In the wake of Jack Layton’s tragic death, there has been a tangible vacuum of power in the NDP. Now, as the race for the leadership of the Official Opposition heats up, the candidates are striving to showcase why and how they will be able to bring Layton’s singular passion back to the party. Below, the Sheaf speaks to the five candidates who came to Saskatoon for a Feb. 7 debate.
After being drawn to the NDP in his native Quebec as a young man in the 1980s, Brian Topp soon made a name for himself as a crafty backroom strategist. Now, he wants to take his storied behind-the-scenes experience and use it to lead the party he grew up with.
Topp, who served as a senior adviser to the late Jack Layton during the 2011 federal election campaign, is considered a party favorite and has so far gained the endorsements of 11 MPs and former federal leader Ed Broadbent.
“My goal is to finish the job, to build on the hopeful and optimistic approach to federal politics that [Layton] brought that was so inspiring,” Topp told the Sheaf.
Topp also worked for the Saskatchewan NDP as deputy chief of staff to Premier Roy Romanow from 1993 to 2000. He claims the socially progressive and economically responsible policies put forward by the NDP during the 1990s remain the reason for the province’s strong economy.
The key to beating the Tories in the 2015 election, he says, will be addressing a growing income gap and building on current NDP support in Quebec.
“We need to consolidate that gain, we need to reach deep into our traditions of [provincial] government and bring them to the federal level.”
Branding himself the “candidate of co-operation,” Nathan Cullen wants to secure the leadership of the NDP with a more positive message of working across party lines to achieve important goals. He is interested in the longer-term issues of the environment and Canadian natural resources, which he thinks are the key to economic growth.
“Balance between the environment and the economy is something that we have to put at the heart of our thinking,” Cullen said. “It can’t be an afterthought.”
He even tied his focus on environmental issues to job creation for post-secondary graduates. By keeping natural resources like oil in the country to upgrade, rather than shipping them elsewhere, companies should be able to create more jobs for students and recent graduates.
“Government is about choice,” he said. “When you write up a budget, you’re making a bunch of choices.”
If he becomes leader of the NDP, Cullen pledges to make choices that will benefit Canadians at both the bottom and the top of the economic ladder.
The youngest candidate for NDP leader and the only candidate from the prairies, Niki Ashton is focused on moving from the “ideology” of the Harper Conservatives to a politics of “idealism” — that is, our idea of what we want Canada to be.
Ashton wants students to know that she is the candidate who first addressed post-secondary education — a priority in her platform — at both of the first two national candidates’ debates.
“Some people view it as a niche issue,” she said, “but I believe that our generation is being held back by inaction from our government.”
Ashton wants to focus on bringing greater equality to Canadian society and on the “new politics” that she says Jack Layton inspired.
“New politics is about building on this idea that we have to work together, because we do have differences but we also have common challenges ahead of us.”
Former NDP finance critic Peggy Nash wants Canada to know that the NDP is not just the party of social welfare; it is also the best party to manage the Canadian economy.
Her knowledge of political organizations and her history of activism are what she says make her the best candidate to lead the NDP in the coming years, and she calls herself a “bridge builder” who can repair the damage done “in a country that has been so divided by our current government.”
Like Cullen, Nash stressed the importance of refining and upgrading Canadian natural resources in Canada as a way to keep revenue and jobs in the country. She also wants to look into increasing the money the federal government transfers to the provinces for education, though she wants to ensure this will lead to a reduction in tuition.
“I’d also pump up funding to our research bodies and research councils,” she said, “so that we’re valuing our scientific research expertise.”
After winning three consecutive elections and garnering 52 per cent of the vote in his riding in 2011, Paul Dewar has set his sights on the leadership of the NDP. Dewar says his experience running for MP and as the NDP foreign affairs critic makes him uniquely suitable for the leadership of the Official Opposition and, eventually, the role of Prime Minister.
According to Dewar, this is the first time most Canadians are considering the NDP as the potential governing party of the country. Because of this, “it’s very important to also be a proposition party” in addition to the opposition party. If he is elected leader of the party, Dewar plans to spend his first 100 days in office building party support, especially in areas like Saskatchewan, where, he says, “we obviously need to build up again.”
Dewar’s main post-secondary policy promise is that he will reduce tuition fees by an average of $700 per student across the country, which he will do by creating a fund in concert with provincial governments. He also wants to implement a program called “Your Canada Year” which will allow students to volunteer either in country or abroad for one year in return for having a year of post-secondary school paid for.
Photos: Photos: BrianToppLeadership/Flickr, DaveHuehn/Flickr, Supplied, Peggy Nash Campaign, Kimusan/Flickr