FORWARD-THINKER AIMS FOR VOTES OF MILLENNIALS
An edited transcript of Niki Ashton’s meeting with the Star’s editorial board
Where’s your campaign at right now and what’s at stake in this leadership campaign?
From the beginning we’ve made it very clear that “progressive politics” is “smart politics” and that this race is an opportunity for us to reconnect with our roots and our principles as New Democrats — and also reflect on why we lost significant ground in the 2015 election, especially in Quebec, Atlantic Canada and the GTA. We allowed the Liberals to “out-left” us, permitting them to come across as more progressive and inspiring. They certainly better mobilized my generation, the millennials, so going forward we need to better engage young people and that will be accomplished with ideas that attack the two biggest issues of our time: growing inequality and climate change.
Do you risk losing support with the broader electorate by focusing too much on movement activists on the left?
In the last election we talked a lot about “winning” — about “winning government.” But I think we played it too safe taking positions that weren’t reflective of strong NDP principles such as the commitment to balance the budget at all costs. As inequality increases and more people are pushed to the margins you see people looking for a bolder kind of politics. And that’s what our campaign is about. We’re absolutely interested in working with movements — building a movement — but it has to be based on ideas that are salient to the challenges the millennial generation faces. They will be the largest voting block in the next election — 37 per cent of eligible voters — and it’s a generation at risk of living lives much worse than their parents. It’s also a generation more open to progressive politics and challenging the status quo whether it’s free tuition, or public ownership, or progressive global policies on the environment.
What would you say to folks sympathetic to your radical progressive approach who believe it makes you unelectable because you’re too radical?
I believe “principles” are compatible with “power.” I’ve seen it from where I come from. The NDP achieved power in Manitoba by being very clear about whose side they were on: working people and those on the margins. I believe you saw a similar dynamic in Alberta and more recently in B.C. And I would add that Canada is changing. That was apparent to me on my precarious employment tour. It showed that inequality is rising and the degree to which the millennial generation is rejecting the status quo. Two years ago I may have been hesitant about whether the politics of Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn would resonate here in Canada. But what I experienced then was a real appetite for a much bolder kind of politics — and a bolder pushback against the rise of the right, which is not only extremely divisive but also really dangerous.
Could you expand on the importance of precarious work to you?
The rise of precarious work clearly indicates this country’s increasing inequality. Let me share just one story that touched me. A young woman I met on the tour had just moved back in with her parents so she could pursue a third degree because the first two didn’t result in full-time employment. But she also mentioned she’d likely never have children because she wouldn’t be able to give them the life her parents gave her. That story spoke to me about the dysfunctional breakdown caused by precarity and growing inequality.
On a more immediate public policy issue, is there any pipeline policy that you support?
Our campaign opposes the proposed pipelines — Kinder Morgan, Keystone, Energy East — based on certain key principles, including first, the need to respect the UN Declaration on the Rights on Indigenous People. It is critical that governments prioritize not just consultation but consent, and we know these pipelines do not have the consent of many First Nations across the country.
Second question: Do they meet our climate change targets? They don’t.
I believe we need to move away from the current energy model and instead look at investing in clean renewable energy, and I have proposed creating a new crown corporation that will direct federal funding towards helping create a carbonfree economy.
As prime minister, you’d be called upon to decide what’s in the national interest. How does that apply with energy projects?
What’s in the national interest is confronting climate change and building new pipelines won’t help meet those commitments. Renewable energy will create thousands of much more sustainable jobs than those in the boom-and-bust energy and resource sectors.
NDP MP Niki Ashton is helping young people get jobs in a precarious labour market. She has been holding a series of meetings across the country to find out the depth of the problem.