Sunday, March 26, 2017

Leadership 2017 Candidate Profile: Niki Ashton

For Ashton alone among the NDP's leadership candidates, we've been through this exercise before. But for a candidate who stood out for her youth in 2012, it's remarkable how little has changed this time around.


Once again, youth and expanded appeal are obvious priorities for all of the NDP's leadership candidate. And for the second time, Ashton is the candidate who personally reflects those opportunities - particularly in light of her successful outreach tour talking to young workers about their experiences with precarious work and life.

Having run a leadership campaign before, Ashton also has more experience than her competitors in the task at hand. And her comfort level in both languages has shown in the debates so far, where she's done especially well managing the flow of discussion periods and two-candidate debates.


But it's not clear how far that experience will take her. While Ashton's 2012 results haven't received much attention, they have to be seen as a disappointment, as Ashton finished last on the first ballot. And she may have work do just to get back to where she left off five years ago: while she was a natural first choice for rural and First Nations voters once Romeo Saganash left the 2012 race, she now faces Charlie Angus as a magnet for that support.

Meanwhile, there's also reason for concern that Ashton has learned some of the wrong lessons from her time on the stage. She's proven more prone than the other candidates to offering surface-level answers to questions which call for more, or to answering a question other than the one asked. And while her core message of countering the spread of neoliberalism has its appeal, she has some distance to go in showing how to give effect to it.

Key Indicator

It remains to be seen how many pollsters will be asking questions along the lines of "best prime minister" or perceptions competence as compared to their usual first-choice support and favourability numbers. But I'd consider those to be the most important factors for Ashton's prospects of winning.

If she can compare credibly to her fellow MPs in those numbers while also inspiring a strong youth contingent, then she'll have a serious chance to emerge on top. If not, then she's likely headed for another disappointing result.

Key Opponent

Again, a substantial number of Ashton's core constituencies are also primary areas of strength for Angus. If Ashton can win enough over to stay ahead of him while outlasting him on the ballot, they may offer her a path to victory; if not, then there are limited paths for her to be competitive.

Plausible Outcomes

Best-case: Narrow win based on mobilizing young workers to emerge as one of the final choices, then convincing members to shift votes her way
Worst-case: 2012 redux

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