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Judy Haiven: Whither the NDP – Is this a time to hibernate or to spark activism?

From Four feet up

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – These are apolitical times.  Politics in Nova Scotia has taken a back seat to pulling together to ‘flatten the curve’, and hope like hell we can banish the Covid-19 virus. 

We hear from the ruling Liberals in the form of Premier McNeil roaring at people to “stay the blazes home”, and supporting fines for people who don’t.  Just the other day, a young woman crossing a path alone in Halifax’s tiny urban Victoria Park and was fined $700. The premier trusts that punitive measures like these will scare  people to stay home. Maybe it will work until the nicer weather sets in—but then what? 

The Tory opposition is all but MIA.

What can the NDP do to steal some thunder, and set a different course during this pandemic? For as long as almost any of us can remember, the NDP has been a party with only a legislative agenda.  No harm in that — but what about activism, what about mobilising people to fight against racism, or sexism or anti-immigrant animus? The NDP falls tragically short. It’s one thing for party politicos to attend rallies, or speak when called upon.  But can the party organise people to fight back? 

Here’s an idea. 

There are hundreds of films anyone with an internet connection can watch for free; these include films on the National Film Board site, films on CBC GEM, on Youtube, and some good productions on APTN-TV.  Many of these sites have been cracked open without pay walls so that all of us, hungry for something to do, something to watch –with or without kids– something to keep us occupied during the long days and the shorter nights, can watch. 

The NDP Film Club

What if the NS NDP posted a list of films and programs they recommend we watch in the next few weeks.  Every four or five days, at a regular time, the NDP could ask a prominent professor, or media personality, or writer or comedian to host a one hour webinar to field questions and comments and start a discussion about each show we have recently watched. 

From Four Feet Up

Example in week one:  We could all watch the excellent Four Feet Up (2008) by award winning filmmaker Nance Ackerman.  Four Feet Up is about a poor family in rural Nova Scotia today. It focuses on the 8 year old son, whose short life is hemmed in  by trips with to the food bank with his mother, visits from prying social workers, and even police interventions. Watch it for free here: Weekend video. Four feet up

A social justice activist, or a social work prof could lead a spirited discussion about the film, the role of social services, social assistance and discuss the pros and cons of a Guaranteed Income. 

A series I suggest we all watch is Tribal here  Thanks to my friend Jim for suggesting Tribal, an eight part series about an Indigenous woman police chief from a reserve near Calgary.  She has to work with the mostly male (and racist) city police force on some serious cases involving crimes against Indigenous people. The series is well written, and plots are believable.  The NDP could ask an Indigenous activist or a panel of them to comment on the series and then open it to the home audience to phone in, or write in.  

Another film that could generate discussion and even activism is 24 Days in Brooks here  It’s a 2005 documentary film about a strike at what was one of  the largest meat packing plants in Canada, Lakeside Packers in Brooks, Alberta. 

Though once a predominantly white prairie community, Brooks had changed. The strike was organised and supported mostly by workers of colour – often new Canadians — employed at Lakeside.  Twenty years ago, the Canadian government encouraged Lakeside and other large employers in rural areas to recruit people from overseas who wanted to move to Canada. However the workers at Lakeside were not prepared to trade their civil liberties for a life of exploitation in a very tough and dangerous workplace.  They struck at Lakeside – and the film details what happened. Excellent.  The NDP could ask a trade unionist, or an industrial relations prof (don’t look at me!!) to introduce the film and start a discussion about unions, their value today, and what happened to workers at Brooks. 

And finally, I’d recommend Goin’ Down the Road the 1970 classic by Don Shebib here — This is a film about two unemployed young men from Cape Breton who drive to Toronto to start a very different life than what they had back home. The acting is great and I’m sure the NDP could find a community activist from Cape Breton, or a lively social historian to chat about the film and then start a conversation. 

If the NDP started a Film Club – they’d  be doing something wonderful, and something people across the province could appreciate and take part in.  The NDP, for more than half a century, has been reticent to initiate, or even engage, in any activity outside of the electoral sphere. This was brought to light as far back as 1965 in the book A Protest Movement Becalmed by sociologist Leo Zakuta. 

Zakuta, a sociology professor at the University of Toronto at the time, noted that the radicalism and the socialism which had been knitted into the CCF (the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) unravelled when the CCF was remade into the NDP. The NDP had professional activists and organisers. There was little need for volunteers or grassroots activists — except to knock on doors at election time. The party’s base was called upon to donate, and to vote. Nothing much has changed.  

But that could change.  In the 4 weeks of enforced isolation so far, the NDP sees its supporters sitting at home.  There are few distractions for any of us, other than ipads and Netflix. Now is the time to talk to members and supporters, to infuse intelligent discussion and spark activity.  The activity could then be sustained. The Film Club is one idea. I’m sure there are others.

How will the NDP be remembered after the Covid-19 crisis– as a party in hibernation, or as a party that initiates change.    

I’ll get my film list together – but will the NDP?

Judy Haiven is on the steering committee of Equity Watch, a Halifax-based organization which fights bullying, racism and discrimination in the workplace. You can reach her at

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One Comment

  1. Judy, is that last, a rhetorical tongue in cheek 😉 ? I’m thinking yes, but …
    Great idea, but maybe there are some more likely “resistance organizers” to pitch it to. 🙂

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