Toronto An organization’s convention is of course going to bring forward its supporters to speak to its faithful, so it was not a surprise to find a love feast in the remarks made by speakers at various events of the ACORN Canada bi-annual convention in Toronto, but the “why” behind the remarks were as clear as “who” was making them about the strength of the partnerships that ACORN has forged after almost 9 years of organizing in Canada between labor, as ACORN’s staunchest ally and particularly the New Democratic Party (NDP) and its leadership as its frequent political partner. Speeches by Andrea Horwath, the Ontario NDP leader to the main convention and Sid Ryan, president of the million member Ontario Federation of Labor, made the point obvious, as did other remarks from city councilors and members of the Ontario parliament like Jagmeet Singh, Olivia Chow, and Ed Sullivan.
An underlying theme running throughout all of their remarks was the mutual interests that had been forged increasingly through hard fought campaigns where ACORN had been a key component and in some cases a central link. The fight to increase the minimum wage in Ontario initially to $10 per hour several years ago and currently the campaign to move it on past that to $14 per hour was raised repeatedly. Singh, who has introduced ACORN’s bill to cap the costs of remittances at 5%, couldn’t have been clearer that this was a hugely important issue but that it was also an idea born solely from ACORN and its extensive immigrant membership, and that he was delighted to carry the water.
ACORN’s partners clearly rely on ACORN’s ability to move its low-to-moderate income base. Sullivan understood fully that ACORN members in Toronto overwhelmingly lived in the high rises where the organization’s ability to increase traditionally low voter turnout of around 40% holds the future for him and other progressive politicians in the area. Horwath was more measured, giving a standard recitation of the NDP platform, but her smile was radiant and her voice vibrant when she asked the members if any of them lived in key legislative district ridings coming up in elections soon and heard the cheers from the crowd when she mentioned south Ottawa. She was also pointed in her praise for ACORN’s work in the turnaround in Kitchener-Waterloo in a special election there. Sid Ryan talked about the importance of a joint project being done in a partnership between ACORN and the OFL in another critical area of Ontario where ACORN is building a membership and the OFL hopes to see huge change. He was ecstatic about ACORN’s 650 signatures in a couple of hours of doorknocking at the convention for an increase of minimum wage and how it trumped anything that even their paid professional canvassers had been able to produce.
Mutual interests have now clearly become mutual need making these real partnerships. These alliances recognize real success and struggle in recent years, but also signal much, much more as these partnerships mature in the coming years. No one anywhere near this convention could miss the messages here.