• By: Dan Donovan

Charlie Angus Would Be A Great Prime Minister

The stakes are high. The choices between tens of thousands of NDP members in the coming days will determine whether or not the NDP will continue in their traditional spot as the third place party in Parliament, or will manage to return to their brief period of glory between 2011 and 2015 when they were catapulted into the role of Official Opposition. That happened mostly because of Jack Layton, the charismatic and articulate leader who sold NDP members on the idea that they should be in politics to win power and to be the change, rather than just talking about it.

Layton recognized that to achieve Official Opposition status and eventually power, the NDP would require a strong showing in Quebec.  In 2011, his successful portrayal of himself as the every man, and the NDP as the people's party, catapulted him past the Liberals and their detached and aloof leader, Michael Ignatieff into the role of Official Opposition. He also smacked down Stephen Harper and the Tories in Quebec, setting the stage for a national showdown in 2015 where the impossible might happen and the NDP might win a federal election and form government.

Sadly Layton died shortly after the 2011 election.

The party then chose Thomas Mulcair, a pragmatist, a centrist and onetime former provincial Quebec Liberal Environment Minister as their new Leader. Mulcair was smart, intelligent and stubborn.  He was highly effective in the House of Commons but on the hustings he had an omnipresent hint of arrogance coupled with a lack of charisma that grated on people. He seriously misfired twice in the 2015 general election, costing them the election. The first time was with his insistence that the NDP would balance the budget, even as he was making billions of dollars in spending promises that clearly showed he would not. His doubling down in support of the burqa in Quebec badly backfired. Mulcair was out-manoeuvred by the Liberals who just ignored the issue saying Canada has a Charter, people have rights, this is not an issue, move on. (The Tories shot themselves in the head on the issue coming across as xenophobic). On election night, the Conservatives were out, the Liberals were in and the NDP was shell-shocked and tossed back to third party status. In Quebec, the NDP were reduced to just 16 of the 78 seats. (In 2011 under Layton they had won 59 out 75 seats.  Within months of the disastrous defeat, the NDP unceremoniously dumped Mulcair and opened the race for a new leader.) 

The process of voting for the new NDP leader begins this week. Who they pick will determine whether or not Justin Trudeau remains as Prime Minister past 2019 or not. Trudeau stole a large part of the NDP vote in the last election by speaking to themes important for the left that Mulcair had taken for granted. Trudeau promised to end pipelines, to run deficits and increase spending rather than follow an austerity program, to change the channel on First Nations issues and, most importantly, he promised electoral reform before the 2019 election. The Liberals demolished much of the NDP vote in Quebec and British Columbia and did serious damage to them in Ontario. The NDP were wiped out by the Liberal sweep in Atlantic Canada.  However the majority is a thin one. In the 2015 election 70 federal ridings across the country were won by a margin of five per cent or less votes. The majority of these ridings are all in the centre of the political spectrum.  All of them are in play for the NDP in 2019 and could go their way if they pick the right leader. If the NDP make the wrong choice and go too far left of centre, they will relegate themselves back to the 3rd party status spot that Jack Layton worked so hard to move them beyond.  

The candidates to replace Thomas Mulcair as the leader of the federal New Democratic are Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Quebec MP Guy Caron, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Ontario Legislature Jagmeet Singh. All speak French, with Angus and Singh requiring improvement. However, both are far ahead of where Stephen Harper was with his French when he became the Conservative leader in 2004. 

Caron came to Ottawa as part of late leader Jack Layton's "Orange Wave". A Quebecer, Caron believes he's the only candidate who can increase the party's support in Quebec and give the NDP a credible shot at forming government.  He supports the Sherbrooke declaration: recognition that Quebecers form a nation within Canada, a promise to support asymmetrical federalism — and financial compensation for any national programs Quebec declines to join, and a pledge to recognize Quebecers' right to self-determination with a 50 per cent plus one vote. (This was brought in as party policy under Layton). His paper "blueprint for success" calls on the party to "recognize” that the National Assembly of Québec has all the authority and rights to legislate on issues of secularism and in its jurisdiction. He believes that the state does not have "the right to dictate what women and men can wear”.  

Caron believes that Quebec's right to determine its own affairs trumps the federal government. On economic matters he is a traditional socialist with ideas to increase spending to provide guaranteed annual income for families. The weakness in his program is that he has never worked in the trades, in business or in areas where he has had to focus on the revenue side of the equation rather than just the spending side.  If the NDP want to win power they need to provide policies that are not all focused on spending and social programs and that will appeal to the centrist voters who are fiscally prudent and socially progressive. Caron’s policies indicate he will be a spender and spending generally means more taxes or bigger deficits. He has not addressed deficits in a serious way.

Manitoba MP Niki Ashton is so far out of the centre that if she were to somehow win the NDP leadership it would have to be seen as protest vote by the hard left wing of the party that somehow managed to win. She talks about "wresting power from the corporate interests" that she blames for climate change, so “grassroots” groups can exert more influence. She wants Crown corporations to manage Canada’s environmental policies and reduce emissions. Her “environmental justice” platform called Green Canada would be another bureaucracy set up by government that would direct taxpayer funds to publicly own and private green energy enterprises. This sounds a lot like the disaster the Kathleen Wynne and Dalton McGuinty foisted on Ontario that the Auditor General reports will cost Ontarians over 80 billion dollars in wasted spending over the next three decades (39 billion has been wasted since 2008 and Ontario now has the highest energy rates in the country).

Ashton wants to set up advisory boards that would develop environmental “best practices” in the forestry, agriculture, fishery and energy sectors. They would include workers, Indigenous groups, scientists and industry representatives. Problem is we already have many of these organizations now and Ashton doesn't appear to know about them.  Her idea that we need more government is a bad one. She also says she will invest $10 billion annually to create 40,000 green public housing units and her environment platform would cut Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2025, — five years before the current Liberal government says it will get there. The problem is that this is meaningless unless other countries sign on. Even the current Paris agreement is voluntary and not tied to penalties. Ashton has never worked in the private sector and has no business experience other than a propensity for suggesting that business is bad and that solutions that come from the ground up, whatever that means, are the ones that will resolve problems. Her proposed policies will not translate well with mainstream Canadians. However, her policy regarding universal dental care is worthwhile and should be adapted by the NDP or even the Liberals.

Ontario Legislature Member Jagmeet Singh is a compelling candidate. He is the first Ontario NDP turban-wearing MPP in the Ontario legislature and much of his coverage in the campaign has related to his culture and his identity. A criminal lawyer by profession, he once served as deputy NDP leader to Andrea Howarth in the Ontario legislature. In debates he prefers to focus on a hodgepodge of social and cultural issues that do not add up to a national vision. Like Ashton, he is making climate change promises that are impossible to meet. He has put out several conceptual ideas on green and environmental issues and has lots of content about fairness for workers and aboriginal people and the like. He has avoided talking about or taking an official position on pipelines.  He says he supports Rachel Notley, but also the NDP government in British Columbia. This is a neat magic trick because both those government's have opposing view on many matters including pipelines and the development of energy resources.  

Notley, the trades in Canada and the big unions want the energy east pipeline and other pipelines. They recognize the immense economic driver that pipeline construction would mean for Canada and the importance of having the proper infrastructure in place to safely move Canada's energy resources to market. The new NDP government in B.C. is against large scale energy projects and pipelines. Notley is for them. How Singh can agree with both positions is a paradox.

This seems completely lost on Singh.  A weakness of his campaign has been his inability to present a compelling platform on economic matters, or ideas on how he would grow the economy or create jobs. He released a paper called the Green Economy and Climate Agenda   and the Better Work Agenda which commits to a program of Community Benefit Agreements. The problem is both these policies were created as if the workplace consists of government agencies and workers. There is no acknowledgement or even mention of how businesses or small businesses play a role in his vision of the economic future of Canada. To be fair, he too has no business experience, but the idea that a leader would develop an economic model that forgets who the main drivers in the economy are, is worrisome.  Singh is compelling and would be strong presence as a Deputy Leader or Justice critic in the federal Parliament.

Charlie Angus is one of the most impressive Members of Parliament in the House of Commons. Thoughtful, passionate, charismatic, intelligent, authentic, smart, hardworking, and loyal are words that have been used to describe Angus. He is someone who demands accountability from people in government.  He has a knack for connecting with people. Unlike Singh, Caron and Ashton, Angus has both sizzle and the substance in equal parts. He is a former Juno Award winning musician and raconteur who sometimes wears his heart on his sleeve. When that happens, it is never contrived. His work on behalf of First Nations people is unparalleled for a Member of Parliament. His platform is thoughtful, wide-ranging and achievable. It builds on the tradition, passion and ideas that have defined the NDP over the past 50 years, while presenting a case for new policies that allow the party to appeal to a new generation of young voters and give the NDP a real shot at forming a government to get things done. His focus on Indigenous children (currently the most at risk people in Canada) speaks volumes about Angus' priorities. If Prime Minister Trudeau or Andrew Scheer were of the same mind, we would not have children living in poverty in Canada in 2017.

His plan to tackle climate change is different in one way from his opponents. Angus says Canada must identify methods of reducing our emissions that will not jeopardize our economic competitiveness. This is in line with what big labour and Alberta Premier Notley are saying. 

Angus believes the middle class has become the new working-class with white-collar and blue-collar workers living through an endless cycle of short term contract work, without benefits, without pensions, burdened by student debt and unable to buy homes in the communities they love. He is absolutely right about this and his solutions are thoughtful, including raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and indexing it to inflation. He wants to reform labour laws, wages and pensions. He shows an economic intelligence and maturity far beyond that of his opponents.  

Canadians will relate to him when he talks about the important role businesses play in the economy and in achieving shared prosperity for all.  This is a candidate who understands the trials and tribulations of small businesses and recognizes their importance to Canada's economy.

"Canadian businesses start up, grow and find markets – but we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the point of a strong economy is shared prosperity. Business assistance should go to making sure that businesses create and preserve jobs", says Angus. 

He believes every Canadian has a right to a roof over their head. He has proposals to deal with inequality, poverty and people in distress. He has a policy called Dignity and Justice for seniors. He has a strong and specified urban agenda. Angus believes there should be a renewed focus on the coop movement in Canada to help build strong economic infrastructure. He is a proponent of electoral reform and has rightly recognized that the biggest danger to democracy in Canada is the influence of powerful lobbyists who are shutting out everyday people from having a real say in government decision making.

Charlie Angus is the best choice and the true heir to the Layton legacy. He is charismatic, compelling, smart and authentic. Canadians will like him the more they see him in action.  In a race between Angus, Trudeau and Scheer, the NDP have a shot at governing. If they don't select Angus the NDP risk being relegated to 3rd party status for another decade.