Peggy Nash hopes to win NDP leadership with economic alternative to Stephen Harper's approach
NDP leadership candidate Peggy Nash rejects any suggestion that her party wouldn’t be a good overseer of the economy. And that’s why the MP for the Toronto riding of Parkdale-High Park is focusing her campaign on economic stewardship—and making the case that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s “hands-off approach” is prolonging the country’s financial problems.
“Canadians do know that we’re the party of Medicare,” Nash told the Georgia Straight during a recent interview in Vancouver. “They do know that we’re strong environmentalists. But we need to convince them that we’re also the party that understands how to best manage the economy. And what New Democrats bring to that is we understand you can’t have a strong, stable economy unless you have good social policy that’s reducing inequality, and unless you’re protecting the environment.”
She characterized Harper’s economic policy as simply getting government out of the way so that corporations are free to do whatever they want—in the flawed hope that some benefits will trickle down to the rest of the country.
“Well, we’ve got the highest level of inequality in Canada since the 1920s,” Nash noted. “But a big chunk of the wealth that’s being created—about a third of new wealth created before the downturn in 2008—went to the top one percent. That’s not good fiscal policy.”
Nash, a former negotiator with the Canadian Auto Workers union, said that she favours government working with business, labour, and communities “so we’re all pulling in the same direction to create good-quality jobs”.
“Specifically, we shouldn’t just be shipping raw logs or raw materials or raw bitumen out of the country,” she declared. “What we should be doing is providing good stewardship of our raw materials and processing as many of those raw materials here in Canada as we can. That’s where the good jobs are; it’s where the innovation and technology are.”
In an economic paper on her website, she mentioned four countries—Finland, South Korea, Brazil, and Germany—that have “truly succeeded in modern global commerce” by not handing over decision-making power to global corporations.
“Markets need to be pushed and challenged—not just 'freed'—to operate in ways that benefit all of us—not just the 1%,” she states in the paper. “Active government is not a barrier to development. Done right, it will be the key to our success.”
Nash acknowledged to the Straight that she has read The Trouble With Billionaires, by Toronto Star journalist Linda McQuaig and Osgoode Hall tax-law professor Neil Brooks, but Nash hasn’t advanced their argument for new tax brackets on high-income Canadians.
That stands in contrast to fellow NDP leadership candidate Brian Topp, who has released a policy paper calling for a new 35 percent marginal federal tax rate on incomes over $250,000. Currently, the highest federal rate is 29 percent on taxable income over $128,800.
Despite not issuing proposals so far for higher taxes on higher-income Canadians in the campaign, Nash emphasized that she strongly favours a progressive tax strategy. “It’s only fair that people who make the most are paying their fair share,” she said.
Nash has come out in favour of a financial-transaction tax, which was also recommended by McQuaig and Brooks in their book. Nash claimed that this measure, which Harper has opposed, would “bring some stability in international financial markets and also generate some revenue that can be put to good use in terms of meeting other commitments that we need to make”.
She pointed out that this tax would have to be agreed to by the international community, and not be instituted by a single country like Canada.
In addition, Nash said she thinks there should be greater protection for Canadians from the negative effects of foreign investment. She noted that when she was the NDP’s industry critic several years ago, she led a campaign in Parliament to prevent B.C.-based MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates from being taken over by U.S.–based Alliant Techsystems.
Nash claimed that the sale of the local high-tech company, which is a leader in satellite imaging, would have meant the loss of valuable technology useful for national security in the Arctic. Then-industry minister Jim Prentice surprised some by blocking the transaction.
“We need investment, we need capital, but what we also need is to make sure that investment works for the benefit of Canadians,” Nash stated. “That, at its heart, has to be the creation of good-quality jobs and economic security—and that we’re not just left with a situation of environmental degradation.”
When it comes to the development of the Alberta tar sands, Nash said that “the first thing is we’ve got to stop subsidizing the big polluters”. She also opposes the “unlimited expansion” of this industry. Instead, she argued in favour greater investments in renewable energy sources.
“If you look at the targets that Germany has set, for example, on renewable energy, I think we’ve got a huge job to do here,” she said. “But it also requires good stewardship of our natural resources—and these are finite resources.”
Nash described herself as a “bridge builder” who has spent her entire working life bringing people together.
“At this time in our party’s history, I think that’s exactly what we need,” she said. “We now have 59 MPs in Quebec, 103 seats across the country, and we need someone who is a uniter—and who has that record—and who understands the importance of the grassroots of our party.”
Nash has been active in political issues since her student days, working on international human rights and environmental causes. She was also an outspoken advocate for childcare and backed Jack Layton’s run for NDP leader. After he won, she said he recruited her to run for Parliament in 2004. She was elected for the first time in 2006.
After the last election, Layton appointed her as the party’s finance critic in the House of Commons.
“I think what Jack Layton has brought to the New Democratic Party was that sense of grassroots activism,” Nash said. “It was one of the things that inspired me to support his leadership and it’s something that I bring to my leadership campaign. I believe that activism is part of the lifeblood of our party.”
One of Nash’s strongest boosters is SFU adjunct professor of political science Duncan Cameron, a former president of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
“Peggy comes out of the social movements,” Cameron told the Straight recently. “She was a principal player in the anti-free-trade movement in the 1980s, supporting (then-CAW president) Bob White, who was one of the major figures in that fight.”
He pointed out that after Nash lost her seat in the 2008 election, Layton ensured that she would be party president to maintain her status in the party. Cameron also said that Nash has the support of many strong environmentalists.
“Her bona fides as a progressive are impeccable,” Cameron claimed, adding that she also speaks superb French.
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter at twitter.com/csmithstraight.