Niki Ashton and New Politics for NDP Leader
Today, I’m proud to announce my support for Niki Ashton, Member of Parliament for Churchill, for the leadership of the New Democratic Party (NDP). I’ve been following the leadership race closely since it was first announced, I’ve taken the time to watch the debates, learn about the candidates and read their platforms. It’s clear to me that Niki Ashton and her new politics are what we need to move the party, and more importantly Canada, forward.
I’ve known Niki since 2008 when I was elected as the first openly gay President of the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), the largest students organization in Manitoba, with over 23,000 members. Students entrusted me with the role of advocating on their behalf and to fight for a quality, accessible post-secondary education system.
Niki, the NDP Post-Secondary and Youth critic at the time, was an open, honest and down to earth representative that I had the pleasure to work with.
As a student and activist, I’ve been closely involved in labour organizations and a number of other social justice movements, including the student movement. This role has often left me on the outside of the NDP, where I’ve been an observer, vocal supporter and critic when necessary of the policies and positions the NDP has taken. My work in the community, and in particular with youth, has led me to believe that if the NDP wants to lead and inspire it needs to elect a candidate who embodies the values of everyday Canadians. Values that are truly social democratic principles. Values that will begin to rebuild the Canada we all envision, the Canada that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are destroying.
Of all the candidates, I believe Niki is the left person for the job. I’ve watched as she has worked to strengthen the NDP throughout Manitoba. She has taken on multi-national corporations to save good Canadian jobs. She fought for farmers and the livelihood of rural communities to save the Canadian Wheat Board. And time and time again Niki has stood up for the rights of the most vulnerable and marginalized.
I also think it’s incredibly important that we shift the debate in this leadership race. I’m a fairly new NDP member. I joined last summer because of the leadership and inspiration of Jack Layton, although I have identified with NDP values for much of my life. I, among millions of other Canadians, and in particular young people, have long been turned off by the traditional partisan politics. Jack’s vision inspired me to believe that a new Canada and new politics were possible.
I’ve watched as the debate for some candidates in this leadership race has revolved around the suggestion that the party needs to adopt centrist policies to appeal to voters of other political persuasions. This idea seems incredibly backwards to me and does not make sense no matter what way I look at it.
With an average voter turnout of 60% it seems absolutely ridiculous to compete for the already claimed vote while the other 40% sits around being ignored and waiting to be inspired. Of course none of the other leadership candidates will suggest we ignore the non-voting segment of our population, but by focusing our efforts on that 60% and not proposing a new way of doing things, let alone adopting a Liberal approach, is by virtue ignoring the unclaimed vote and is simply a road trip to destination irrelevance.
If we want to grow the party and elect enough MPs to govern, under our current broken electoral system, we need to appeal to the millions of Canadians that don’t vote, particularly the young and indigenous people. To appeal to them we need a leader who can speak their language and show that the NDP is a party of inclusivity, respect and diversity. A party based on the principles we hold true, a party based on new politics.
I believe that this is entirely possible and has been demonstrated through the growth in NDP membership numbers and the historic breakthrough in Quebec. Much of this can be attributed to the strong leadership of Jack Layton and the tireless work of party activists and organizers. But to maintain the momentum that Jack built, the party needs to elect a strong leader with charisma, who is true to our shared values. A leader who will continue in that same direction. Sadly, I am not convinced some of the candidates are interested in or up to that challenge.
Some have written off Niki as being too young or supposedly inexperienced to lead. The fact of the matter is that these are the very attitudes that are wrong within our current system. These are the attitudes that are turning away voters and are discrediting the young inspiring NDP MP’s from Quebec that are the very future of this party.
Just last week, after making my final decision to support Niki, I attended a leadership meet and greet event in Vancouver. At that event I met two young Aboriginal women from Saskatchewan who were in town for an Assembly of First Nations meeting. They heard about the meet and greet through Niki’s facebook page and came to check it out. They brought along with them a petition drive they had organized against Stephen Harpers regressive crime bill that will disproportionately affect Aboriginal people. I signed their petition and learned that they were considering joining the NDP due to Niki’s leadership and work with Aboriginal communities.
As a young new party member I have no doubt that Niki’s strength and ability will continue to inspire and recruit a new generation of young activists. Niki has inspired me, a student with significant student loan debt, to make my first political party donation of $25 towards her campaign. Without hesitation Niki will be the first choice on my ballot in the upcoming NDP leadership vote and I hope she can count on your support as well.