Canada’s NDP’s New Preamble Embraces
a Diversity of Ways to Pursue the Common Good
The central insight of social democracy is a simple one: a person can
only succeed and thrive when she is connected to a community that is
thriving and flourishing around her. Over time, as the consequences
of destructive human activities on the environment around us grew more
apparent, a second and equal insight like the first arose. A person
and her community can only thrive and succeed when they are connected
to an environment that is thriving and succeeding with them.
And Canada’s New Democrats, as Canada’s social democratic
political party, are a great force for change in this direction. In
governments in provinces such as my own Saskatchewan under Premiers
Douglas, Lloyd, Blakeney, Romanow, and Calvert, we have applied our
philosophy in practical and diverse ways. I grew up under the social
democratic governments of Romanow and Calvert, and saw how my family
and my community benefited by the tremendous record of Saskatchewan’s
New Democrats. I lived in a province where the budget was balanced and
debt repaid, where the taxes my family paid were lowered, where Crown
Corporations thrived, where public services expanded, where new businesses
were started and more jobs were created, and where action on climate
change was began. That’s what social democrats can do when we
win the trust of people and govern on their behalf.
Social democrats over the years have adopted many strategies to achieve
our vision. When our movement began, we sought to achieve our vision
with ideas such as those that found themselves in the old preamble of
Canada’s New Democrats. In that old preamble we opposed the pursuit
of profit on principle, instead we supported the bizarre goal “to
modify and control the operations of the monopolistic productive and
distributive organizations through economic and social planning. Towards
these ends and where necessary the extension of the principle of social
Call me a social democrat, but those words of the old preamble leave
me uninspired. It sounds like we are just replacing entrepreneurs with
bureaucrats and calling it a day. In the NDP’s old preamble, there
was a confusion of ends with means. There was no problem that another
government program, a new Crown Corporation, or more regulation couldn’t
solve. By contrast, our new preamble commits us to a more limited “role
for government in helping to create the conditions for sustainable prosperity”
where government acts decisively for the common good in the fields where
it makes sense, while leaving room for actors outside of government
to help deliver a better society. We are no longer pretending that government
can ever have all of the answers. It is a vision of a society where
we all succeed together.
A vision for social democracy today needs to articulate our core aspiration,
one of pursuing “the common good.” Pursuing the common good
does not mean slavishly committing ourselves to an ever-expanding government
at the expense of the private sector. The common good means a society
where markets, communities, and the environment flourish and succeed
together. At times, governments may use public ownership to purse the
common good and, at other times, they may choose methods like expanding
social programs, or providing incentives for private sector growth.
The whole point of social democracy is that we can have a market economy
without having a society ruled solely by market values. Social democrats
must be flexible in our choice of mechanisms to incrementally achieve
Under the old preamble, the means - public ownership and a planned economy
- became an end in and of themselves. Consequently, the old preamble
directed us to pursue out-dated policies just because they were in our
constitution. We were locked into one way of pursuing the common good
when a diversity of ways exists.
Our new preamble clearly orients Canada’s New Democrats towards
the things that truly matter, for sustainable prosperity, for social
and economic justice, and for international cooperation.
As a social democrat and as a Canadian, there is nothing I can be more
proud of than to say that “Canada is a great country, one of the
hopes of the world. New Democrats are Canadians who believe we can be
a better one – a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity.”
That is what Canadian social democracy looks like, and I am proud to
have a preamble to match.
Mitchell Anderson is a student pursuing a Master of Divinity at
St. Andrew’s College and a Master of Business Administration at
the Edwards School of Business, both at the University of Saskatchewan.
He has held a number of leadership positions within Canada’s New
Democrats at the provincial and national levels.