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Hill Life & People

First out of the gate: a look at Peter Julian’s NDP leadership campaign

By Laura Ryckewaert      

Susan Spratt is the MP's campaign manager. She is an ex-Canadian Auto Workers union exec in B.C.

NDP MP Peter Julian is emphasizing his ties to Quebec and his environment policy during his bid for party leadership. The new leader will be decided roughly five months from now, in October. The Hill Times photograph by Sam Garcia
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NDP MP Peter Julian, the first to officially enter the NDP’s ongoing leadership race, is so far supported in his campaign by a pool of roughly 200 volunteers, says campaign manager Susan Spratt.

“We have people on the ground in every jurisdiction, and they’re the folks going out and setting up meetings for Peter, getting rallies going,” she told Hill Climbers in an interview last week.

Among the roughly 200 people supporting the campaign is a core team of about 20 people, said Ms. Spratt, half of whom are in British Columbia with the rest “dispersed regionally” across the country. With no physical campaign headquarters, the team behind Mr. Julian is working “by computer and by any other means necessary,” she said.

Mr. Julian, 55, officially registered as a candidate in late December last year and held his first event to kick off his campaign in New Westminster, B.C. in his riding on Feb. 12, with a second kick-off event on Feb. 20 in Sherbrooke, Que.

Also in the race are NDP MPs Niki Ashton, Charlie Angus, and Guy Caron. Now-former Ontario NDP deputy leader Jagmeet Singh announced his bid on May 15. Two others, former veterans ombudsman Pat Stogran and Montreal consulting firm founder Ibrahim Bruno El-Khoury have also said they’re running.

The NDP vote is a one-member one-vote system. But the traditional format of one big leadership convention, at which members would cast their ballots, isn’t in the cards.

Instead, the vote will be done by ranked ballot over multiple rounds of voting over several weeks until a candidate has garnered more than 50 per cent support. In each round, if no one has reached that threshold, the candidate with the lowest share of the votes is dropped from the next ballot, with a maximum of five rounds to take place. Voting will take place online or by mail, and those voting online can change their vote before each round of voting ends.

New party members have to be signed up by Aug. 17 to vote, and voting for the first ballot will open Sept. 18 and close on Oct. 1. If it goes all the way to a fifth round of ballots, the next leader of the NDP won’t be known until Oct. 29. A “candidates showcase event” will take place before the first round begins, and events will be organized at the end of each round to announce the results and give remaining candidates a chance to speak, as per the party’s rules.

Mr. Julian was first elected as the MP for Burnaby-New Westminster, B.C.—now called New Westminster-Burnaby, B.C.—back in 2004 with roughly 34 per cent of the vote, and was re-elected in 2015 with about 43.5 per cent support. He was previously the NDP House leader, but stepped away from the role in October ahead of his leadership launch, and has also previously been NDP caucus chair and an energy and natural resources critic for the caucus.

He’s long been politically active, having joined the NDP when he was just 14 years old. He ran as a candidate for the Quebec NDP in Saint-François in 1989, ultimately placing fourth in the race. He went on to serve as provincial secretary for the NDP in Quebec in the 1990s and later as national policy co-ordinator and assistant and acting federal secretary of the NDP. In 2002, he ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat in his hometown, New Westminster, B.C.

“Peter’s had a very varied career. He worked in Quebec for the NDP when nobody else wanted to work in Quebec for the NDP, he helped build constituencies [for the party],” said Ms. Spratt.

In 1992, Mr. Julian volunteered on Bernie Sanders’ re-election campaign for the House of Representatives, well before the U.S. politician was a household name in Canada for running to be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

Mr. Julian has worked at the Shellburn oil refinery in B.C. and at a brewery. He’s also a former executive director of the Council of Canadians, which is how he first came to know Ms. Spratt, a former member of the board of the activist group. Along with being bilingual, she said Mr. Julian knows sign language. He used to work at the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

Ms. Spratt is currently working full time to help run Mr. Julian’s campaign, but previously was working for the Canadian Auto Workers union in B.C., where she’s lived for the past decade.

During the party’s last leadership race in 2012—which ultimately saw outgoing NDP leader Thomas Mulcair voted in as leader—Ms. Spratt was an organizer for former NDP MP and leadership candidate Peggy Nash in British Columbia. She previously also worked as an organizer for former NDP MP Svend Robinson’s 1995 leadership bid, which ultimately resulted in Alexa McDonough being named the new party leader.

Another B.C. resident, Robert Ages, is the official financial agent for Mr. Julian’s campaign. He’s a former researcher and writer with the B.C. Federation of Labour and is a member service representative with the B.C. Government and Service Employees Union, according to his LinkedIn profile. Ms. Spratt declined to provide names of other people behind Mr. Julian’s campaign.

Ms. Spratt said she thinks the campaign’s strength is Mr. Julian’s platform, in particular when it comes to policies around the environment.

“There aren’t a lot of other candidates taking [on] issues such as Kinder Morgan and pipelines in British Columbia, or Energy East. If you lived in British Columbia you would understand the huge fight back that has been occurring with other federal NDP MPs and MLAs around those environmental issues and working with First Nations in respect to that,” she said.

Mr. Julian has said he wants to kill the Kinder Morgan pipeline project, as well as Energy East, and move to a low-carbon economy.

At the end of March, Mr. Julian announced a “Just Clean Energy strategy” in Regina, proposing billions, partly financed through the elimination of oil and gas subsidies, to be invested in “clean research” and “renewable energy,” starting in Saskatchewan and Alberta to offset any job losses caused by a phase-out of the oil sands.

As well, Ms. Spratt said her candidate is “very committed to the disability community” and believes more should be done for it, and “also sees the rebuilding of the Quebec caucus as really critical.”

Mr. Julian has picked up a number of endorsements to date, including: NDP MP Erin Weir (Regina-Lewvan, Sask.), NDP MP Pierre-Luc Dusseault (Sherbrooke, Que.), Quebec caucus chair Robert Aubin (Trois-Rivières, Que.), NDP MP Brigitte Sansoucy (Saint-Hyacinthe-Bagot, Que.), NDP MP François Choquette (Drummond, Que.), and NDP MP Alexandre Boulerice (Rosemont-La Petite Patrie, Que.).

With a few months still left in the race to run, Ms. Spratt said the campaign is pacing itself. That means spreading out events and work “so we’re not all exhausted by the time it’s over,” and taking advantage of digital outreach options.

So far, she said Mr. Julian has visited communities in Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. The candidate will be in Alberta next month and in the Atlantic region a month from now, and ultimately “will cover every province,” she said.

The campaign has been officially fundraising since November 2016. During the last quarter of the year, it raised a total of $32,037, and in the most recent first quarter of 2017, it raised a reported total of $19,143. That combined total of little more than $51,000 puts Mr. Julian behind the other three candidates who were fundraising only during the most recent reporting period. Mr. Angus is leading with $110,765, Ms. Ashton comes next with $65,621, and Mr. Caron raised $57,235 in the first quarter of 2017.

But Ms. Spratt noted that Ms. Ashton and Mr. Caron both donated $25,000 to their own campaigns. Indeed, both did donate that amount on March 10. After the party’s 25 per cent administrative fee, $18,750 was transferred to their respective campaigns. Not counting these personal donations, Ms. Spratt said her candidate is second in donations collected, behind Mr. Angus.

“We’re feeling good,” she said.

Along with a steep administrative fee, the candidates for NDP leadership have also been constrained by a party rule prohibiting them from fundraising in provinces or territories in the midst of an election.

Up until earlier this month, that meant Mr. Julian wasn’t able to fundraise in his home province of B.C., noted Ms. Spratt. There’s now similarly a race underway in Nova Scotia.

People are able to sign up for a range of volunteer roles for Mr. Julian’s campaign on his website, covering everything from being an organizer to a phone canvasser, fundraiser, event host, and “social media ambassador.”

The campaign’s top priority now is to get the candidate out meeting as many people as possible and touting his vision of Canada, said Ms. Spratt. That includes talking about how to approach “building the party again” after it’s disappointing show in the 2015 election, which saw the NDP slip from official opposition to third-party status.

“We lost some great MPs in that last election that did really good work in the House, so it’s about rebuilding and it’s about putting a different vision on the party and I think that’s why people, the rank-and-file, voted for a leadership review,” she said, referring to a vote at a party convention in the spring of 2016.

The new voting system and set-up being used by the party this time is another subject that’s coming up in discussions said Ms. Spratt.

“I’m hoping that people will understand … the voting process, which will take over a large part of the work that we do commencing in August,” she said, adding they’ve been explaining “how the ballot works; the fact that you can say, ‘I would like to stay with Mr. Julian from the first vote to the last vote; how to do that; [and] assisting people that aren’t necessarily computer-savvy or don’t understand the process.”

“That will take time for the campaign to explain those processes,” she said.

The next official debate for the race is set for May 28 in Sudbury, Ont.


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