If the New Brunswick New Democratic Party is to secure its role in provincial politics – and potentially win seats in the upcoming election on Sept. 14 – the party needs to position itself squarely left, says interim leader Mackenzie Thomason
"I think it's really about making sure that we cement our values. That we cement ourselves where we need to be," Thomason said in a one-on-one interview with CBC News.
"A lot of this back and forth between centre and centre left, it's not working. It's not working for the party. It's not working for electoral chances. It's definitely not working for New Brunswickers."
NDP can distinguish itself from Greens, Liberals
Thomason said both Kevin Vickers' Liberals and David Coon's Green Party have adopted parts of the NDP's platform. But while the two parties appear left-leaning, Thomason argues both have a tendency to gravitate back toward the centre.
Still, Thomason said the NDP can distinguish itself from those two parties if elected.
"It's really about making sure that we have policies. That we are a party that people can believe in and that, more importantly, the other parties are too scared to steal from," the 23-year-old said.
One policy Thomason believes sets his party apart is an expansion of services covered by Medicare. He'd like to see dental, basic eye care and basic chiropractic care all covered by the program.
Thomason became interim leader after the former NDP head, Jennifer MacKenzie, failed to secure a seat in the 2018 election and resigned in February 2019.
But while Thomason had only intended to carry the torch until a new leader could be found, fate had other plans when the election was called in August.
With former NDP Leader Dominic Cardy trying to bring the party further right and Jennifer MacKenzie attempting to bring it further left, Thomason says what voters need from the NDP is consistency.
"I think what we need to do as a party is really move to, not the centre left, but the left," he said. "And make sure that New Brunswickers understand that is where we are. That's where we're going to be. That's where we're not moving from."
Looking past the election, he said the party needs a leader who is unwavering on the party's core tenets and confident in their own progressive beliefs.
The party has already heard from three potential leadership candidates, who Thomason hopes will make their interest public after the election.
Firmly against abstentions
While both Liberals and Greens have taken heat recently for abstaining from votes on pieces of legislation, New Brunswickers will know what the NDP stands for, he said.
The Greens abstained on Bill 11, which sought to remove religious and philosophical exemptions to the mandatory vaccination policy requirement for school children.
Every Liberal MLA – as well as Green members Kevin Arseneau and Megan Mitton and independent MLA Robert Gauvin – abstained from voting on Blaine Higgs' most recent budget.
"And that's not something that I tolerate. And it's not something that the NDP would do," Thomason said. "We fight for what we believe in and we explain why we support or don't support things."
Thomason said that, even if the party doesn't pick up seats and merely maintains its approximately five per cent share of the popular vote, the party will step up its role in provincial politics.
"We are going to be more vocal every time there's an abstention in the legislature," he said. "My supporters and I are going to be down here yelling at the people who abstained for not representing their constituents and making sure that we are visible at events and where New Brunswickers need us to be."
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