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NDP leadership race: Niki Ashton

For all of the young NDP MPs that marched into Ottawa last election, Niki Ashton acted as a vanguard.

When she was first elected in 2008, Ashton was the youngest NDP MP and the youngest female member of Parliament, two distinctions she lost after the Orange Wave hit Quebec. Not that she minds.

“I’m very happy to be joined by other young people,” said Ashton.

But even before her 2008 election, Ashton was making splashes amongst the New Democrats. In 2005, she ran against incumbent NDP MP Bev Desjarlais for the party’s nomination in Churchill, the federal riding for all of northern Manitoba.

“[She] was the only NDP MP opposed to same-sex marriage,” said Ashton. “So we decided to get involved and organized and ran in the nomination.”

Ashton won. She was 23 years old, and though she lost in the federal election that year, she came back in two years time to take the northern Manitoba riding.

Ashton maintains that she has always seen her age as an advantage.

“When you have young people’s issues being raised at the top level, that engages our generation.”

During her leadership bid, Ashton has been running on a platform that emphasizes the growing inequality in Canadian society.

As a demonstration of the types of changes she would champion, she points to her desire to create a Minister of Equality that would address issues such as gender and racial discrimination.

“The way to [combat inequality] is to have a real presence in government at the ministerial level,” she said. “That involves looking at legislation, but also, of course, programs that create a level playing field and truly aim to put an end to discrimination.”

Ashton, who served as the NDP’s youth critic, said that reducing tuition fees is an essential plank of her economic plan.

“I know firsthand how much of a challenge and a setback the rise of tuition fees…is to our generation,” she said. “This is not a charitable commitment, this is about making a real difference to young people.”

As a northerner and a former instructor at the University College of the North, Ashton has often advocated for increased commitments to northern and First Nations education.

“That’s the pinnacle of the kind of inequality we see in our country and it’s unacceptable in a country as wealthy as Canada, that First Nations receive a lower level of funding ultimately because they are First Nations.”

She also points to Canada’s foreign policy as a place where young Canadians are being excluded from decision-making, but then forced to live with the consequences.

“It’s our generation that pays the ultimate price when soldiers die,” said Ashton. “If I’m elected leader, my message would be keep the troops home.”

Ashton uses a simple slogan to encapsulate her leadership bid: “new politics.”

“New politics is about engaging young people and engaging the issues that young people are raising,” she said. “Harper’s practicing old politics.”

(Photo Courtesy of Stephen Hui)