The NDP can do a better job managing the economy than the Conservatives, according to Peggy Nash, who is running for the leadership of her party and is out to prove her claim.
Nash acknowledges the NDP has a reputation for being focused on social issues and weak on economic ones, but the Toronto MP says she can help change public perception by encouraging her party to shine on the finance file.
"In the next federal election, we have to be able to convince Canadians that we are the best party to manage the economy and to provide the kind of good stable jobs that people are looking for," Nash said in a recent interview in her Ottawa office.
"In the past, sometimes the NDP had shied away from addressing economic issues. In my view, it is the central issue and ought to be our strength," she said. Social democratic governments in Canada, and around the world, have solid records on reducing inequality and creating economic stability, she said.
But the current Official Opposition party has never governed at the federal level, and Nash said it needs to tackle the economy in a bigger way to show Canadians it can handle it.
"For us to be elected government in 2015, we have to not just make the case, but to show Canadians that in fact we have a better approach," she said.
Nash, 60, is pitching herself in the campaign to succeed Jack Layton as the candidate with the economic expertise who can solidify NDP gains in the last election as it prepares for the next one, the MP who can lead a breakthrough from opposition to government.
Nash says she can lead NDP through building stage
"To me, I just feel that the qualities that I bring are the qualities that the party needs right now," she said, offering that she is a bridge builder, someone who listens and finds common ground.
With a diverse caucus that numbers 102 MPs, a majority of them new to the House, Nash said the party needs someone to bring the party together and lead them in "a big building job."
"We need to confirm with the 4.5 million Canadians who voted for us that that was a good decision, that it was worth it, and they need to stay with us.
"And we need to convince more Canadians to come with us – that we can win and we can govern in a way that better represents the interests of the majority of Canadians," she said.
Nash, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Rexdale, rejoined the caucus after winning her Parkdale-High Park seat back from Liberal Gerard Kennedy in the May election. He had taken the seat in 2008, two years after she had won it for the first time. Following her defeat to Kennedy, Nash returned to her previous job as a negotiator with Canadian Auto Workers union where she had spent most of her career before politics.
Her contract negotiations with auto companies gave her experience working with industry and the private sector, and helped build her understanding of how the economy operates.
She has always been well-connected to social movements, another box she can tick off on the list of qualifications Nash says the next NDP leader should have. She has been involved with anti-poverty groups, was a founding member of Equal Voice, an organization that aims to get more women in politics, and has been active with other causes.
Nash said she has never loved a job more than being a member of Parliament, and maintains she never envisioned running for the party's leadership; her goal, she said, was to be a cabinet minister in a Jack Layton government.
During her first stint in Parliament, Nash served as industry critic and when she returned in the spring, Layton appointed her finance critic. It was a high-profile role she had to give up when she declared her candidacy for the leadership, according to rules set by the party. She and Layton had talked about the need for the NDP to focus more on the economy, Nash said, and it was a specific strategy they began working on before he died in August.
"I don't accept Stephen Harper's approach, just get government out of the way and let business do whatever it wants," she said. "I think government has to work with business and with labour and with the community to make sure we're all pulling in the same direction."
The NDP has called for an end to corporate tax cuts; Nash says there is no proof they help create jobs. She opposes across-the-board cuts, but says it makes sense in some cases to help companies with solid job-creation plans.
An economic stimulus plan that makes more sense to her than the Conservative tax breaks would be to build housing for Canadians who need it, particularly on First Nations reserves.
Bilingualism a must for next leader
"It's not only the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do in terms of job creation," she said.
Investing in transit infrastructure would also be wise, according to Nash. It's badly needed, it would put people to work, help the environment and improve people's lives, she said.
In her opinion, the next leader should be bilingual, and Nash has no problems there. She began learning French after high school, took a degree in French literature at the University of Toronto, and practised her skills while working in France one summer.
Nash loves travelling and lists a trip to South Africa in 1994 to be an election observer as one of her most memorable experiences.
While the leadership campaign is long, ending with a vote March 24, Nash says she enjoys all the travel and has always been someone who is energetic and works long hours. But her holiday plans include a break to spend time with her husband and three grown sons in Toronto.