Cheri DiNovo Goes for the Bernie Sanders Role in NDP Race
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Cheri DiNovo Goes for the Bernie Sanders Role in NDP Race

The first leadership candidate (sort of) for the federal race calls for a return to principles.


Win or lose, Cheri DiNovo wants to become Canada’s very own Bernie Sanders.

The Ontario NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park has put her name forward as the NDP’s first candidate in the party’s federal leadership race—albeit as an unofficial candidate.

DiNovo, who is also an ordained minister, made the announcement at the Emanuel Howard United Church in Parkdale Tuesday morning, the same church where she performed North America’s first legalized same-sex marriage.

“Money shouldn’t in any way be a barrier for the leadership of a Democratic Socialist Party,” she says.

Drawing comparisons to Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Britain’s Labour Party who ran on a handful of signatures, DiNovo announced she will not pay the $30,000 registration fee required by the party for all candidates (the party also set a spending limit of $1.5 million.)

For DiNovo, today’s announcement is about fighting for principles instead of votes. The veteran MPP wants to put her vision for the NDP on the record, in the hopes of building on a democratic socialist movement she says is already brewing at the grassroots level across the country.

Today, DiNovo made a point to stand up for the underdog. “It’s not about winning to me,” she says. “What we really need to do is recapture our roots.” This means moving back to the NDP’s socialist roots, with a focus on issues instead of winning elections.

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“I’m sure Tommy Douglas had no hopes of ever gaining power,” says DiNovo. “What he was doing, and what other founders of our party were doing, is standing for principled ground.” More than ever, DiNovo wants the NDP to be the party for people who don’t know who to vote for or for those who feel like no party represents them.

This means pushing for an aggressive climate action response, advancing social justice issues and LGBTQ issues, universal free post-secondary education, fully funded healthcare and pharmacare, as well as a national housing strategy, are all at the top of her agenda.

This long list may seem overly ambitious but DiNovo says political will is what’s missing to seeing these key policies become a reality in Canada.

“These are all basic human rights and basic social issues for a democratic socialist party adhere to.”

And as the NDP’s LGBTQ critic at Queen’s Park, she has a track record to working with governments in power to turn her private member’s bills into legislation—an attitude she plans to bring to her party’s future.

“People want to see things get done but they also want to see someone take a principled stand, but the two aren’t mutually exclusive,” adds DiNovo.

In Toronto, she wants her message of democratic socialism to be heard loud and clear, as she vows to push for increases to social assistance rates and provide affordable housing throughout the city. Improving transit is also top of mind for DiNovo and it’s something she sees being part of climate crisis infrastructure investments.

“People don’t ride their bikes because people get killed in this city riding bikes,” says DiNovo. She proposes a more progressive tax rate to pay for these changes.

Still, if a better candidate does come forward with shared values, she is prepared to cede the ground to them—even more so if this person happens to be a person of colour, to counter what she calls Canada’s “systemically racist society.”

This appetite for change is something she witnessed bubbling up during the NDP’s convention in Edmonton last month. There, in an unprecedented move, party members voted in favour of a leadership race and agreed to studying the Leap Manifesto over the next two years, among other policies.

As the NDP looks to rebuild ahead of the next federal election, DiNovo argues the party needs to avoid moving to the centre to get votes and focus instead on building a longterm social movement.

In the interim, she won’t step down from her position as MPP at Queen’s Park, but she will not seek re-election in Ontario in 2018. Until then, she plans to see how the summer plays out and what other candidates decide to run for leadership.

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