Breaking the political ‘mould’

Being young and a woman isn’t often the mould associated with politics – but Churchill MP Niki Ashton seeks to change that with her vision for a new political landscape. In the race to declare a new leader for the New Democratic Party (NDP), 29-year-old Ashton was one of the seven candidates whose names were on the first round of ballots.

Although Ashton only garnered 5.7 per cent of the vote, preventing her from moving on to the second round, her message was heard loud and clear.
“I ran to bring new politics, the idea of new politics, that we can dare to think about leadership differently and we can dare to think about politics differently,” said Ashton during Saturday’s leadership convention in Toronto.

Discussing the long established trend of older male parliamentarians, Ashton added, “It’s a real thrill to be part of a team that threw the textbook out on that … I’m proud to be part of a caucus that looks like Canada.”

Explaining her vision for “new politics,” Ashton said that “we’ve come to a crossroads” in the need to engage youth and the growing recognition of the NDP as the prime alternative to the current Conservative majority.

In citing the high costs of education, insecure labour market and climate change, Ashton illustrated how today’s youth will bear the burden of the ongoing failures in government decision making. “I feel that our generation has the most to lose because of the old politics, the way we’re seeing politics play out today,” she said.

Among the losses, one of the biggest problems Ashton sees today is the rising inequality that is unlike any economic divide in Canada before.

“This is a result of cuts, of the erosion of rights, of selling out and hollowing out our economy; it happened even before Harper, but Harper has really sped that up,” she explained.

To combat these challenges, Ashton advocated that, “You’ve got to engage people on a new way of doing things—not losing our principles, what guides us — but daring to think different, think outside the box, be outside the box.”

That ability to engage people was apparent in the new interest she gained during her campaign. First time campaigner Paul Tolios commented on Ashton’s appeal to voters, stating, “The ideas that [Ashton] brought up to the forefront … it was something that the NDP needs in order to stand up to Stephen Harper’s policies and provide a government that we can all be proud of in 2015.”

Although unknown at the time that Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair would be announced as the party’s leader, replacing the late Jack Layton, Tolios considered the influence of a new leader for the NDP, commenting, “Whoever that person might be, we’re going to stand behind that person as the leader, we’re going to go back to Ottawa starting Monday bringing the strongest possible official opposition as we can, stand up for Canadians [and] stand up for what truly Canadian values are.”

Maintaining the momentum created by Layton, which has brought the NDP to its highest level of influence in history, was important to Ashton as well. “We saw the greatest success in our party’s history because of the way we stood up for the things the matter to us, because we reached out to people who are often disengaged in politics and we’ve got to continue doing that,” said Ashton.

“We should be speaking out and affecting change on the issues that matter to all Canadians.”

*Editor’s note: This article has been updated since its original publishing date. *

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