NDP finance critic throws her hat in the ring for party leadership, but is setting her sights even higher.
As widely expected, Peggy Nash, the NDP’s finance critic and MP for Parkdale-High Park, took to the floor of the Gladstone Hotel yesterday morning and entered the race to succeed Jack Layton as leader of the federal NDP. And Nash came out swinging: yes, she will need to win party members’ support in the NDP’s leadership vote next March, but that’s only part of what she’s after. On top of that, as she told the gathered crowd of supporters and media, Nash wants your vote to replace Stephen Harper as the prime minister.
After teasing the announcement with introductions by three successive speakers, Nash wasted no time upon taking the spotlight. “I’m entering the race because I believe the next prime minister of Canada must be able to do two key things. First, she’s going to have to make sure that our economy works to the benefit of all Canadians, not just the few at the top. But secondly, in order to do that, she’s going to have to be able to keep the Canadian economy stable and make it stronger,” said Nash, interrupted by a solid 20 seconds of thunderous applause at the first “she.”
As she went on, unveiling the outlines of her current leadership bid, Nash’s real focus was on laying the foundations of an NDP campaign to take 24 Sussex Drive. At the heart of that effort, and using her position as finance critic to its full advantage, Nash set out on an attack on Conservative fiscal policy and the perception of fiscal responsibility from which they have traditionally benefited. Hoping also to overcome views of the NDP as naïve on economic issues, Nash strove to present the party as “the party that understands the value of a dollar.”
Her tight, 20-minute speech focused on the message that the Harper government is, in fact, weak on the economy at a critical time. Repeatedly accusing Conservatives of fiscal mismanagement, she scolded the Conservative majority for overspending on “megaprisons,” granting tax credits for corporations without adequately ensuring job creation, and taking weak stances on environmental protection and urban infrastructure.
“Our cities are our great economic engine, and it makes no sense to starve them of funding for essential services like public transit,” she told the crowd, to loud cheers. “These are bad fiscal policies, and this is weak leadership.”
Touting her “private sector” experience as a labour representative negotiating with major corporations, Nash bragged, “I know my way around a contract, and I know my way around a budget.” Consistently, her bottom line was that the NDP can manage the economy, build investment and jobs, and work with business to create wealth.
Moving back and forth between the Occupy Toronto and Wall Street protests and concerns about industry and economic growth, Nash’s vision for the NDP’s future is very much one of a big-tent party, but she was clearly working hard to keep the party’s core values prominent within its broader appeal. It won’t be easy to stake out the common ground between the 99 per cent movement and budget-minded voters who have traditionally sided with either the Conservatives or Liberals, but that is precisely the territory Nash is fighting for. Not that long-time NDP projects have fallen by the wayside: she also spoke about reducing tuition fees for post-secondary education, strengthening job security and labour unions, and investing in childcare and affordable housing.
One thing was clear in Nash’s address, remarks from her fellow NDP members and labour advocates, and from the crowd as a whole. The spirit in the room was not one of simply freezing the NDP where Jack Layton left it, but building on the huge victories he achieved in the last election and developing the party into a major contender for the highest levels of power. Nash paused at the end of her address to pay tribute to Layton, and then went on to urge her audience “to harness this great swelling of optimism and energy, this appetite for reform, and work together in common cause, to move our country forward.”
Nash’s pronounced emphasis on fiscal stability is an overture to the large chunk of skeptical but still left-leaning voters Nash wants to prove she can bring over to the NDP. But making a concerted effort to bring these voters over to NDP causes would represent a considerable change in the party as its massive electoral gains offer it the chance for ongoing, major political power—and the compromises that come with it.