Niki Ashton, NDP — Churchill-Keewatinook Aski
'I'm running again to fight for political change in Ottawa and to get rid of Stephen Harper'
Why do you want the job?
I'm running for re-election, so really I guess I've had the job for a while. For me it's been a real honour to represent the part of the country that I come from and to give a voice to the issues facing us here in the north.
I'm running again to fight for political change in Ottawa and to get rid of Stephen Harper. We want to make history by electing the first ever NDP government, a government that can truly be a partner for First Nations and for northern communities in our region.
What is the biggest issue for the country, and in your riding?
The recurring theme is people wanting a progressive and positive vision for Canada.
I see a lot of people across the country who are extremely concerned with the direction our country has taken over the past number of years. People see a mistake in priorities.
Instead of addressing the Third World living conditions that exist in many northern communities, particularly northern First Nations, we have a government that's all too happy to go in and get involved in conflicts on the other side of the world that we shouldn't be a part of in the first place.
We need a federal government everyone can work with, and it seems to me like a lot of Canadians are looking for that.
What would you do with the Senate?
Our party's position is to abolish it, and I'm very proud of that position. There are a lot of people here in our riding who are fed up with the kind of corruption we've seen come to light and the lack of accountability the Senate represents.
There are a lot of people who know of legislation — whether it's in terms of the environment or trans rights — that has gone through Parliament and gotten the stamp of approval from most parliamentarians only so the bill can die in the Senate.
I'm proud this is what we're putting forward.
Winnipeg was described as the most racist city in Canada. What would you do to combat racism?
I can say without it being a comparison that racism definitely exists in the north, the way it does across our country.
The racism I've seen indigenous people face is horrendous, both overt racism and systemic racism. I've been proud to stand up in Parliament and add my voice to the many incredible leaders, including some from Winnipeg, in calling for the federal government to be part of the solution in addressing racism.
I've also accused the federal government of perpetuating systemic racism in the way it underfunds — not just the Conservative government, but previous Liberal governments as well — education.
When we have a federal government that sends the message that First Nations deserve less, how do we expect citizens in our country to take a different approach?
What role should the federal government play in dealing with climate change?
Canada's government should play a key, leadership-type role.
Unfortunately, under Mr. Harper we've become an international laggard instead of a leader. Before people used to look to us as a leader. We're dragging the rest of the world down in many respects when it comes to the environment.
I'm proud of the position our leader, Thomas Mulcair, and our party has put forward in terms of taking action on climate change. We want to be at the upcoming conference in Paris, and be part of hammering out solutions, and make it clear in order to build a stronger economy we need to make sure we're doing so in an environmentally sustainable way.
If there was one government policy you think is done better in another country, what is it?
I would say we have a lot to learn from Scandinavian countries in general in terms of building a fairer society.
We live in a society where the rate of inequality is growing at a faster rate today than it had a generation ago. If our country becomes more unequal, we all suffer.
I think we can learn from other societies where they have a strong middle class, like Scandinavian societies, where you don't have the kind of marginalization we see here.
Under what circumstances is deficit spending a good choice?
The first thing is that the plan we've put forward is a responsible plan. In light of the economic situation we find ourselves [in], we've made it clear we're keen to make significant investments in areas that need attention, whether it's the National Child Care Program, or in terms of investment in infrastructure in our municipalities and First Nations, etc.
It's a question of priorities. We'll take from other areas that we feel aren't benefiting Canadians. Other parties are promising things that aren't represented in the fiscal plan.
What do you believe is the single most effective way to fight crime?
Fighting crime demands a comprehensive approach. What's clear is the Harper agenda is not the way to go.
I work with communities that face some of the highest incarceration rates in the country. We need a government willing to work with communities to create a safer environment. This means tackling poverty, making sure people have safe homes to live in, homes that will allow for them to get out there and look for gainful employment knowing they have somewhere to rest their head at night.
People who are incarcerated need access to education and training, which is sorely in demand in a lot of our communities in the north. Lack of opportunity pushes people to find a living or sense of belonging elsewhere.
Instead of building more jails we should be investing into prevention and restorative justice.
What should be done about homegrown terrorism?
We see the need to repeal Bill C-51. It's a tool that targets our civil liberties and First Nations.
Part of the discussion needs to be around prevention of radicalization. There needs to be government support for de-radicalization programming within communities. People need to have a sense of belonging here, and a sense that they are a part of our society.
As one of the MPs that was in the House of Commons when the shooting in Ottawa happened, I feel the government has been too quick to frame incidents and people under this terrorism umbrella. This unwarranted culture of fear is used as a cynical tool to pass dangerous legislation and divide us a society.
If there was a gay pride parade in your riding, would you go? Why or why not?
Oh my goodness, of course.
I actually emceed our pride celebration. It's Pride North of 55, and I'm really proud of the work that the incredible trailblazers in the LGBTQ community have done.
I've been very proud to be an ally at the community level and on the federal level.
Have either you or your family had a frustrating experience with the health-care system, and what would you do to fix the problem?
We need a federal government that supports our universal public health-care system. We need to work with leaders and advocates that support medicare in order to make our system more efficient and more responsive to our changing demographics and different communities.
In the north there is a huge shortage of health-care professionals depending on where you go, and many go without proper physician care.
What would you do to get more people to vote?
It's clear to me more people will come out to vote this time around.
Young people know what type of ID they need, know when the voting day is, and they're spreading the word. I can see it happening. Today we were helping out with a voter ID clinic happening in Flin Flon.
I've been using Facebook and Twitter a lot. I'm trying to engage people however I can.
I'm very excited about it, and I'm encouraging everybody to come out and vote.
What's a better use of federal dollars: fixing roads or building rapid transit infrastructure?
I don't believe this is an either/or issue. It's a question of priorities.
Our party has made it clear that if we're elected, we'll be investing in infrastructure that includes commitment to public transit, as well as roads and bridges. It's all part of the same infrastructure equation.
What a community in northern Manitoba needs is not what Winnipeg needs, but we need to be looking at everyone's needs.
I represent 21 communities that don't even have an all-weather road. People want a road. The federal government has failed to bring these roads.
Would you support legalizing a small amount of marijuana? Have you ever tried it?
Our position is to decriminalize it.
I would say from all the visiting I've done as an elected official, I have been in many spaces where I have breathed in a lot of second-hand smoke. It makes visiting door to door a more vibrant experience. I can definitely say that.