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NDP Leadership Hopefuls Debate the Scheer Challenge

New candidates Stogran, Singh add life to leadership race.

Jeremy Nuttall 29 May 2017TheTyee.ca

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

The New Democrats need more than love to win power in Ottawa, according to one of two candidates making their first appearances in an NDP leadership debate.

Pat Stogran, a retired colonel and former veteran’s ombudsman, and Jagmeet Singh, an NDP MPP in Ontario and former deputy leader of the party, made their debuts at Sunday’s debate in Sudbury, Ontario.

The new blood also gave the leadership race something new — the inkling of a raised pulse.

Early in the debate Singh was talking about the problems affecting Indigenous and rural communities and spoke of the importance of unity and government commitment.

“It takes an act of love to understand that we’re all in this together, that our struggles are all united,” Singh said. He continued to speak about the government’s role in tackling such challenges.

“Love isn't enough,” Stogran interrupted. “How are you going to bring the voice of these people to Ottawa?”

The pair sparred, sometimes speaking over each other, until time ran out for the topic.

The exchange was one of the more exciting moments in what has been an uneventful leadership race.

The debate also dealt with Andrew Scheer’s victory in the Conservative leadership contest Saturday over frontrunner Maxime Bernier.

MP Niki Ashton compared Scheer to U.S. President Donald Trump in her opening statement.

She expanded on her criticism when candidates were asked how they would deal with the new Conservative leader.

“This is what Trump-like politics and Trump-like ideas look like in our own country,” Ashton said. “I am very concerned about Andrew Scheer’s agenda.”

As an MP Scheer voted to reopen the debate in 2006 on same-sex marriage in the House, but supported ending the party’s opposition to it last year. The Broadbent Institute’s Press Progress reported Scheer received support from anti-abortion groups who claimed a victory for social conservatives.

Ashton said Canadians should be concerned by Scheer’s views on gay marriage and abortion, although Scheer has said a Conservative government would not revisit either issue.

“This is going to get worse,” Ashton said. “But the question is, what are we going to do?”

She said the NDP needs to set out a strong agenda to fight for marginalized groups.

MP Charlie Angus said people don’t trust politicians and the NDP needs to work in communities to build trust and show voters the party will fight for them if it wants to combat Scheer and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“Let the Conservatives do what they’re going to do. Let Justin, with his nice socks, do what he’s going to do,” Angus said. “Let’s get down to our job.”

Singh warned that Trudeau would position himself as an alternative to Scheer and his social conservative views. That’s a challenge for the NDP to overcome if it hopes to rise to power, he said.

MP Guy Caron said the NDP needs to show voters that the Liberals and Conservatives, despite their fighting, have very similar policies.

The softwood lumber dispute with the U.S. also featured in the debate.

The U.S. has slapped duties as high as 24 per cent on Canadian softwood lumber and candidates were asked how they would react to the move were they in charge. A 2006 softwood agreement expired in 2015.

New Westminster’s Peter Julian said taking care of the workers affected by the dispute and making sure they aren’t given a raw deal in any new agreement should be a priority.

“After the signing of the last softwood agreement we lost three mills in my riding,” said Julian, who represents New Westminster-Burnaby. “Two thousand jobs were lost.”

Julian said Canada needs to fight Trump in court while providing support for workers.

The NDP will select a leader to replace Tom Mulcair in October, through mail and online voting.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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