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Thursday, 04 May 2017 04:24

Federal NDP leadership candidate visits Swift Current during her prairie tour

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Federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton is touring the prairies to speak to people about building a movement.

She was in Swift Current April 26 and visited with people during an informal meet and greet at a downtown restaurant.
She was born and raised in Thompson, Manitoba, and she was first elected to Parliament in 2008, representing the Churchill riding. She was re-elected twice and the redrawn riding became known as Churchill-Keewatinook Aski for the 2015 federal election.
“I’m proud to be from the prairies,” she told the Prairie Post. “This is where I’m from, this is where I grew up, this is where I came to understand what it means to be NDP. When we said we’re about to start our tour as part of this leadership tour, we said we have to hit the prairies first.”
Her prairie tour started two weeks before her visit to Swift Current in Alberta and she will visit a number of larger and smaller communities across Saskatchewan.
“It’s not enough to just go to the big cities,” she said. “You got to get out of the big cities and also visit rural areas, smaller communities, regional centres. So we’ve been to Weyburn, we’re in Swift Current, we’re going to Moose Jaw and we’re also going to Prince Albert in addition to Regina and Saskatoon.”
She believes rising inequality and climate change are presenting a significant challenge to the country, but not all Canadians will experience these issues in the same way.
“We face a slightly different reality depending on where we live,” she said. “Inequality is felt differently in rural communities, in northern communities, in places that are far away from urban centres and I think it’s really important that our leaders listen to that reality. I know if I’m to become leader of the NDP, it will be very important to speak to the prairie reality and to speak to the issues that people face in rural northern parts of the prairies as well.”
The need for economic justice is a key theme of her campaign. She feels it is necessary to take bold action to change a system that favours the rich.
“Canada is becoming more and more unequal and we talk about how we’re different from the U.S. or we’re better than the U.S., but the reality is we’re becoming more and more like the U.S.,” she said. “Just a couple of months ago Oxfam did a report that said that two Canadian billionaires own the same amount of wealth as the 11 million worse off Canadians.”
She noted the intergenerational nature of inequality in Canada is becoming a growing concern and a changing job market leaves younger Canadians with few options for a stable future.
“Research came out just recently that said a growing number of young Canadians believe that they will live lives worse off than their parents, and that is because of a changing job market where young people are only faced with precarious work as options,” she said.
Contract or temporary work positions offer no benefits or pension, young people are facing rising tuition fees and housing is also becoming too expensive in many parts of the country.
“We need to be very clear that we’ve reached this point as a result of neoliberal policies that have pushed privatization and austerity and cutbacks and bad trade deals and foreign ownership,” she said. “We need to say ‘no’ to those policies and we need to put Canadian jobs front and centre. We need to stand up for working people, stand up for those struggling in poverty and we need to challenge the rich and powerful that continue the status quo that is making life more and more difficult for Canadians.”
Ashton announced her candidacy for the NDP leadership election on March 7. So far there are five official candidates in the leadership race and the party’s new leader will be elected in October.
A broad theme of her leadership campaign is to build a movement that is based on people-centred policies.
“The NDP and before that the CCF came from a sense of a movement, this idea that we come together as people that care about social justice, or environmental justice or economic justice to affect political change,” she said. “That includes winning elections, but it’s not the only thing, and that’s something that I think we need to reconnect with — that sense that we’re here to affect political change in-between elections. We’re here to win elections and we’re here with a goal of winning government, but that happens by doing work day in and day out.”
She believes it is important for the NDP to be unapologetic about its progressive roots and its track record to give a voice to the issues being faced by people on a daily basis, whether it is related to jobs, health care, the social safety net, pensions, or social and economic justice.
“The NDP has been a very strong, progressive voice for all Canadians and I believe in the last election we forgot a bit about that,” she said. “We played it too safe, we made commitments like the balanced budget commitment that allowed the Liberals to come off as being more progressive. The Liberals have gone on to break many promises that they made, but the point here is that we need to stick to what we stand for and who we stand for.”

Read 873 times Last modified on Wednesday, 03 May 2017 15:26
Matthew Liebenberg