Youngest NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton explains “new politics” in exclusive one-on-one

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Yahoo! Canada News spoke with Manitoba MP Niki Ashton about her NDP leadership bid on Friday.

Ashton, first elected to parliament in 2008, followed in her long-time MLA father Steve's footsteps when she decided to pursue politics. At 29, Ashton is the youngest candidate in the leadership race

Here are some excerpts from her interview with Yahoo! Canada:

Yahoo!: Your campaign slogan is "New Politics." What does that mean?

Ashton: There are a number of things that are a part of new politics. New politics is about building on the work of Jack Layton and our party and about challenging the old divisive politics that Stephen Harper is using.

It's about recognizing that inequality in our society is increasing—in terms of inequality in gender, the continued discrimination we see in our society, and the third world living conditions that First Nations face.

There is also a structural inequality which has a lot to do with the loss of control of our economy that we're seeing through increased foreign ownership and trade deals that don't benefit Canadian workers and Canadian communities.

I would also add that new politics is about challenging the old ideas of who a politician is and even recognizing that a 33-year-old woman, if she gets the support of Canadians, can be elected prime minister.

Yahoo!: As the youngest candidate in the race, what is your opinion about why so many young people don't vote?

Ashton: We've definitely seen an interest of young people towards our campaign. We now have a young energetic [NDP caucus] and I think there is a correlation between having young people involved in politics and young people [voting]. We need that diversity.

Most importantly, we need to speak out on the very important issues that affect my generation and that includes … reducing tuition fees, recognizing that Canada's young people are facing the most debilitating costs of post-secondary education in our history. [Recognizing that youth] are increasingly unable to make the kinds of investments that their parents' generation was able to do.

I would also add issues like the environment. Our generation recognizes the urgency of dealing with climate change.

And also a real concern about Canada's role in the world and the way that the Harper government is really taking our reputation backwards.

Yahoo!: You have impressed a lot of people with your campaign so far but you are still considered an 'underdog' in this race.  Is it hard to stay motivated knowing that most of the pundits and analysts don't consider you to be a frontrunner?

Ashton:Who decides [who] is a frontrunner? It changes from week to week.

But I would say for me the motivation is getting out there and speaking to NDP members and to those that are interested in joining our party.

Certainly, the response we're getting is very positive and we're going to continue to travel across the country to build our movement and build towards winning an NDP government in 2015.

Yahoo! What is your opinion about leadership rival Nathan Cullen's proposal to work co-operatively with the Liberals and the Greens in specific ridings to beat the Conservatives? (Cullen has proposed that in Tory-held seats, the NDP, Liberals and Greens would elect candidates as they currently do, with the winners facing off before an election to see which one faces the Conservative.  This, according to Cullen, would help reduce vote-splitting, and help find ways for progressive voters to act on the common ground they share.)

Ashton: I understand where Nathan is coming from—but I'm not sure the actual proposal is the right way to go.

I think the focus ought to be on building the NPD, making a stronger NDP, welcoming Canadians that may have voted for the NDP for the first time in this election, or may have voted for other parties in the past.

I want to focus on building the movement.

Yahoo!: Does the federal party need to move to the centre of the political spectrum to form government?

Ashton: I believe the [NDP] needs to use its principles as a guide; principles that led us to the historic success that we have today as official opposition.

[In the last election] we saw a record number of Canadians that haven't voted NDP before or hadn't gotten involved in politics before come out and respond to Jack Layton's message and our message.

And I think that's a sign—if we continue to build on who we are as a party and really reach out to regions where we have grown tremendously, like Quebec and Western Canada, we will continue to grow.