March 27, 2017
The four candidates who want to be the new leader of the NDP are quite clear about what is wrong with Canada, especially as concerns young people, and almost as clear about where the Trudeau government is falling down on the job. They are not as precise and definite as to what they would do if given a chance.
The NDP held its second leadership debate in Montreal on Sunday afternoon – this one focused on youth issues. There were two moderators, former Quebec NDP MPs Rosane Doré Lefebvre and Hoang Mai, both elected in the Orange Wave of 2011 and defeated in 2015. Most of their questions dealt directly with matters of great relevance to young Canadians, such as the rise of precarious employment. There were a few odd exceptions. Asking the candidates their views on pineapple pizza did not seem to have much to do with young people. Nor did questions directing candidates to identify which electoral system they would prefer to first-past-the-post, or to name the single most egregious broken promise of the current Trudeau government.
On electoral reform, by the way, all save Charlie Angus gave precise answers. Angus, for no clear reason, ducked the question and only offered the NDP would need to win a majority under the current system if it hoped to change it.
A generation that expects to be worse off than its parents
A good part of the 90-minute exercise focused on the reality young people in Canada carry too much student debt, cannot find ongoing regular employment with benefits and job security, and, overall, as Niki Ashton put it, “expect to be worse off than their parents.”
The solutions on offer included:
- Peter Julian’s proposal post-secondary education be tuition free and interest rates on student loans be slashed;
- Guy Caron’s signature guaranteed annual income pledge;
- Niki Ashton’s buffet of social measures such as pharma and dental care, combined with a strengthened labour movement;
- and Charlie Angus’ proposal the federal government lead the way in its own employment practices.
The feds are the biggest employer of contract workers in the country, the Northern Ontario MP said, and they should transition to a far higher proportion of permanent jobs. In a similar vein, Julian wants to do away with unpaid corporate internships.
The candidates did not differ so much on substance as on style and focus.
Guy Caron, the lone economist in the group, talked about the pernicious effect of economic thinking focused on short-term profits for business, which he characterized as the legacy of the Reagan-Thatcher era.
Niki Ashton and Peter Julian both emphasized the importance of their connections to social movements. Ashton said she has “learned everything” from movements such as Idle No More and Black Lives Matter. Julian emphasized his roots in the Council of Canadians, of which he was executive director, and in the movement for disabled people.
Guy Caron tends to see social movements and party activism as a single continuum. He frequently cites, in the same breath, the 2016 Quebec activist consultation “Faut qu’on se parle” (we have to talk), which took place in 163 kitchens around the province, and a grass-roots consultation conducted decades ago by the Manitoba NDP.
Angus takes a more personal tack and evokes his connection to young Indigenous activists such as the late Shannen Koostachin. Shannen was a teen-aged activist from Attawapiskat who fought for equal educational funding and opportunities for her people. She was killed in a traffic accident in 2010 but the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society carries on her work and honours her memory.