OTTAWA --The federal New Democratic Party is on the threshold of abandoning its long-held policy that the North American Free Trade Agreement should be scrapped, sources say.
The party's election platform committee will unveil proposal Friday that include a more moderate position on Canada-U.S. free trade than was taken in the 1988 and 1993 election campaigns. Instead of fighting to kill the deal, the proposals would have the party call for changes to protect workers, the environment and social programs.
"We support international trade agreements that benefit Canadian families and not just corporations," one party official said.
"This may be viewed as a shift as it is not outright opposition to the agreements."
The proposals say the party should fight for forceful labor and environmental standards, stricter measures to prevent corporate tax evasion, and new controls to limit speculative currency trading.
Delegates to the convention will have the opportunity to debate and change the document before it becomes NDP leader Alexa McDonough's campaign blueprint, but the new position reflects the views of NDP stalwarts such as Dave Barrett, the former B.C. premier and ex-federal MP who championed the anti-free trade campaign. He has now accepted that NAFTA is here to stay, and is devoting time as an academic to propose progressive changes to trade deals.
Party officials expect spirited debate over trade as well as the party's policy on the goods and services tax.
While many prominent party members have advocated an "axe the tax" position, the platform committee is calling for a go-slow approach that would begin by phasing out the tax for books, magazines and family essentials like clothing.
Another major shift in party thinking reflected in the proposals is its modes, survival-oriented tone. The party says it will play an advocacy role in fighting for its policies, rather than suggest it could implement is promises as an elected NDP government.
Former federal leader Ed Broadbent campaigned in 1988 on the basis that the NDP was fighting to form a government, as did his successor Audrey McLaughlin -- whose war cry was "AM for PM" -- in the disastrous 1993 campaign.
But McDonough, who doesn't have a seat in Parliament and has a caucus of only nine MPs, is campaigning only to gain at least 12 seats (required to be an official party in the Commons). At best, the party hopes for slightly more than the record of 44.
The party's campaign will therefore focus on pockets of strength in B.C., the Prairies, parts of Ontario and in McDonough's home province of Nova Scotia.
Friday's platform will reflect the focus on regions like B.C., highlighting positions such as the demand that government "refuse to allow giant corporations to dominate the fishing industry" to the detriment of small coastal communities.
The platform document also suggests the NDP advocate: