Manitoba MP Niki Ashton told NDP supporters recently that the party is at a crossroads and needs to return to its founding principles if it wants to win back voters.
“In the 2015 election, we allowed the Liberals to out-left us,” said Ashton. “In the last little while we have lost our sense of being a movement. That is part of who we are. We need to reconnect with activists and community leaders who share our same values and are fighting for the same things we believe in.”
Approximately 50 party supporters turned out to hear Ashton’s views during a campaign stop at The Red Papaya Sunday evening.
She spoke briefly about her platform before taking questions on a variety of issues ranging from refugees, trade and taxes, to indigenous rights, economic inequality and climate change.
Ashton has represented the Manitoba riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski since 2008 and is one of five candidates campaigning for the leadership of the federal NDP.
During her time in office she has served as NDP critic for Aboriginal Affairs, Status of Women and Post-Secondary Education and Youth. She is currently the critic for Jobs, Employment and Workforce Development.
She said that neo-liberal policies adopted by the Liberals and Conservatives for more than two decades have hurt the country and continue to threaten the environment and the economic security of average Canadians.
To reverse the damage, we need to return to the progressive values that, at one time, influenced Canadian politics on both the left and right.
“I think the values are still there but Harper took us down a very difficult path – a divisive path,” she said. “ It was clear after 10 years that we had enough and voted him out. Canadians want a progressive approach”
She said the Liberals’ tapped into that sentiment during the last election.
“When Justin Trudeau ran his campaign, the message was very progressive,” she said. “He used much of the same language as the NDP and low and behold, since he has come into government, he has actually broken a number of those progressive promises on things such as electoral reform and pipelines.”
She said trade deals that successive Liberal and Conservative governments have negotiated such as NAFTA, SETA and the TTP do not protect the interests of most working people.
“They are in the interest of corporations,” she said. “We need fair trade not free trade. That means protecting workers and protecting our environment whether it is here in Canada or other parts of the world.”
She said we face major challenges to address the threats of climate change and growing economic inequality.
“Inequality is becoming more and more serious and it is particularly evident in the millennial generation,” she said. “This idea that the wealthy are becoming wealthier while everyone else is being pushed further to the margins is not acceptable, so we’re saying it’s important that we reject neo liberalism, privatization, austerity, bad trade deals and foreign ownership that is selling us out.”
She said people are rejecting neo-liberalism and the rise of right-wing populism around the world, and mobilizing around progressive leaders such as Bernie Sanders in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in England.
“If we come together we can affect change,” said Ashton. “We can take on inequality. We can tackle climate change.”