NDP leadership debate brings 2 new candidates to the race

Six NDP leadership candidates squared off for the third debate in Sudbury, Ont., on Sunday, discussing policy issues including Indigenous rights, the economy and resource development.

Former veterans' ombudsman Pat Stogran and MPP Jagmeet Singh took part in Sudbury, Ont., event today

NDP leadership candidates, from left, Jagmeet Singh, Guy Caron, Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, Pat Stogran and Peter Julian participate in a debate in Sudbury, Ont., on Sunday, May 28. (CBC)

Two new candidates in the NDP leadership race wasted no time going toe-to-toe in their first appearance together Sunday at a leadership debate in Sudbury, Ont.

Pat Stogran, who acquired a reputation for being outspoken as the former federal veterans ombudsman, challenged Ontario politician Jagmeet Singh after he suggested "an act of love" is required to connect with Canadian voters.

"I think that what it takes … to understand the realities of small and rural communities or communities that are isolated, it takes an act of love to understand that we are all in this together," Singh said.

"That our struggles are all united and the strength of Canada is when we understand we do far better when we are united."

"Love isn't enough," Stogran said. "What's your answer to it? How are you going to bring the voice of these people to Ottawa to speak up?"

Singh and Stogran are now among six official candidates looking to take over the party's top job in October — a decision set to be made by party members who will be required to rank their choices.

Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Ontario MP Charlie Angus, Quebec MP Guy Caron and B.C. MP Peter Julian are also in the running.

The bilingual debate, the third of eight scheduled, featured opening statements, open debates and short "lightning round" questions and responses.

Opening statements addressed reconciliation with Indigenous communities, including the urgency of the current suicide crisis, as well as income inequality and sustainable use of natural resources. 

Jagmeet Singh, 38, a lawyer and Ontario MPP, has joined the race to lead the federal NDP. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

It is important to acknowledge Canadians don't trust politicians of any stripe, Angus said Sunday, adding the NDP has failed to effectively reach out to communities.

"Let's talk to people who are feeling disconnected and ripped off," Angus said. "People who are fighting for their pensions, people who don't have access to dental care. We've got to be the party that's got their back."

It is up to the New Democrats to show voters the party is willing to fight for them, he added.

"I'm grateful the Conservatives got their guy," he said. "Let's get down to our job."

Weighing in on Scheer

NDP leadership hopefuls were asked directly Sunday about Andrew Scheer, the new leader of the Conservative party.

For her part, Ashton said she is "very concerned" about Scheer's political agenda, pointing to Scheer's position on abortion and LGBTQ rights.

"This is what Trump-like politics and Trump-like ideas look like in our own country," she said.

Scheer resembles former prime minister Stephen Harper, Caron added.

"He's not much ... different," he said. "He's playing the same base and ... we have to know exactly what that means for us and we do know because we fought those Conservatives ... in Parliament."

Julian said Sunday the NDP must be "bold and clear" on its policy positions as it looks to its future, adding this means speaking up on solutions to tackle climate change.

"This means stopping Mr. Trudeau's new raw bitumen pipelines," he said. "Our members want us to take a stand. I am opposed to them — period."

Newbies say hello

The new candidates aimed to distinguish themselves Sunday, using the debate as a platform to establish the tone for their campaigns.

Singh vowed to address inequality and inclusion, touching on his own experience as a first-generation Canadian.

"My parents came to Canada in the hope of a better life," he said. "I believe in a Canada where everyone has his or her own place and that no one is left behind."

Former veterans' ombudsman Pat Stogran is one of six candidates fighting to replace Tom Mulcair as leader of the NDP. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Stogran positioned himself as a political outsider, emphasizing his military record.

During his time as veterans' ombudsman, he said he "witnessed first-hand the inefficiencies and inconsistencies" in the federal government.

"I couldn't just retire and be happy to simply observe while well-connected people were using Canadian politics for their own purposes."

Race gears up

The NDP race is expected to ramp up and could draw more attention now that the year-long Conservative leadership contest is over.

"With the B.C. election and Conservative contest behind us, our race is kicking into high gear. We have an amazingly strong field of candidates. Any one of them would be able to take on Justin Trudeau and Andrew Scheer today," said NDP National Director Robert Fox in a statement to CBC News.

There are five other debates scheduled for the lengthy NDP race, including discussions in St. John's, Saskatoon, Victoria, Montreal and Vancouver.

NDP members will pick a new leader in the fall through a preferential, ranked ballot system. Voting will take place online and by mail.

With files from CBC News