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Federal Politics

Charlie Angus Hopes the Road Leads to NDP Leader

Northern Ontario MP wants regular people to know the party is on their side.

Jeremy Nuttall 27 Mar

Jeremy J. Nuttall is The Tyee’s reader-funded Parliament Hill reporter in Ottawa. Find his previous stories here.

The walls of New Democrat leadership candidate Charlie Angus’s office tell a story.

There are posters from rock bands he was in and photos from photojournalism projects and his past social activism.

One shelf holds photos and mementos of young people, laid out the way a grandmother would display her grandchildrens’ pictures.

But Angus says these aren’t relatives. They’re the faces of Indigenous youth from his northern Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay who have killed themselves. Sometimes, he says, their families send him photos or other items in remembrance of their loved ones.

Angus is big on community and references his own riding and working class Catholic background often. He grew up in Timmins to parents who went to work in their teens and eventually made it into the middle class. Angus says he wants the same opportunity for his constituents and all Canadians.

In a conversation that moves from his office, down the elevator and across Sparks Street to a pub, where Angus nurses a beer, he explains the vision behind his bid for the NDP leadership.

Indigenous issues, the environment and the middle class are some of his top concerns, he says.

“We have to be seen as the voice of people who are stuck in traffic, coming home from a temp job who don’t believe that anyone’s got their back,” Angus said. “They need to hear us talking in a language that makes sense to them and speaks to their issues. Maybe a little less rhetoric and a little more practicality.”

The middle class has disappeared under decades of policies that lowered wages, reduced opportunities and increased inequality, said Angus, who has been an MP since 2004. Now even white-collar workers are suffering from the scourge of precarious work, he said.

Canada can’t move forward as a nation until those issues are addressed, he stressed.

Angus said under his leadership the NDP would push to reduce student debt and make tax changes to help lower-paid workers get by in a precarious economy.

Part of the party’s challenge, he said, is to convince those being ignored or hurt by governments that their place is with the New Democrats. Many have simply given up on politics in response to their flat-lining bank accounts and mounting debt, he said.

“They don’t necessarily see themselves as being in our tent, but we have a lot more in common with people who are part of this new working class, which is white collar and blue collar, than people who just self-identify as left,” he said.

“That’s a big job for us, to make ourselves relevant to people who don’t hear themselves when we speak.”

Ottawa’s environmental efforts are weak and the NDP needs to push for investment in renewable energy in a way that brings together environmentalists and blue-collar workers, Angus said.

He’s also placing an emphasis on working with Indigenous communities and said the kind of “tinkering” the Liberal government has been doing will not fix the problems facing communities.

“Nation to nation is not going to be a hash tag,” he said. “We’ve got kids dying every single day and a government that refuses to put the money on the ground where kids need it.”

Indian Affairs and Health Canada start with a colonialist approach, he said, and that has to change if the government wants to make a difference in the lives of Indigenous people.

To win the contest Angus will be hitting the road to speak to people across the country. Like other candidates in this race, Angus said he believes the party needs stronger connections to its grassroots — not just activists, but regular people with concerns.

Plus, he likes the travel.

“I’m a road dog, I love being on the road,” he said. “I’m going to be on the road a hell of a lot.”

His travels will include six days in British Columbia, where recent approvals of energy projects like the Trans Mountain pipeline have sparked anger.

The National Energy Board responsible for approving the project is “a joke,” Angus said, accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of dodging the province since the pipeline’s approval.

“I think they’re really misreading the public on these issues in a big way,” he said. “If you don’t talk to them you’re going to get blow back. Those are the basic laws of political physics.”

The other candidates in the leadership race are MPs Guy Caron, Peter Julian and Niki Ashton. Party members will vote by mail or online in October to select the new leader.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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