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By Judy Darcy

It doesnt often spill on to the front pages of our newspapers, but theres an exciting debate bubbling up across the country. Its a debate about the future of the left in Canada and its been spurred on as much by the energy and dynamism of the forces battling corporate rule as by the pummelling the New Democrats suffered last November.

Given the governments hollow agenda and the fact the budget has been cancelled for lack of ideas, its clear theres a need for some fresh thinking and a new political force in this country. Though the media tends to look to the right to fill this void, vibrant social movements challenging globalization, standing up for workers rights, protecting the environment, tackling poverty, promoting equality provide plenty of evidence that many Canadians are taking an entirely different tack.

Its an exciting moment for the left, with lots of energy, activism, and youth. But it remains a huge challenge to fuse this vitality into a political force, and to translate it into political party support.

There are lots of reasons for that, some to do with politics and parliament, others linked more directly to the NDP.

Canadians are cynical about the electoral process. They feel alienated and ignored for good reason. More and more of them are choosing not to vote, or to vote against someone rather than for something they believe in.

Many people question the relevance of parliament to their daily lives. Thats hardly surprising since were constantly bombarded by powerful voices who say government should simply get out of the way and let the free market take care of it all.

Having said that, the NDP itself hasnt generated much excitement. Its platform in the last federal election was certainly stronger than its performance. But if the NDP is going to be more successful in the future indeed if its going to have a future it must bridge the yawning gap between grassroots activism and electoral politics. It must be far bolder, not try to appeal to the mushy middle.

What we need now is a new political alliance for the 21st century a democratic alliance that brings together the energy and strength of our social movements and links them directly to the political process.

If we want to make a different Canada, we have to make a different politics.

We need to harness the dynamism of the youth movement, the womens movement, the union movement and other social movements. We have to reach out and involve as many people as possible who share our values, and draw on their experiences and their ideas.

Together we need to set out a clear program solidly on the left that puts forward creative, innovative solutions to the key issues that confront us day to day.

We need to tackle corporate control head-on.

We need an active government that promotes equality and assures access to vital public services like health care, education, child care and water.

We need to harness this countrys tremendous wealth, including new sectors of the economy, ensuring that all Canadians benefit.

We need to re-establish universal programs, abolish tuition fees, deliver affordable housing and eradicate poverty.

We need to protect the environment.

Instead of watering down our message in the hopes of broadening our reach, we need to ensure that our platform inspires and has the support of activists who are already taking on these issues. Instead of crowding the already-overcrowded political centre, we should focus on securing the active participation of all those who are looking to the left for leadership. At the same time, we need to reach out to those who are on the margins of our political process: youth, the poor, new Canadians, our Aboriginal peoples.

For it wont be enough to simply renew the NDP or renew the left. We need to renew Canadian democracy.

That means fundamental political reform, finding new ways for people to have control over decisions that affect their lives.

It also means sweeping electoral reform like proportional representation and a lower voting age. I believe we should also put an end to corporate and union donations to political parties. Corporations and the parties they support have far more to lose from this than unions do. In fact, if we replace back-room influence with an active and involved membership, we have everything to gain.

We dont need to replay sterile debates about the relationship between the NDP and labour. We dont need to set up yet another task force where all we do is talk to each other. Weve been down that road already, and its a dead end.

A left-wing political party needs social movements. And social movements need a political party. To dismiss the relevance of government plays into the hands of corporations and the right.

The challenge for the NDP today is to throw open the doors to its allies in social movements, and to work together with them to develop a program that can build a stronger left.

The challenge for social activists outside the NDP is to set aside their cynicism, to say democracy is worth it, and to jump right in.

As a union representing half a million working men and women, as a union with thousands of activists in communities across the land, CUPE is proud of the struggles weve taken on. Were also proud of our contribution to strengthening the left in Canada.

With the active participation of our members and our coalition partners, we intend to play an active role in helping to shape its future.

There are no magic answers. There can be no sacred cows. The need has never been so obvious, the opportunity so great. Lets get going.