OTTAWA — NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is standing by several controversial proposals from rank-and-file party members while rejecting more extreme ones — including a call to abolish the military — ahead of this weekend's policy convention.
Singh's tightrope walk has him hovering between the party's grassroots and the broader Canadian public, with an eye to pleasing enough of both to boost New Democrats above their fourth-place ranking in the House of Commons in a potential election this year.
A resolution from the NDP's Spadina-Fort York riding association commits to "phasing out" the Canadian Armed Forces and retraining service members into civil service roles.
"I don't agree," Singh said at a virtual press conference Wednesday.
He said the military provided critical support at long-term care homes during the COVID-19 outbreaks last year, and he has called for further deployment to assist in the vaccine rollout.
Singh declined to take a stance on potential policy planks that demand the removal of all statues of Sir John A. Macdonald and the addition of Indigenous symbols to the Canadian flag. But he sympathized with the ideas behind them.
"We’ve got to be very aware of the message certain monuments and statues send in public spaces, and be open to moving with the times," Singh said.
If the legacies symbolized by a particular figure, image or building name are unwelcoming or disrespectful of "Indigenous persons and diversity," they may need to be relocated, redesigned or retitled, he said.
"There always will be a place for remembering our history, and sometimes that place maybe is best served in a museum or in history books, and not always in public places."
Macdonald was Canada's first prime minister but his role in establishing colonial systems, including Indian residential schools, has led to calls for multiple statues across the country to come down.
Singh also weighed in on a proposed resolution condemning Quebec's Bill 21, which bans religious symbols such as turbans, kippas and hijabs for employees of the state deemed to be in positions of authority, including police officers and teachers.
Singh called the law "discriminatory," particularly against women, but acknowledged the importance of separating church and state.
NDP members from across the country have cast their ballots on more than 400 proposed resolutions to determine which will make the short list of 70 for delegates to vote on at the party's first policy convention since the 2019 federal election, running Friday through Sunday.
New Democrat speakers will include B.C. Premier John Horgan, Andrea Horwath and Rachel Notley — Opposition leaders in Ontario and Alberta respectively — and former federal party chief Ed Broadbent.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 7, 2021.