus the House, we just went until the end of June. So [we] decided that it was better to take care of our riding, to meet with people [and to] take some holidays," said Ms. Turmel.

Mr. Capstick said while it's too soon to tell, he expects the mood of the NDP going into the summer caucus meeting will be one of triumph after its historic election results.

And while things will no doubt be different at this year's summer caucus meeting, not everything will have changed.

"The New Democrats tend to have some fantastic debates among their Members of Parliament and I don't think that just because there are so many more of them that that's going to change. So it should be really interesting to see the direction that those Members of Parliament help Mr. Layton set because he most certainly relies on his caucus in that consultative sense," said Mr. Capstick.

lryckewaert@hilltimes.com

The Hill Times

http://hilltimes.com/page/printpage/ndpstrategy-07-25-2011