Five of the eight hopefuls vying to become the next leader of the NDP gathered last Wednesday for a debate at Concordia’s Loyola Campus.
With Oscar Peterson Hall almost at capacity, the candidates – Nikki Ashton, Nathan Cullen, Peggy Nash, Martin Singh, and Brian Topp – quickly settled into a two-hour debate comprised of four pre-set questions and three questions from the audience.
Nathan Cullen, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC, stated in his opening remarks, “The progressive majority in this country needs a voice against the false majority of [Prime Minister] Stephen Harper.”
Compared to recent Republican candidate debates south of the border, the NDP candidates remained cordial, often sharing the same stance on the issues being presented.
Some of the issues tackled by the candidates included tuition hikes and accessibility to post-secondary education, environmental issues, and views on Palestinian statehood. All the candidates were in favour of Palestinian sovereignty.
Nikki Ashton, MP for Churchill, Manitoba, spoke to the issue of post-secondary funding.
“Your fight is the fight of a generation. Your fight is a fight we all have to be part of,” she said to the crowd.
Peggy Nash, MP for Parkdale-High Park, echoed a similar sentiment. “We have to insist, in a modern democratic society, that young people have the right to an education. And a right to an education means financially accessible education.”
Notably absent from the event were candidates Paul Dewar, MP for Ottawa Centre – who was campaigning in the Maritimes – and MP for Outremont Thomas Mulcair, who was at another event that evening. Abitibi–Baie James–Nunavik–Eeyou MP Romeo Saganash was scheduled to attend, but had to back out at the last minute due to a family illness.
The debate was hosted by several NDP riding associations, including Lac-Saint-Louis and NDG-Lachine branches as well as NDP Concordia and NDP McGill. The NDP will vote for the next party leader on March 24.
Establishing the NDP’s economic platform
Peggy Nash stands as one of the eight candidates running for leadership of the NDP, and one of two female candidates. From a background of community and international work, she has been an MP in the Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park since 2006.
“I got to a point where I was feeling very frustrated, that we would work and work and mobilize for change and politicians would agree with us and then ultimately not do anything,” Nash said when asked how she got involved in politics.
Nash is one of the founders of Equal Voice, a multi-partisan organization that encourages women to get involved with politics. Her participation in the organization was a motivating factor in making the jump into politics.
“I also felt, ‘Look in the mirror. You are encouraging other women to be involved, you should be involved,’” she said.
Nash has served as both industry and finance critic for the NDP, positions she says makes her an ideal candidate for leadership.
“[Former NDP leader Jack Layton] appointed me to be finance critic in our opposition caucus because he knew I would work to establish our credibility on economic issues,” she said.
“If we are going to win, we have to persuade Canadians…that we can also manage the economy.”
Nash said she believes that this year’s large leadership race is an opportunity for people to get involved with building the social democratic movement with the goal of winning the government in 2015.
“This is not a time to sit out. We have a Conservative government that was elected with less than 40 per cent of those who voted.”
“This government is taking us in the wrong direction, taking us backwards. So if we really want to build the kind of Canada that we want to live in, then people have to get involved.”
Proposing a post-partisan Canada
Nathan Cullen, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, BC, is not the front-runner in the race for NDP leadership. Though he is the longest-serving MP in the race, Cullen does not have the visibility of candidates like Outremont MP Thomas Mulcair and former NDP President Brian Topp.
Cullen was elected as an MP after several years working in international development.
“It wasn’t a plan, it wasn’t setting up my education or my career step to step,” he said.
Cullen has served as MP in his riding for eight years, and has stood out by proposing the idea of “joint nomination meetings.”
“I would allow our ridings to hold a joint nomination meeting, like a primary, with the Greens and Liberals, and choose one candidate out of that to run against the Conservatives,” he explained.
It is something he labels as “radical” – a word that he believes is being used by the current government against those who oppose them.
“You are raising a concern that there may be pollution? You are a radical. You say you have questions about the jobs? Radical. And that is just insulting to me, it really is. It insults me as a Canadian,” Cullen said.
“I think there is a post-partisan era coming,” he added. “I don’t know if it is here yet…[where] parties will just naturally work together more often. I hope for it, I really do.”
Cullen discussed Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the current political climate he thinks Harper has fostered.
“I don’t want to be overdramatic about it, but it’s a fact the stakes are high,” he said.
“What [Conservatives] are trying to do is really ramp down your expectations of what a government is.”