An edited tran­script of Niki Ash­ton’s meet­ing with the Star’s ed­i­to­rial board

Toronto Star - - THE FUTURE OF THE ND? -

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.

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