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The Waffle (also known as the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada) was a radical wing of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It later transformed into an independent political party, with little electoral success before it permanently disbanded in the mid-1970s. It was generally a New Left youth movement, that espoused Canadian nationalism, and solidarity with Quebec's sovereignty movement.

The Waffle
Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada
MottoFor an Independent, Socialist Canada
PurposeDemocratic socialism
Canadian nationalism
Quebec sovereigntism
Region served
Mel Watkins
and James Laxer
Main organ
Waffle News


The group formed in 1969, a product of campus radicalism, feminism, Canadian nationalism and left-wing nationalism in general. Its leaders were university professors Mel Watkins, James Laxer and Robert Laxer. It issued a Manifesto for an Independent Socialist Canada and with support in the NDP caucus and membership worked to try to push the party leftward. The Waffle supported the nationalization of Canadian industries to take them out of the hands of American interests. The group was endorsed by the New Democratic Youth. The Waffle manifesto stated that "A socialist society must be one in which there is democratic control of all institutions, which have a major effect on men's lives and where there is equal opportunity for creative non-exploitative self-development. It is now time to go beyond the welfare state." and that "The New Democratic Party must provide leadership in the struggle to extend working men's influence into every area of industrial decision-making.... By bringing men together primarily as buyers and sellers of each other, by enshrining profitability and material gain in place of humanity and spiritual growth, capitalism has always been inherently alienating. Today, sheer size combined with modern technology further exaggerates man's sense of insignificance and impotence. A socialist transformation of society will return to man his sense of humanity, to replace his sense of being a commodity. But a socialist democracy implies man's control of his immediate environment as well, and in any strategy for building socialism, community democracy is as vital as the struggle for electoral success."

The Waffle developed a Canadian nationalist policy and predicted in the founding manifesto "The major threat to Canadian survival today is American control of the Canadian economy. The major issue of our times is not national unity but national survival."

Origins of the Waffle nameEdit

The name was meant ironically; one story, quoted in historian Desmond Morton's book The New Democrats, has the name originating during the drafting of the group's manifesto when, at one point, Ed Broadbent said "that if they had to choose between waffling to the left and waffling to the right, they waffle to the left."[1] "The Waffle Manifesto" was the published headline of Jean Howarth's editorial piece in Canada's The Globe and Mail on September 6, 1969.[2] Howarth heard about the waffle line from Hugh Winsor, who also worked at The Globe and Mail, and was also a co-signer of the manifesto.[3] When Laxer and other members of the group read the headline, they adopted it.[3]

Apparently, another possible origin for the name comes from a film-clip excerpt from a CBC documentary on the NDP, taken during a meeting of the group some months prior to the October 1969 NDP Winnipeg convention.[4] According to the film excerpt, the Waffle term appears to have originated with Jim Laxer when he stated, "in terms of the proposed manifesto, that if it doesn't talk about nationalization of key industries, it becomes a 'waffle document.'"[4] The term "waffle" was picked up by subsequent speakers in the discussion.[4] However, Broadbent still likely mentioned the term first, prior to the filmed sequence, and this section of the debate could just as easily be a response to that. The scholarly histories of the party — from writers such as McLeod, Morton, and Smith — indicate that it was Broadbent, not Laxer that came up with the name.

1971 Ottawa leadership conventionEdit

The 1971 NDP leadership convention was a battleground between the party establishment and the Waffle. About 2,000 people, out of the NDP's approximately 90,000 membership, were members of the Waffle in 1971.[5] The Waffle tried to get as many of their supporters onto the party's governing bodies, but were rebuked by the large bloc of rank-and-file union voters at the convention.[6] Carol Gudmundson — of the Saskatoon, Saskatchewan Waffle — ran unsuccessfully for the party presidency.[6] She was up against former Ontario NDP leader Donald C. MacDonald and lost to him during the April 23rd vote.[6] University of Toronto professor Mel Watkins lost his vice-president position, but managed to get elected to the party's federal council.[6] The campaign for leader of the NDP pitted David Lewis against James Laxer. Through the strong support of the labour unions, Lewis succeeded in defeating Laxer on the fourth ballot on April 24.[7] Laxer won approximately 37 percent of the final ballot vote, and established that the Waffle had some strength in the party and were no longer a small fringe group.[7]

The Waffle's demise in OntarioEdit

Even during the leadership convention, the Waffle was being described in the press as a "party within a party."[7] One of the last hurrahs for the Waffle came during the October 1971 Ontario provincial election. The Waffle's Ontario chairman, Steve Penner, managed to get nominated in the Dovercourt riding as the Ontario NDP's candidate.[8] Despite the public infighting between him and Stephen Lewis, Penner managed to come within 55 votes of winning the seat.[9] The Waffle considered this a success, because in the 1967 election the previous NDP candidate lost by over 1400 votes.[9]

The next year Ontario NDP leader Stephen Lewis, David's son, accused the Waffle of being "an encumbrance around my neck".[10] On June 24, 1972, at the party's Provincial Council held in Orillia, Lewis was able to successfully shepherd a resolution ordering the Waffle to either disband or leave the NDP.[10] Debate on the motion lasted for three hours, with labour leaders leading the charge to expel the Waffle.[10] Finally, the council approved the motion to disband the Waffle with a 217 to 86 vote, thereby ending months of public feuding.[10]

Independent party: end of the roadEdit

Some members of the Waffle remained New Democrats, but Laxer and Watkins accepted Lewis's ultimatum and quit the NDP in 1972. They continued the Waffle under the official name the Movement for an Independent Socialist Canada, but it was still commonly referred to as the Waffle. The group existed until the Canadian federal election in 1974, when it unsuccessfully ran candidates for Parliament in the federal election. Laxer ran in the York West electoral district in Toronto, placing fourth in a field of seven with 673 votes and only 1.26 percent of the popular vote.[11] In the aftermath of its electoral failure, the group went into a deep crisis. A left-wing group, based at York University, argued that during the election the campaign for "Independence and socialism" had been reduced to the narrow nationalism of just a campaign for "independence." At an acrimonious meeting, this group won the most votes, but several key figures — including Laxer — walked out.

Effect on NDP youth movementEdit

The dispute over the Waffle led to the disbanding of the Ontario NDP's youth wing in 1972, which was not revived until 1988. The federal NDP also disbanded the New Brunswick NDP for a period in late 1971 after a local Waffle group gained control of it. Mel Watkins and even Elie Martel have argued that the NDP lost a generation of volunteers and members due to the way the Waffle was handled.


The Waffle also had its own leftist wing, the Red Circle, which was composed of Trotskyists. This group remained in the NDP after the Waffle was expelled and eventually merged with another group to become the Revolutionary Marxist Group.

Another group of Trotskyists, based at York University, outvoted the Laxer leadership at what would be the Waffle's final conference at the end of 1974. This group, which was under the influence of the American-based International Socialists, became the inheritor of what was left of the Waffle and relaunched themselves as the Independent Socialists in early 1975, and then one year later renamed the organization the International Socialists (Canada). Other key participants, grouped around Leo Panitch, formed an Ottawa-based group called the Ottawa Committee for Labour Action.

The Waffle was also the progenitor of the NDP Socialist Caucus and the New Politics Initiative (NPI). The NPI were seen as a major force in the federal NDP during the period after the 2000 federal election. Like the Waffle, they too wanted the party to move left, and were aiming to do this by closing down the NDP and forming a new party. The NPI's attempts at reforming the party were crushed, similar to the Waffle, at the 2001 Winnipeg convention. However, it seems that the party did learn a lesson from how it dealt with the Waffle, because there was not the kind of acrimony that occurred after the 1971 federal leadership convention. Unlike the Waffle, the NPI was not seen as a party within the party, and the establishment did not try to disband it. Many of the NPI supporters ended up in Jack Layton's 2003 leadership campaign, though they were outnumbered by the forces that opposed the NPI, such as NDProgress, which was a moderate reform group comparable to the Waffle's old foe NDPNow. After he won the leadership, Layton was able to unite the many factions within the party, and that facilitated the NPI choosing to dissolve itself in 2004, again without any of the same bitterness that infused the Waffle's dissolution.

Some issues that were in but not central to the Waffle manifesto were supported by non-Waffle New Democrats and were later adopted by the party, such as gender equality in its governance and the selection of federal candidates for the House of Commons. Many of its leaders eventually came back into the party and held important positions within it, such as federal Research Director, which also shaped many of the NDP's policies in the 1980s through to the early 21st century.[12]

See alsoEdit

References and notesEdit

  1. ^ Morton (1986), p. 92.
  2. ^ Howarth, Jean (1969-09-06). "The Waffle Manifesto". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. 6.
  3. ^ a b Smith (1989), p. 579.
  4. ^ a b c "Waffle meeting 1969" (video). CBC News. YouTube. 1969. Retrieved 2009-12-05.
  5. ^ Avakumovic, pp. 231, 237
  6. ^ a b c d Goldblatt, Murray (1971-04-24). "Block of union delegates aids establishment to fend off Waffle drive for party offices". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. 10.
  7. ^ a b c Bain, George (1971-04-26). "A tough row to hoe". The Globe and Mail. Toronto. p. 6.
  8. ^ Toronto Bureau (1971-10-19). "121 candidates trying for 35 Metro and area jobs". The Toronto Star. Toronto. p. 10.
  9. ^ a b Toronto Bureau (1971-10-22). "Radical Waffler fails by just 55 votes". The Toronto Star. Toronto. p. 13.
  10. ^ a b c d Hoy, Claire (1972-06-26). "Waffle decides to defy NDP order to disband". The Toronto Star. Toronto. pp. 01, 03.
  11. ^ "History of Federal Ridings Since 1867: York West". Parliament of Canada. Ottawa: Queen's Printer for Canada. Archived from the original on 2012-10-23. Retrieved 2012-05-16. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  12. ^ Watkins, Mel (November–December 2009). "Once Upon a Waffle". Canadian Dimension. Winnipeg. 43 (6): 15–16. ISSN 0008-3402. Archived from the original on 2013-10-29. Retrieved 2012-05-16. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)


External linksEdit