Peggy Nash nets NDP's 'top endorsement' as Layton's finance critic

Largely overlooked so far, NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash goes deep in a wide-ranging VO exclusive interview.

Peggy Nash flexes her social democratic muscles before the bank headquarters on Burrard Street. Photo by David P. Ball.

She's been dubbed a “practical radical” – and even the “Iron Lady of the Left.”
 
But Toronto's Peggy Nash – an emerging top contender in the quest to succeed Jack Layton as leader of Canada's New Democratic Party (NDP) – is no Thatcher. Her hope: to become Canada's “first-ever female social democratic Prime Minister.”

Today, at an intimate pub gathering (the venue doubles as a night-time gay bar), she announced she will support national anti-homophobic bullying legislation, bring back a long-gun registry and fight for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights.

"I believe in this leadership campaign, if we're going to talk about economic justice, we've also got to talk about social justice and human rights," she told the crowd. "We have to fight for human rights -- we have to defend the rights of everyone in society." 

And though the media seem to have already called the race as a two-way run between Brian Topp and Thomas Mulcair, many are looking to the party's finance critic as an intriguing third option – someone who might bridge Topp's progressive views and his closeness to Jack Layton, with Mulcair's charismatic (though mercurial) personality and government experience.
 
When the Vancouver Observer sat down with her in another pub on Saturday, only hours before a federal leadership town hall, Nash, 60, laughed heartily – heartily, as in, a full five seconds – at the titles the media have assigned her.
 
“I think most people – especially young people – today don't see things in terms of left and right,” she said, when VO tried to place her on the NDP spectrum. “I'm not sure it's always useful.
 
“I've spent most of my career trying to bridge the gap between the interests of business and the interests of people.”
 
In a political sphere where women are still categorized as either too tough (Thatcher, Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel) or too soft to lead, Nash earned her strong image not only from going “toe-to-toe” with finance minister Jim Flaherty and then-industry minister Jim Prentice. In her years before becoming a member of Parliament in 2006, Nash was a chief negotiator with the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union – the first woman even to negotiate a major deal with the automotive industry – the 2005 Ford Canada pact.
 
If that doesn't take steely resolve, try dealing with irate airport travellers. In a former life, Nash was an airline ticket agent. She speaks French, English and Spanish fluently. In the House of Commons, she's put forward bills for a $10 national minimum wage, honorary citizenship for the Dalai Lama and – making Canadian history – blocked a Canadian company's takeover by a U.S. arms manufacturer.

“I led the charge,” she said of the successful effort to stop the sale of MacDonald, Dettwiler & Associates (MDA), maker of the Canadarm, to a U.S. munitions manufacturer. “It was the first time in the history of our Competition Act.

“Once we examined (the deal), it became obvious even to the Minister (of Industry Jim Prentice) that it was not in Canada's interest. I've also shown as finance critic I can go toe-to-toe with (Finance Minister) Jim Flaherty with gusto and effectiveness.”

Nash said that bridging her passion for social justice with knowledge of economics is a key to her campaign. And, with economic inequality at an all-time high in Canada, she insisted Canadians need to hear more clearly the NDP's economic vision.
 
“We should never be afraid of talking about economic issues,” she said. “We are the party that wants to reduce inequality and create good quality jobs with decent incomes, and you can only do that if you have strong social programs and strong environmental policy – they all go together.
 
“Most people work really hard for their money and they want to make sure that the NDP understands that – which we do – and that we respect the tax dollars they send to Ottawa ... The average person says, 'Wait a minute – that's my money. I want to know that you value how hard I worked for that.' I think that in the next election, that's our challenge – to demonstrate that that's our approach.”

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