Sunday, March 18, 2012

Leadership 2012 Questionnaire Response - Niki Ashton

Finally, Niki Ashton had this to offer in response to my party organization questionnaire:
1. As leader, what changes (if any) would you seek to make to the NDP's:
(a) caucus management and discipline?

Caucus members are elected as New Democrats, and I believe that, where there is a clearly established party policy, they are obliged to vote accordingly. That was the case, for example, with equal marriage rights for same sex couples. But on issues where there is no party policy, the issue needs to be open to debate; it should not be up to the Leader’s Office to decide policy. If Caucus members voted in opposition to my view or the majority view on an issue where there is no established party policy, I would impose no penalties and no sanctions, either directly or indirectly.

(b) membership engagement and organizational structure?
(c) policy development process?
(d) candidate recruitment and nomination process?
(e) relationship to other political parties?
(f) relationship to traditional allies in the labour, environmental and social justice movements?
(g) relationship to interests not traditionally allied with the NDP?

I believe we have a hugely untapped resource in the party’s electoral district associations, committees and commissions to build relationships between our party and civil society organizations, relationships that could inform policy development and ensure that we respond to the needs of Canadians. The party should provide these committees with the resources and the support necessary to undertake this important work.

One example of something that’s worked well in the past and needs to be repeated: In 2010, the Saskatchewan NDP Rainbow Pride Committee hosted policy roundtables two years ago with CBOs in the queer community and used the input from those discussions to produce a policy paper for consideration by the provincial party. We need to build on models like these.

Electoral district associations could host policy roundtables at the community level to give a voice to people who feel left out of the current political process. The goal would be to reach out to people who appear to share many of our values but have not voted for us in the recent past. This is particularly the case in rural Canada, where I think too many people in our party have made the mistake of assuming that people who vote Conservative do so because they hold conservative values. I don’t think that’s necessarily true and I think we need to do a better job as a party of reaching out to them. We can’t afford to write off all of rural Canada. That’s the kind of old politics practiced by Stephen Harper—the politics of division and polarization—and we shouldn’t be modeling our strategies after him.

As you know, I have made a particular commitment to increase our party’s presence on the Prairies. This week, I called for a Prairie Breakthrough Conference to be held in 2013, a conference modelled on the successful Quebec breakthrough conference that produced the Sherbrooke Declaration. This conference would bring together activists from community-based organizations, academics and progressives of every political stripe, including those who have not supported the NDP in the recent past, to develop a package of policies for consideration by the party.

2. As leader of the NDP, what roles would you anticipate within the party for:
(a) each of your fellow leadership candidates?
(b) any noteworthy organizers, volunteers or other participants in the leadership campaign on behalf of the other leadership candidates?
(c) the NDP's campaign team members from recent federal elections?

As I said recently, we need to stay focused on the goal of replacing Stephen Harper. That means we need to broaden our appeal and build a bigger tent. This is not the time to be excluding people because of disagreements we’ve had during this contest. I've worked with all of my fellow candidates for a number of years and I know that they are all good New Democrats, committed to building a better country. People watching this leadership race will know that I have disagreed with other candidates on issues of substance. But I have tremendous respect for all of my fellow candidates as individuals.

All of them, and their campaign teams, would play major roles under my leadership if they wished, as would the NDP’s campaign teams from recent elections. Obviously, I would bring new people into the mix, and I would look for new ways of doing things. But I would not marginalize anyone.

3. If another candidate is elected leader, what other role do you believe would suit you best within the NDP?

I believe it would be a bit arrogant to assign myself a specific role. Obviously, there are ideas and issues that I have outlined in my campaign for the leadership, and whatever role I play in the future, I would like the opportunity to pursue many of those ideas further. Overall, I would look forward to being part of a team building toward government in 2015. I would be interested in supporting the ground work we need to do in Quebec. And I would be particularly interested in working with New Democrats and our allies across the Prairies to build our party's presence in this part of the country and lead the way for a major Prairie Breakthrough in 2015.
Ashton too looks to have nicely addressed some of the points of great concern in terms of the relationship between members, MPs and the leader - with members having the ability to set party policy, and MPs being able to think independently while ultimately working with the policy developed through the membership. And her commitment to building links to civil society at the local level looks like another important piece of the puzzle in assembling a progressive movement capable of winning power and doing the greatest amount of good possible upon doing so.

Meanwhile, Ashton's focus on prairie building as a major part of her preferred role within the party looks to be a request which any new leader should easily be able to take into account. But I'll be particularly curious to see which of Ashton's often-innovative policy positions she'll continue to advocate after the leadership campaign comes to a close.


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