Ward 7 NDP campaigns
By Ulli Diemer
After having avoided the civic arena since the 1969 municipal election, the Metro Toronto NDP is throwing itself into local politics.
NDPers have of course always been active in local organizing and in civic campaigns, but their party as such has not been involved since the 1969 election, when both the NDP and the Liberals attempted to run party cavaigns with little success.
This time, New Democrats are confident that things will be different, and in the forefront of activity is the newly-formed Ward 7 NDP Association. The local association was formed by members of the St. David and St. George provincial association, after the NDP’s Metro Council called on members to form ward associations. (Members from Riverdale are also getting involved now.)
The NDPers are endorsing candidates on all levels (trustees, aldermanic, mayoralty) in the upcoming election, and, where possible, are encouraging candidates to actually run on the party label. The latter objective, however, has been less than successful to date: in Ward 7, only one candidate, trustee-hopeful George Martell, is actually running as an NDPer. Others, including some party members, and even Gord Cressy, who ran as the NDP candidate in the last provincial election, and who is now running for alderman, have only sought party endorsement and support without committing themselves to an actual NDP campaign.
The Ward 7 NDP has endorsed the following candidates: Mayor: John Sewell; Alderman: Janet Howard and Gord Cressy; Public School Trustees; Sheila Holmes and George Martell; Separate Representative on Public School Board: Frank Nagel; Separate School Trustee: Lorenzo Colle. Of these, Howard Holmes, and Nagle are incumbents.
In this, as in other wards, the NDP is not restricting itself to endorsing NDP members, but is trying to make sure that ‘progressive’ candidates don’t run against each other. The party is working closely with the Metro area Labour Council, which also endorses candidates. A third group, Reform Metro (Movement for Municipal Reform) is also running a campaign.
It is not clear at this point just how elected NDPers would function on council and school board if elected. There has been some hope of forming a party caucus, but there is the problem of how other ‘progressive’, including representatives endorsed by the party but not members of the party, would fit into such a scheme. In Ward 7, for example, Janet Howard, while seeking NDP endorsement, has nevertheless made it clear that she has no plans to join the party in the foreseeable future. Both she and John Sewell have expressed reservations about NDP involvement on the municipal level. Similarly, at the trustee level, incumbent Sheila Holmes is not running as a New Democrat, even though she has recently joined the party. How would she work with George Martell, who is running as NDP candidate?
Despite these problems, party workers are confident that this venture into municipal politics will be more fruitful than the last one. For one thing, they have done more extensive work on the policy level. Together with the Labour Council, the NDP's Metro Toronto Area Council has produced a booklet of municipal and education policies for the election. The policies give fairly detailed coverage to such issues as taxes, development, community services cutbacks, tenants, the environment, and the education system. All candidates seeking endorsement have been questioned on their support for these policies. Candidates running on the party label are expected to review their campaign literature with the NDP’s policy committee.
The NDP also expects its involvement to continue past the election. It is interested in forming some kind of caucus on council, which would work in a concerted way to implement party policies. Associations such as the Ward 7 group also expect to continue to be active between elections as a formal, on-going organization with executives, committees and the other structures associated with the NDP on the federal and provincial level. The associations plan to work with elected candidates in pressing for the implementation of party policies. In Ward 7, there will be general committees in policy areas such as education, which will be active.
The rationale for party involvement, according to party worker Noreen Dunphy, comes from the realization that previous approaches to reform have fallen short. The loose association of activists and reformers in working together on specific issues in the community and on council has not been enough, says Dunphy: “We’ve found out that electing ‘good guys’ is not good enough.” “There has to be a way of bringing more to bear on problems than we’ve managed to do so far.”
Dunphy also faults the reformers' belief that city problems could be solved on the city level alone. “The economic forces we are dealing with are far beyond what city councils can deal with,” she says. “You can”t solve problems by just concentrating on neighbourhood planning. You can”t deal with land ownership, for example, on a local level.” She adds, “If socialism is relevant at all, then it is relevant on all levels.”
Published in Seven News, Volume 9, Number 11, 7 October 1978.