Cheri DiNovo: Centrist politics have earned NDP 'loss after loss after loss'

Photo courtesy of Cheri DiNovo

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Update: On August 2, Cheri DiNovo announced she would be withdrawing from the federal NDP leadership race due to health reasons

Cheri DiNovo is the NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park in Toronto, a queer United Church minister and the "queen of tri-party bills": she's tabled the most bills in the Ontario legislature that have received support from all three parties.

She's also the first declared candidate in the NDP leadership race. She initially ran unofficially, refusing to pay the $30,000 required by the party, arguing that the rule was a barrier to ordinary Canadians and inconsistent with democratic socialism.

DiNovo spoke with rabble's Cory Collins for over an hour about her campaign, policies and thoughts about the NDP. Read part one of this two-part conversation here. This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Read part two of this conversation here.

 

Why have you decided to enter the race and what will your campaign's priorities be?

Number one, that we become what our founders envisioned for us and that is to become a democratic socialist party -- and everything that goes along with that.

Number two, I think the other top priority is that we are in a time of climate crisis and that we be seen as the party that addresses climate crisis.

Obviously, as a socialist I think that that's pretty difficult to do when you're living under a system of casino capitalism. So, really, those are the two keys points.

There's a lot of others though too. I'd like to see equal rights across Canada. Clearly we have a problem with racism in this country, both towards our Indigenous and First Nations folk -- and this actually ties into the climate crisis, because they're on the front lines of fighting it -- but also with all people of colour. I mean, we've seen the reaction to Black Lives Matter here in Toronto, which was outrageous. So, clearly, we have an issue that we've got to deal with there as well.

 

And how has the campaign been going?

Well, it's quiet, because we're waiting for rules to come out of the central office. But also it's summer, so a lot of people are away. And I'm also working, of course, full-time as an MPP.

But I'm also waiting to see, quite frankly, who else puts their hat in the ring. As I've said from the beginning, this isn't about me. It's about the principles. If a stronger candidate comes forward, one that I think that could not only win the leadership but win the prime ministership -- and who shared the same values -- then, certainly, I'd be willing to fold in behind them.

But I'm still using my voice wherever I can. I just did a fair bit of media about the Black Lives Matter event and we sent out a statement from the Queer Caucus of the Ontario NDP in support and solidarity -- so that's been generating a bit of buzz.

 

I want to talk about the NDP and where the party finds itself.

In April, Sally Housser was asked by CTV's Bev Thomson whether the debate within the NDP about moving to the left or right was "an old argument" -- whether it was outdated. She agreed that it was and said that it sounded like something from the 1950s or 1960s and was, quote, "not particularly relevant in the way we need to talk about modernizing the party[.]" What's your impression of that kind of assessment?

Shocking. Shocking, dismaying is my reaction to that. Does she not pay attention to the news? Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn. Do these ring any bells?

The point is that they both represent hundreds of thousands of people who feel we really need an alternative to capitalist neoliberalism, an electable alternative. Look at where that kind of centrist Blairite politics has gotten us in the NDP! Loss after loss after loss!

Even by their own logic, for those who the sine qua non is to just get elected, just "let's win, whatever we have to do, we'll just win" -- which is, by the way, the Liberal party's metier -- for those who just "want to win," they're not winning! They're losing by that strategy.

I think of what Tommy Douglas and what J. S. Woodsworth stood for and what the Regina Manifesto said. They'd be shocked by that kind of language.

I think that's shocking and, quite frankly, stupid, because we're up against a Liberal party that tacks to the left whenever it's convenient to do so and is doing that now.

And we have no place else to go. What are we going to be? Another Liberal party? Really, is that the aim of those who would take us to the centre?

 

You've mentioned Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. What do you make of efforts by Labour MPs in the UK to oust him over the will of the membership? People have drawn parallels to the NDP leadership and their perceived relationship of skepticism to the base.

Well, the ousting of Mulcair was done by the rank and file in a democratic setting, one of the most democratic conventions we've had in a while. And quite frankly, I have a lot of respect for the man Mulcair. But it was sort of the captain of the ship routine. ...Here was a move to the centre that was disastrous that he, ultimately, had to wear. And that was right. The membership saw this and they voted accordingly.

What you have in the UK is, you don't have a vote by the membership. You have a coup by those elected. And that's a very different thing. And let's call it what it is, it really is a coup by those elected. It does not represent the will of the membership whatsoever. And that's sad and should be decried.

In the same way, you saw the Bernie Sanders campaign get cut off at the knees by the machinations of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Party process.

...But, of course, fighting back against neoliberalism and fighting an anti-capitalist fight is never going to be supported by mainstream media, by the party powerful, the establishment and those that represent money. It's never going to be supported by them. It's only going to be supported by the grassroots rank and file.

 

The Green party U.S. presidential candidate is campaigning partly on a platform of complete abolition of student loan debt, something we hadn't even seen from Sanders. She has said that young people really become missionaries for their campaign upon hearing this proposal. Are there similarly energizing policy proposals that the NDP should be emphasizing?

Oh, absolutely. And that's one of the things that I called for in my original statement when I said I was running: free tuition and, absolutely, the abolition of student debt.

And I said this about the federal campaign: $15 an hour, that's great, but not just for federal employees -- for everyone. We should have a living wage for everyone across the country. Also, dental care, pharmacare -- these are givens. These are social democratic givens. This is nothing, there's nothing revolutionary in any of this or particularly socialist in any of it. Child care? Yes. But not in eight years! Now!

And anything which helps us to unionize faster and more broadly has to be part of our mandate. These are the kinds of moves we need to make. We're never going to tackle equality if we don't have unionization on a mass scale.

 

Check back soon for Part Two of rabble's interview with Cheri DiNovo. You know you want to!

Cory Collins is a writer and visual artist living in St. John's. He can be contacted via Twitter @coryGcollins or corycollins.ca.

Photo courtesy of Cheri DiNovo

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