Federal New Democrats will decide on Sunday if they are still the party of socialism or a more centrist government-in-waiting that offers Canadians an alternative to Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives.
It's a nuanced debate about labels - are the NDP democratic socialists or social democrats? But the proposal to amend the party's Constitution to modernize - or water down, depending on who you talk to - the NDP's core objectives offers a glimpse of how the country's new Official Opposition intends to remake itself in the next four years.
A party-backed resolution proposes to delete a section of the NDP's constitution that aligns the party with democratic socialism. The current wording states that social, economic and political progress "can be assured only by the application of socialist principles" including state control over the production and distribution of goods and services for the good of individuals, not for profit.
It's not quite the tone that NDP leader Jack Layton used as he led his party to capture 103 seats in the May 2 general election.
"You look at the language in the campaign of 2011, it was much different from the campaign of 1962," noted Brad Lavigne, the NDP's national director. "It's important because this is the articulation of who we are as a party."
Under the new proposal, the party's identity would advance social democratic principles in Mr. Layton's terms: As the voice of working people in a "strong, united and prosperous Canada."
Libby Davies, deputy leader of the New Democratic Party, opposes the proposed change, saying it would dilute the party's core principles.
"Modernizing language is important but I don't want to lose the sense of the roots of the party, and who we are," the Vancouver East MP said in an interview Saturday as party delegates gathered in Vancouver, their first gathering since the federal election propelled the NDP to official opposition status for the first time in its 50-year history.
"We are not the Liberal Party, we are the NDP. We have a broad appeal but it's based on the history of our party and what we stand for," Ms. Davies said.
Newly elected party president Brian Topp said the proposed changes are purely symbolic. "What you have is a preamble to the constitution which was written a long time ago, and it needs to be converted into modern language that Canadians see themselves in."
As the party seeks to reposition itself now as a government-in-waiting, he said change is just a small part of a "top-to-bottom" renewal that the NDP is starting at this weekend's convention.
"We need to speak to the to the mainstream without becoming the Liberal Party," he said. "We need to balance being a progressive alternative with one that the public will trust with their wallets."
The change will face resistance. Outside a meeting of the party's socialist caucus, Barry Weisleder predicted the resolution will be defeated. "It's farcical - you can't take socialism out of the NDP any more than you can take Corn Flakes out of Kellogg's."
Wearing a button that reads, "To survive, the NDP must turn left," Mr. Weisleder said the NDP have never had a stronger mandate from the Canadian public. "This is bad timing for a proposal to moderate - it would send a signal that the NDP is not going to rock the boat."