MP Charlie Angus kicks off NDP leadership bid with speech that echoed working class themes of U.S. Democratic party presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Punk rock-style swag was on display at the bar as supporters packed the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen West. After short sets by musicians including Jason Collett, Ron Hawkins and rapper Mohammad Ali, Charlie Angus, the 54-year-old MP for Timmins-James Bay, took the stage to Patti Smith’s People Have The Power to make it official. Angus became the second candidate to officially join the NDP leadership race Sunday.
Angus did not spell out any specific policy positions, but emphasized job security, the high cost of post-secondary education and Indigenous issues in a 15-minute speech that echoed the appeals to working-class voters of former Democratic presidential primary candidate Bernie Sanders.
“We cannot be torn apart my the evil, false, corrosive politics of division,” Angus said. “The new working class is white collar and blue collar.”
Explaining that he spent $160 on a new suit for the occasion, Angus added: “I spent the money because we’re going to bring a little bit of class to politics.”
Angus chose the Horseshoe to launch his campaign, the club at which he saw his first punk show – the Last Pogo – as a teenager in the early 70s. He formed his own band after that, touring and recording seven albums over a 26-year career as the singer of alt-folk band the Grievous Angels, an experience, he says, that sharpened his interest in politics and social change.
The leadership race comes at a time when the NDP has shifted away from the traditional left to an embrace pocketbook issues under Tom Mulcair – and Big Oil under provincial premier Rachel Notley in Alberta.
Last April, the NDP voted to dump Mulcair as leader after the party went from official opposition to third party status following the 2015 election. The party has been facing an identity crisis ever since.
During its convention in Edmonton, delegates supported a motion to debate Naomi Klein’s Leap Manifesto, which argues against further investment in the oil sands as part of a vision to shift the economy away from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
Notley has called the Leap “naïve,” and applauded Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s approval of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline and Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement, as well as U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent reversal on Keystone XL.
During his speech, Angus criticized Trudeau for sticking to “the Bay Street status quo," supporting an arms deal with Saudi Arabia and backing away from a campaign promise to implement electoral reform.
After the speech, he worked his way through the crowd before holding court in a small media scrum.
"I like Justin Trudeau a lot but words mean something," he said. "You can’t make all these promises on electoral reform or the nation-to-nation relationship [with Indigenous people] or making Ottawa more transparent and then go about your business as usual. We’re going to start to mix things up in Ottawa a little more when I’m [leader]."
After spending a few more days in Toronto this week, Angus will be embarking on a cross-country tour to rally the party's grassroots.
“We have really good policies, but we have to learn how to talk to people who’ve disconnected,” he explained. “Is there a problem with us? Maybe we’ve just been too nuanced, a little too in the message box and a little too in the Ottawa bubble. Ordinary Canadians aren’t hearing us. My role in this campaign is to get out there and start talking to people who are feeling like they’re being written off the political and economic map of our country.”
Will the Leap Manifesto be a part of those conversations?
“There’re a lot of really good ideas that came forward and what better place than the NDP to discuss this? What people need to understand is the issue of the environment and the economy is not an NDP issue. It’s an issue for our nation – it’s an issue for the world."
Angus continued, "We need to find a balance. We are not going to throw a generation of workers under the bus because it will not get us to a new economy. We have to start focusing on the new economy [but] how do we start bringing in those transitions?”
The other candidate officially in the race to replace Mulcair is BC MP Peter Julian. Quebec MP Guy Caron, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and deputy Ontario NDP leader Jagmeet Singh are also expected to join the race ahead of the first leadership debate in Ottawa on March 12. Voting takes place in October.