Politics

NDP leadership candidates ready to 'fight like hell,' as MP Charlie Angus enters race

There will be plenty of time for "violent agreement" at the NDP's first leadership debate early next month because only two men have so far registered with Elections Canada as candidates to lead the social democratic party.

Former rocker Charlie Angus entered the race Sunday, joining B.C. MP Peter Julian in the not-so-crowded field

NDP MPs Charlie Angus, left, and Peter Julian, right, have registered with Elections Canada as leadership candidates for their party. The first leadership debate will be held March 12. (Canadian Press)

There will be plenty of time for "violent agreement" at the NDP's first leadership debate early next month, because so far only two men have registered with Elections Canada as candidates to lead the social democratic party.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen coined that phrase during the last leadership contest in 2012, a more lively affair when nine hopefuls squared off to replace Jack Layton, all the while pledging to largely stick to the late leader's policy script.

We have to go to Ottawa and fight like hell to restore some equilibrium in the economy.- Charlie Angus, NDP leadership candidate

The stakes were arguably higher then, as the party had rocketed past the Liberals to form the Official Opposition. The front-runners, union leader Brian Topp and Quebec MP Tom Mulcair, were promising fiscal prudence and balanced books.

This time, MPs Peter Julian and Charlie Angus are the only two who have made their intentions known since the race kicked off last July. A rumoured third candidate, Quebec MP Guy Caron, will "share his thoughts" on the race Monday, while the suave, functionally bilingual Ontario NDP member of the legislature Jagmeet Singh is weighing his options.

Both Julian and Angus are hoping to capitalize on discontent among some progressive voters over decisions Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made so far, namely the approval of pipeline projects, relatively cozy relations with U.S. President Donald Trump and the government's perceived heel-dragging on Indigenous issues.

"I think it reminds us New Democrats that we have to go back and take that progressive turf back," Angus said in an interview with CBC News.

Jagmeet Singh, deputy leader of the Ontario NDP, is being wooed to seek the federal party leadership. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Straddling a divide

Angus, a former punk rocker in the cult band L'Étranger and a strong advocate for Indigenous rights, officially launched his bid Sunday afternoon at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto.

The choice of venue is revealing, because it shows the northern Ontario MP is at home in the hardscrabble working-class towns of the province's north — where he was born and raised — but also in Toronto's progressive arts and culture scene.

Speaking to CBC News about his reasons for running, Angus said, "What I'm hearing from a lot of people is they believe that Ottawa doesn't really reflect their reality."

"We hear the prime minister talk about the middle class all the time but if you get out and talk to people in rural communities or in downtown Toronto, the middle class is now a modern working class, white collar and blue collar, working short contract jobs, burdened down with student debt, unable to buy homes in the communities they grew up in."

Angus added that the election of U.S. President Donald Trump has plunged the world into a period of instability, and that the NDP must "offer a positive, forward-looking path that brings people together."

NDP MP speaks with CBC News after formally announcing his candidacy Sunday in Toronto 6:10

In the last Ontario provincial election, there was a divide between these two wings of the party, with urban leftists complaining their leader Andrea Horwath was too timid on economic issues, an argument that was repeated after Mulcair toed a moderate line in the last federal campaign.

Angus said Friday the party shouldn't shy away from its strong social democratic traditions, or shed its label as the voice of the working class.

"There is a danger to these false divisions, rural from urban, millennial from baby boomer, the pickup driver in Fort Mac from the bike courier in Vancouver. We can't let ourselves be divided; the real divisions that exist in our country are economic," he said.

Angus said any leader of the NDP should focus energy on the new generation of working-class people who are constrained by stagnant wages and endless contract work.

"We have to go to Ottawa and fight like hell to restore some equilibrium in the economy."

Angus added he's not concerned about the leadership race's slow start, adding there are many months to go to "energize the base" ahead of the October 2017 vote.

It's time to make the priority regular folks rather than the rich and the well-connected.- Peter Julian, NDP leadership candidate

CBC News reached out to the Peter Julian campaign for an interview Friday but did not hear back in time for publishing. But already it's clear there will be plenty on which the two men will "violently agree."

Julian, the MP for New Westminster-Burnaby, emphasized growing inequality in his launch speech, citing the importance of a country "where no one is left behind." 

"It's time to make the priority regular folks rather than the rich and the well-connected," he said.

7 leadership debates

None of the prospective candidates have officially registered with the party, and there are a few hurdles to jump over before they can access membership lists.

Candidates have to pay a $30,000 entrance fee, and collect the signatures of 500 members — half of which must be from women and 100 from "equity-seeking groups," including visible minorities, Indigenous people, the LGBT community or persons living with disabilities. The party's national director, Robert Fox, also has to accept their candidacies.

The candidates have only a short time to refine their pitch to party members, because the first of seven leadership debates, a bilingual affair, is only two weeks away — Sunday, March 12 — followed shortly thereafter by debates in Montreal and Sudbury, all before summer's start.


NDP leadership debates

  • March 12, Ottawa.
  • March 26, Montreal (youth-focused debate).
  • May 27, Sudbury.
  • June 10, Halifax.
  • July 11, Saskatoon.
  • Aug. 9, Victoria.
  • Sept. 17 — Toronto (a "candidate showcase").

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified the NDP's national director as Graham Fox. In fact, his name is Robert Fox.
    Feb 26, 2017 10:12 AM ET

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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