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NDP leadership debate: movements are pushing candidates left

Peter Hogarth

June 25, 2017

The United Steelworkers hosted an NDP leadership debate at the Isabel Bader Theater in Toronto on June 22 under the title "Labour - Justice - Our Future." The debate brought the five remaining candidates together to field a series of questions from the moderators with a couple of questions posed by members of the audience via text.

Notable from the debate was the clear attempt by all the candidates (Jagmeet Singh, Guy Caron, Charlie Angus, Niki Ashton and Peter Julian) to distance themselves from the disastrous tenure of leader Thomas Mulcair and appeal to a progressive set of politics. All the candidates mentioned income inequality, the environment and Indigenous rights in their answers—an indication of the movements pushing the NDP left.

Jagmeet Singh spoke on his plans for income security and to shut down tax loopholes for corporations and increase taxes for those making about 350k and 500k. However, he faltered when pressed by Guy Caron as to why he supported a means-tested Canada's Seniors Guarantee and did not have much to say on how to make breakthroughs in Quebec outside of a few nice words about the French language. He received a good reception from the crowd, but not what you'd expect from the only candidate who had a sort of home field advantage.

Peter Julian, spoke confidently about reaching Quebec voters by appealing to the issues that could move them: pensions, free education, a plan for 1 million green jobs for the country. He articulated a vision for combating climate change that included stopping raw bitumen shipments and toxic fracking and a plan to invest heavily in green technology and stick to clear carbon caps. His performance in the debate stood out and he seemed to surprise many in the crowd.

While Caron and Angus both spoke to their issues confidently, they were mostly ignored by the audience and felt like also-rans. Niki Ashton was the clear crowd favourite. She really "talked left", naming the Fight for $15 and Fairness, Black Lives Matter, the USW 1005 pension fight and activists working in unions, and migrant justice as key inspirations and sources of power for her and her vision of the NDP. The audience definitely reacted positively to her mentions of the need to stop increasing military spending, secure anti-scab legislation, fight for increased rights for unions, and decolonize Canada by signing the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples in her vision of a more economically, socially and racially just Canada.

While many of her comments lacked details or clear legislative companions, the crowd in attendance and on Twitter seemed to see her as the run-away winner, name dropping Corbyn and Sanders as indicators of the mood and direction she wants her campaign and the NDP to take.  

As activist Kendal Fells explained a few months ago, the Fight for $15 in the US did not endorse any particular candidate, but demanded they all support the movement—and these mobilizations shifted the terrain on which all the candidates operate. After Mulcair’s failure in 2015, NDP candidates are finally starting to respond to movements on the ground pushing them left—and these movements need to keep pushing.

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