Of the five candidates running to replace Tom Mulcair as leader of the federal NDP leadership the one candidate that stands out—even from such an exceptional group of leaders–is Niki Ashton, MP Churchill—Keewatinook Aski. She is the only leadership candidate that had the gumption to spend time campaigning for the progressive Social Democrat running for President of the United States, because she—early on—recognized that only a candidate who could offer a clear alternative could beat Trump with all his malicious, socially and environmentally destructive policies—with its implications for Canada and our world. Ironically, the 35 year-old Ashton is likely the only Canadian who could become a stand-out-and-speak up Bernie Sanders kind of leader in Canada.
The thing that has most moved me about Niki Ashton is her willingness to speak passionately about the grievous human rights abuses being perpetrated on the Palestinian people. No other Canadian politician is willing to do that. Even NDP politicians who we expect to speak up for human rights seem to be struck dumb when it comes to the utterly devastating abuses that Israel is inflicting on Palestinian people. In fact, in the lead up to the last Canadian federal election Tom Mulcair refused to sign the nomination papers of anyone who had ever suggested that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights that we seek for every other human being. To me the issue of human rights for Palestinians is the litmus test—the bellwether issue that clearly distinguishes leaders who can stand up and speak the truth from those who can simply—Hillary styled– bleat along with the herd.
Niki began her issues-focused political career when she won the NDP nomination in Churchill after the sitting NDP member for Churchill voted against legalizing same-sex marriage. Since her election to the House of Commons in 2008 Ashton has become the most out-spoken advocate of fundamental change calling on the NDP and Canadians to recognize that “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. 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.” Clearly the time is right for a candidate like Niki Ashton. Tom Mulcair’s vote for me, I’ll do a little better than the other guys was out of step with Canadians who wanted meaningful change. Why vote for a Liberal wana-be, when you can just vote for a Liberal and get the real thing? Niki’s deep, unwavering commitment to social and environmental justice has won her the support of the NDP Socialist Caucus—a group of left-wing New Democrats.
The thing that doubly enthuses my support for Niki Ashton as leader of the NDP is the way she backs up her commitment to social and environmental justice with clear policy for ensuring those values. While speaking of protecting the universality and accessibility our public healthcare system, she speaks of making it genuinely universal by creating a Canadian drug insurance act that call pharmaceutical companies to account for the excessively high drug costs that Canadians pay for even long since developed, common drugs as well as a fund for making vital drugs available to all Canadians. According to Ashton basic dental care should have long since been included our public healthcare: “Far too many Canadians suffer because they cannot afford basic dental car and end up in the hospital for painful, expensive surgery. “
As a social justice campaigner Ashton is outspoken about mental health issues, “Every year thousands of Canadians across the country struggle to access mental health care through a patchwork of systems that are fragmented, incoherent and crisis-oriented. Where these life-saving services are available, long wait lists are the norm. Those most likely to need mental health services are in many cases the least likely to have access to them. Low income, LGBTQ people, Indigenous peoples, persons living with disabilities, new Canadians, and youth are often unable to access the help they need…We can change this. My plan for comprehensive access to mental health services ensures life-saving care is delivered to the people who need it the most. Let’s do more than talk. Let’s make mental health care accessible to all Canadians.”
Even on the traditional NDP issues like labour, Ashton stands out with her passion for justice, fairness and equity. In her words, “Across the country, pension and benefit clawbacks, lock outs, and lay offs, have resulted in more and more precarious work, inequality, and health issues. It’s time for us to come together and rise up against the politics of precarious work. Pensions are not a “benefit”. They are deferred wages. We will not “get used to it”. We will unite, and build a movement for economic and labour justice for all Canadians.. For too long our governments have sold out Canadian workers to privatization, foreign ownership, and bad trade deals. I am committed to bringing forward legislation.”
Whether the issue is climate change, electoral reform, reconciliation with First Nations, right to privacy or keeping public services public, fairer/more equitable taxes, LGBTQ rights and protections, the needs of the young and the old, affordable housing, an end to neoliberal economic policies, particularly privatization, deregulation, austerity and disadvantageous trade agreements, or building a sustainable future, Niki Ashton’s leadership campaign seems to stand head and shoulders above the rest in speaking to real change for a just, sustaining and sustainable Canada/world.
Ashton wants to build a party so committed to social and environmental justice that in the next federal election every progressive Canadian will vote NDP.
Ashton believes the party’s core message needs to change from “Vote for us. We’ll balance the books and do a little good while we are office” to ‘Vote NDP for a more just, sustaining and sustainable Canada’(paraphrased from a longer text). In Ashton’s words, “I am running because I believe that we need a clear vision, a principled vision and we need to build a movement for fundamental change. We need strong leadership to stand up to the elites in Canada and the elites in politics and economics that are holding us back. So let’s make history. Let’s move forward together and achieve the dream of social, environmental and economic justice for all of us.”
Niki Ashton’s campaign strikes a chord with me, especially at this time because it seems so obvious to me that the Hillary Clintons and Thomas Mulcairs have proven that piecemeal mamby-pambyism just doesn’t motivate people to get out and vote for quasi progressives. We live in a world threatened by inaction on climate change and the pillaging of the natural world, immorally indifferent to the needs of the many, teetering on the verge of nuclear war, blinded by racial and ethnic hatreds, being sucked dry of any sense of the common good, while lavishing unfathomable wealth on the greedy and leaving the many to pay the cost, while ruled over by psychopaths, idiots, charlatans, and narcissists.
The thing that really excites me about Niki Ashton’s campaign is that—though it came out before Naomi Klein’s new book “No is not enough”—it seems to address the very issues that Klein develops so coherently in her book. While pointing to the Trump cabinet stacked with “masters of disaster” Klein urges her readers to move from apathy to action while creating a positive alternative social vision rather than getting caught in a politics that is merely reactive or timidly reformist. Interestingly to me, Ashton was one of the first to endorse the Leap Manifesto’s radical vision of social and environmental justice written by Klein and her partner Avi Lewis. According to Klein “the jug is up.” The powers of destruction have outgrown themselves and are vulnerable to the new life of community spirit that is rising as a natural reaction to the destructive greed that is consuming itself as it attempts to take over the whole of the Earth.
As the moral, social and environmental bankruptcy of neo-liberal capitalism becomes ever more apparent, more and more people are joining Klein and Ashton in demanding their democracy back. It is actually encouraging that voters rejected both Clinton and Mulcair—they didn’t want just a little of their democracy back; they wanted the real thing where democracy means justice, compassion, fostering the common good, sustainability and the pursuit of peace. There is a growing awareness that in settling for a little bit of democratic governance we are, in fact, ensuring the continuous erosion of the greatness democracy once stood for.
The great thing about Naomi’s book and Ashton’s leadership candidacy is that it represents a potentially powerful movement to get beyond the silos that have kept progressives divided for far too long. Each issue/silo represents an important part of the whole that is a just, sustaining and sustainable society, but the division into separate units of action has meant each could be picked off/isolated and tokenized while the whole of society is being plundered/decimated for the interests of a few. What Klein and Ashton are calling for is a coming together in coherence and common purpose to ensure our common good—the whole of it!
There is so much room, so much urgent need of real leaders (persons and parties) to speak up for our democracy as a governing system in which citizens care about their fellow citizens and work together to ensure a just, sustaining and sustainable society. I think the Democratic Party in the United States and the New Democratic Party in Canada lost their elections because they didn’t have anything meaningful to say. Neither party seemed to have any understanding that the time to establish progressive values is before the election begins. Otherwise the electorate is left to conclude that democracy has become simply the veneer over unfettered corporate greed that having decimated the incomes that once supported profligate consumerism is now set to disembowel our public services to whet its insatiable appetite for MORE.
Personally, I think we have come to the end of the capitalist road. I don’t think we can just go back the way we came. Donald Trump and the politics of greed have burned that bridge. If we are to get out of this mess, we will have to envision a new and different future.
As Klein insists, “Corporations are not people and if we want our democracy to recover we have to abandon this absurd notion that such piles of money are persons nor should they have the rights of persons.” And that is the core of socialism—that the common good, the good of the many, should come before the good of the few. It is at the heart of the Social Democracy that Niki Ashton is centring her leadership campaign on. The thing I like most about what Klein has to say and Ashton emphasizes in her leadership campaign is the underlying assumption that greed and power are not the highest goals we seek as individuals or societies. In our highest aspirations we long for a more caring, just, sustaining, sustainable world where our lives have some higher meaning beyond corporate interests and the accumulation of money and power.