RE: On Leadership

Dear Fellow New Democrats,

First, a bit about my perspective; I grew up in Sussex, New Brunswick, a resource town of less than 5000 people. I moved to Ottawa and completed a Bachelor of Arts from Carleton University and have returned after finishing the coursework for a Master of Arts in Social Justice & Equity Studies from Brock University in Ontario’s Niagara region. After working on Malcolm Allen’s Welland re-election campaign in May 2011, I joined the New Democratic Party of Canada thereby cancelling the Green Party of Canada membership I’d held since 2006. Though I Share traditional NDP enthusiasm for social democracy, I find NDP environmental policy, upon critical review, is not a practical response to Canada’s crises of energy, environment, and, inequality. At present, the NDP are the progressive party best situated govern Canada and end the corruption, secrecy, and authoritarianism Harper has overseen. Harper continues to act on the interests of big business and wealthy owners; with disregard disadvantaged and for low-income Canadians, the Harper government has emaciated the middle class and prioritized prisons, fighter jets, corporate tax cuts and deregulation of environmentally damaging industries.

If the NDP is to form government, they need to present a pragmatic and compassionate policy vision that will create a business and social environment for equality, health, and success. With this challenge ahead, my opinion as a newcomer is partly representative of the audience the NDP will need to target in the next election. How will the party appeal to educated voters who actively chose to vote Green or Liberal last election? The NDP strategy needs to be about good people and good policy.

In May, Jack Layton led the NDP to the height of their electoral success and then was taken too soon from a Canada in need. Journalists have said the NDP’s May campaign was fuelled solely on the charisma of the Jack Layton. That energy has left the party at a loss to define itself as the party-in-waiting to form government. The Liberals and Conservatives are understood as the natural governing parties, and the Green Party have one of Canada’s best-spoken women, Elizabeth May, guaranteed in the next election’s televised debates. Liberals also have the advantage of choosing their leader after the in response to who the NDP elect. The left of the Canadian political spectrum is a crowded forum, and the NDP must choose a leader that will be able to create confidence that the party can win a 2015 election. Below, I will outline my thoughts on the 8 remaining candidates in the 2012 NDP leadership race.

On Brian Topp, I fall into the “anyone but Brian” camp. I think it’s an unwise choice to elect a leader without a seat in the House of Commons, let alone one who has never stood as a candidate for public office. While Jack was not an MP when elected leader, he had years of elected experience with the Toronto City Council. The rush of high profile endorsements doesn’t really convince me of anything either. He carries very little name recognition, has no geographically defined region of support, and only performed adequately at best in the first broadcasted leadership debate in Ottawa. His credentials as party president aren’t that impressive either; candidate Peggy Nash held that same position accompanied by years of elected experience. By the many of the same points, I also can’t support Martin Singh as legitimate replacement for Jack Layton.

Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar share a few critiques as well. Both are accomplished MPs with reasonable French-language skills and strong union ties from urban Ontario ridings. These 2 candidates are in my opinion the ‘old school’ of the NDP. As the son of New Democrat and former Ottawa mayor, Marion Dewar, and a CAW labour official Dewar and Nash embody the traditional appeal of the NDP. The 2 are also comparably educated with Nash holding a University of Toronto degree in French, and Dewar a Carleton political science degree and a Bachelor of Education from Queens. Potential Liberal leaders Marc Garneau, Bob Rae, Dalton McGuinty, and Justin Trudeau boast higher educational credentials, which may appeal to progressive well-educated voters, especially those critical of NDP environmental policy.  The embattled Liberals survived the last election with 34 seats. They have 4 years to rebuild their party and prepare for the character assignation Conservative ads sink to. It’s unlikely the NDP will win many seats currently held by Liberals. Where the NDP can pick up enough seats to form government are ridings where vote splitting elected Conservatives. Largely, these seats are in the Canadian west and lesser urbanized ridings. Electing Nash from Toronto or Dewar from Ottawa allows for the criticism that the Conservatives best represent those not considered ‘urban elites’. I wouldn’t have any real issue with either of these Candidates, but I doubt either has the appeal to lead the NDP to government in 2015.

I prefer Paul Dewar to Peggy Nash for 2 reasons. Peggy Nash falls into the same demographic as Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, and, objectively, Ms. May is much stronger presence in debate or interview. There’s also that awkward moment when Peggy Nash lost her seat to failed Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy in 2008, despite outspending him by $10, 000.

It should now be evident that my ballot’s top 4 are Thomas Mucair, Nathan Cullen, Romeo Saganash, and Niki Ashton.

4th on my ballot will be Thomas Mulcair. I personally disagree with Mr. Mucair’s policy proposal for cap and trade as a method to reach carbon reduction targets. I would explain why extensively, but this video does perfectly in 10 minutes. (It’s worth a watch; this reasoning is largely why I voted Green instead of NDP for years)

I also think his attempt to bulk export Quebec’s water during his time as provincial Environment Minister is a resume blip that should raise a red flag to progressives. That said, Mulcair is the 'stay the course' candidate; he’s popular in Quebec and will easily be able to chew into the traditional Liberal base. A Montreal lawyer who speaks eloquently in French and English, Mulcair has potential to form an NDP government. My only fear is that Mulcair’s Quebec ties will not facilitate the party’s expansion into western Canada as easily as other Candidates. Mulcair could be Prime Minister, but I think he’d only form a minority.

On the topic of keeping the orange wave riding high in Quebec, Romeo Saganash is also a formidable candidate from the rural Northern Quebec riding of Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou. A talented trilingual candidate with extensive and unique experience as a lawyer, community organizer, and negotiator, Saganash is the first aboriginal to run for the leadership of a major Canadian political party. Rural perspective and strong roots in Quebec’s NDP caucus make Saganash a worthy competitor for leading the party to victory in Conservative-held ridings and place him third on my leadership ballot.

My second choice is British Columbia’s Nathan Cullen. Prior to the leadership I was oblivious to Cullen’s politics, but Cullen continues to prove himself as the ‘personality’ candidate. If the NDP’s rise to Official Opposition was because of Jack’s personality, they may well rise to government with Cullen as their media darling. Cullen also brings experience as a businessman from the rural Northern BC riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley. With a strong provincial NDP and many Conservative MPs, appeal to British Columbians will be necessary to win a majority government. Cullen also appeals to party members like me, who may have recently flipped from the Greens or Liberals by being the only leader to talk about cooperating with other parties to ensure Canada gets the progressive compassionate government they deserve.

The only candidate to best Cullen on my ballot is Niki Ashton, the 29 year old MP for Churchill, Manitoba. This woman is an accomplished academic, activist, and linguist: a Ph.D candidate who speaks 5 languages. Niki Ashton is the candidate of progress and possibility. While she may not immediately seem like the Prime Minister in waiting, Niki Ashton is the candidate with the most potential for growth. With 4 years of experience as leader of opposition, Ashton will emerge as a confident and competent young professional.  After strong performances in Ottawa and Vancouver, New Democrats are seriously considering her as a candidate with unparalleled appeal to a dormant youth voter base and support from western and rural Canadians. Ashton’s “New Politics” is a blueprint to address the inequality crisis in Canada. Niki Ashton has demonstrated her dedication to social and economic justice as the chair of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women, an ardent voice for prairie farmers, and a dedicated advocate for accessible education. Manitoba also presents a similar strategic nature to BC, characterized by a strong provincial NDP and many federal Conservatives. Niki Ashton is the strategic choice in the race for NDP leader; she is the best candidate to use the next 4 years to grow the party and guide policy toward a winning campaign in 2015. 

I will be voting for the candidates I think can run to form a government; Ashton, Cullen, and Saganash are the only candidates with enough appeal to lead the NDP to a majority win in 2015.

Join the party. Get educated. Vote.


Update: Since originally posting this, I have been overwhelmingly impressed with Nathan Cullen's debate performances and policy releases. He has undoubtedly risen to my top choice. I remain very supportive of other candidates and thankful for their service to the NDP.