As she announced her NDP leadership bid, Peggy Nash shares stories about her visits to Chile and South Africa, and how it changed her politically.
The Toronto MP didn’t use those words when she formally announced her bid for the New Democratic Party leadership Friday at a trendy Parkdale hotel. But that’s what she meant.
The platform she sketched out to about 150 supporters is straight-up NDP orthodoxy: address social inequality; improve child care; protect the environment; deal with aboriginal poverty; and finally, boost corporate taxes to pay for it all.
You wouldn’t find many in the eight-person race to replace former leader Jack Layton, arguing with that.
What 60-year-old Nash brings to the mix, however, is her own history as a high-profile trade unionist — one who has handled the practical compromises of private-sector collective bargaining while, at the same time, operating calmly but persistently on the centre-left of the party.
In 1988, she was a Canadian Auto Workers point-person in the fight against the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, a battle that her party’s leadership was reluctant to support.
In the ‘90s, she was part of a cadre of female unionists trying to bring Canada’s male-dominated labour movement into the modern age.
In 2001, Nash was part of something called the New Politics Initiative, a plan to rejuvenate the left by disbanding the NDP and starting all over again.
To many, the idea of performing institutional suicide seemed ludicrous. Ultimately, the New Politics Initiative failed.
But to Nash, it was a practical way to harness the energy of what was then a burgeoning and youthful anti-globalization movement in order to reinvigorate the moribund parliamentary left.
“We need a party with fire in its belly and blood in its veins,” she said then.
As it turned out, the anti-globalization movement fell victim to the war on terror while the moribund NDP, thanks in large part to Layton’s charms, came back from the grave.
Ever practical, Nash acknowledges this. She may have lost that particular battle, she told reporters Friday. But fighting it helped create the forces that Layton could eventually mobilize.
Like most in the post-Layton party, Nash is careful to emphasize moderation. To win power, she said, the NDP must focus on economic stability and growth as well as fairness.
But her pitch — to the party at least — is that this can be accomplished without abandoning standard NDP notions like spending on the poor.
Rather, she said, the party has to understand that income redistribution makes economies stronger — that it has worked in NDP-governed provinces like Manitoba as well as European social democracies.
“We don’t just address social problems because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the smart thing to do,” she said.
In effect, Nash is saying that democratic socialism works and that her party doesn’t have to abandon it to win power. That’s a sly dig at rival Brian Topp, the campaign wizard who is viewed by some in the party as too willing to ditch policies that conflict with polling numbers.
It’s also a dig at Thomas Mulcair, another rival, whose roots are in the Quebec Liberal Party.
Will Practical Peg get the prize? It was instructive to see who didn’t show up for Nash’s launch. Insiders say that Topp has already scooped up many of those enthusiastic Laytonites who comprise the party’s Toronto base.
Still, her labour connections won’t hurt. Nash didn’t dwell on that Friday. In the new NDP, being embraced by the trade union leadership isn’t always an asset.
But union activists are dab hands at fund raising. And whoever wins this one-person-one vote race will have to raise and spend a great deal of money.