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Ashton looks left in NDP leadership bid

When the New Democrats got pummelled in the last federal election, many faithful blamed the party’s embrace of small steps over big leaps.
Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton is running for the leadership of the federal NDP.
Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP Niki Ashton is running for the leadership of the federal NDP.

When the New Democrats got pummelled in the last federal election, many faithful blamed the party’s embrace of small steps over big leaps.

It’s a viewpoint Niki Ashton has adopted as the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski MP again vies for the federal NDP leadership.

“It simply isn’t good enough to continue to follow an incremental approach that has often failed to challenge the policies of Liberal and Conservative governments,” says Ashton. “We must challenge the power of Canada’s elites, the rich and powerful who are benefitting from growing inequality in our country. It’s time to call out a system that is rigged to benefit the few at the expense of the many. It’s time to take back our country.”

Ashton, who entered the leadership race last week, vows to pull the NDP to the left with perhaps one of the most progressive platforms ever presented by an aspiring head of a major Canadian political party.

Her promises tread across familiar NDP territory with some notable turns further to the left. Among them: free post-secondary tuition, better trade deals and a strong stance on oil pipelines and the need to transition to a carbon-free economy.

Ashton also favours further regulation and more government involvement in the economy.

“I think it’s time in this country that we start saying, ‘You privatize it, we nationalize it. You deregulate it, we regulate it. You
bring in unfair trade deals, we bring in fair trade deals,’” she said.

Ashton lashed out at rich and powerful elites she says are holding ordinary Canadians back and at the politics of division and hate, proclaiming solidarity with indigenous people, the LGBTQ community and unions, among other groups.

In her view, Canada’s status quo generates inequality not by accident, but by design.

“We all need to recognize, the system isn’t broken. It was built this way,” Ashton said.

“We must send a message that there is a better way.”

After months of hint-dropping and speculation, Ashton, 34, formally announced her leadership bid March 7 in Ottawa. It’s her second time running for the position following a last-place finish in 2012.

As of press time, she was one of four candidates vying to helm the NDP, which will elect a leader to succeed Tom Mulcair in October. Also running are Charlie Angus, Guy Caron and Peter Julian.

Ashton, who lives in Thompson, became northern Manitoba’s MP in 2008 and was reelected in 2011 and 2015. She has held a number of critic roles with the NDP, including employment, status of women and aboriginal affairs.

If successful in her leadership bid, Ashton would make history as the first northern Manitoba MP to helm his or her party. She would also be the first Manitoba MP to lead a major party since John Bracken of the PCs in the 1940s.