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Niki Ashton expected to enter NDP leadership race next week

By Chelsea Nash      

The MP is said to want to carve out a space for herself as an advocate for women's issues.

Niki Ashton delivers a speech at the Ottawa Women's March on Jan. 21. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Keep your eyes peeled: Niki Ashton is likely to announce her intention to run for the leadership of the NDP next week, say two sources close to her office.

An NDP staffer who is affiliated with Ms. Ashton’s (Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, Man.) office, as well one of Ms. Ashton’s regular volunteers, each said separately they are expecting Ms. Ashton to announce either on the day before or the day after March 8.

The day marks the celebration of International Women’s Day, and the staffer said the timing is so Ms. Ashton can effectively carve out the “women’s angle” in what has so far been a male-dominated race.

The timing would also put her into the race a week before the first debate in Ottawa on March 12, something her volunteer said she would not want to miss.

When asked if she planned to announce her leadership that week, Ms. Ashton’s office responded with a written statement: “I am giving leadership serious consideration, based on numerous conversations with activists and with party members. Applying for the job of prime minister is not something to be done lightly. I plan to make my decision known soon.”

The NDP staffer said while she hasn’t heard anything from Ms. Ashton directly, she is certain Ms. Ashton is running, and 80 per cent sure the announcement will come next week. She said she is hearing whispers around the office about the timing, and noticing a lot of closed-door meetings between Ms. Ashton and the top party organizers.

The volunteer, who has been volunteering in Ms. Ashton’s office for years, said Ms. Ashton is really busy before and after International Women’s Day, which isn’t abnormal for her, but when asked what she is doing around the day itself, Ms. Ashton is rather secretive about the details. But, when asked by volunteers if she’s planning to announce then, she doesn’t deny anything, the volunteer said.

“I definitely think she’s joining the leadership and I’m definitely thinking it’s going to be the beginning of March,” said the volunteer. “When we were talking about her doing events, she did say the day before, the day of, and the day after she’s really busy, and when we asked what she’s doing the day before or the day after, she didn’t really say.”

The NDP staffer said the race so far, including the current candidates and those still considering their chances, has been “ridiculously masculine,” and that the male candidates don’t have as strong a record on women’s issues.

“An actual woman standing up to our feminist prime minister,” the staffer said, using air quotes around the word “feminist,” is what the party needs.

Both the staffer and volunteer asked not to be quoted by name because they were not authorized to speak publicly on Ms. Ashton’s behalf on this subject.

Alice Funke of Pundits Guide also said she had heard Ms. Ashton will be announcing the first week of March.

Ms. Ashton would be the only female candidate to enter the race at this point, which so far includes MPs Peter Julian (New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.), Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay, Ont.), and Guy Caron (Rimouski-Neigette-Témiscouata-Les Basques, Ont). All three current contenders have announced their candidacy within the last three weeks.

Ms. Ashton has reason enough to position herself as an advocate for women’s rights. She founded the Women’s Forum, an annual event that features panel discussions and roundtables with MPs with the goal of advancing feminism and gender equality. Under the last government, Ms. Ashton put forward private member’s motion M-444, proposing a national action plan to address violence against women. The motion garnered support from all sides of the opposition House, including the Liberals, but was defeated by the majority Conservatives.

Ms. Ashton will be running against (clockwise) Guy Caron, Charlie Angus, Peter Julian, and possibly others in her bid for the NDP leadership. The Hill Times photographs by Andrew Meade

She also appeared to be the only Member of Parliament to attend the Women’s March in Ottawa, a protest that took place in solidarity with one in Washington, D.C. the day after United States President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The march was in protest of Mr. Trump’s remarks about grabbing women “by the pussy” and calling his opponent, Hillary Clinton, a “nasty woman,” during one of the debates, among other things.  

The NDP was the federal party with the highest percentage of female candidates in the last election. So far in the leadership, Ms. Ashton seems to be the only woman preparing for a run. Former MP Megan Leslie from Halifax was another name put forward as someone who could possibly run, but she has stayed firm in her decision not to.

Leadership contest to take place in ‘unprecedented’ format

The NDP are trying something new this time around to pick their leader. Robert Fox, the new national director for the party, says he hopes the system creates new levels of “drama” by stirring up more political competition.

The next leader of the party will be elected via a preferential ballot system, but one that can be altered in between rounds.

Party members will begin online voting on Sept. 18, the day after a “candidate showcase” is held in Toronto, where each candidate will be given the opportunity to make their case in front of an audience. It won’t be a debate, though. By that time, four party-hosted debates and four riding association-hosted debates will already have been held.

Members will submit their first ranked ballot between Sept. 18 and Oct. 1, at which point the first round of voting will be cut off at 10 a.m. The results of the first round will be announced later on the evening of Oct. 1.

To win, a candidate must get 50 per cent-plus one of the vote. If there is no clear winner after the first round, the voting continues to a second round, and the field will be cut down to the five candidates with the most votes.

During the second round, those members who cast their vote online can change their ballot, in case their number one choice was cut out of the race, or they were swayed after hearing another candidate’s positions. They have one week to change their votes. Those who submit a mail-in ballot, which will still be permitted, will not be allowed to change their vote. The party said around 15 to 20 per cent of the votes in the last leadership election were submitted by mail, but they are encouraging members to vote online this time around.

On Oct. 8, another event in another Canadian city will be held. If there is no clear winner yet again, the system continues week after week, dropping one candidate at a time, until Oct. 29.

With this format, the party has opted not to host a convention, but a possible series of regional events. If the voting continues until Oct. 29, organizers will try to visit regions across the country. But, there’s no way of telling just how many rounds of voting will be needed before a leader is chosen. It could be five weeks’ worth, or it could be one.

Current interim leader Tom Mulcair will not be attending these events, the party said. Instead, the party will host a separate event sometime in the fall to say farewell to the leader who took the party through the last election. Party organizers said they are not yet sure whether that will take place before or after a new leader has been chosen.

The party expects to spend approximately $700,000 on the leadership selection process.  



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