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.

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And though Nash seemed authoritative but somewhat matter-of-fact in discussing global economic instability, Canada's export surplus, and joblessness solutions (safe to say, in fact, that she is extraordinarily confident on fiscal matters), she warmed up considerably on the debate stage and, most importantly, when interacting with the server bringing her coffee, who seemed excited by her campaign just from one interaction.
 
“Wow,” the server told me after. “She's really nice. I'm not really a political person, but it would be so cool to have her as prime minister.”
 
She may be seeking the NDP leadership, but with the party rising in prominence since becoming Official Opposition this year, is she ready to take on Canada's highest position of power?
 
“If you're going to run for something like that, you've got to be prepared to win, and for what that means in terms of a much greater level of commitment,” she says with confidence, not breaking eye contact. “I have the capacity to get the job done.
 
“It's a whole new level of scrutiny. And a whole new level of reflection about what the consequences are.”
 
No one could say this isn't a tough challenge. Mulcair and Topp share a top-tier, garnishing impressive banks of high-profile NDP endorsements. Nash, for her part, has Victoria MP Denise Savoie, former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough and Newfoundland and Labrador NDP leader Lorraine Michael, among the most well-known.
 
“The best endorsement in the campaign is the endorsement she received from Jack Layton when he named her senior finance critic,” said Duncan Cameron, president and columnist with Rabble.ca, attending her pub event. “It's the senior position in the caucus, and makes her the first woman opposition finance critic (in Canada).”
 
When Jack Layton phoned her to offer her the coveted finance critic portfolio, Nash said he seemed as excited as she was by the appointment, especially considering the NDP's opposition status.
 
“I knew Jack was thrilled offering it to me,” she said, chuckling. “He asked me if I was sitting down when he offered it to me!
 
“We had spoken a lot about where the party needed to go and about the kind of work we needed to do to convince Canadians about our credibility. To me, the economy underlies everything. It's about whether people have a decent job, it's about whether people can get the care they need, it's about what kind of resources we're giving to protect the environment.”
 
During a full hour she spent with the Vancouver Observer, Nash fielded questions on topics as broad-ranging as Quebec self-determination, nation-to-nation talks with First Nations, and reviewing free trade agreements and fighting for human rights and the environment in any future ones. (Read more below).
 
She becomes most animated when discussing the Occupy movement – the catch-phrases of which have entered the leadership debates from many candidates, with rejoinders about “the one per cent” and financial speculation.
 
Nash, too, raises the Occupy question.
 
“(Occupy) is something that got people excited,” she said. “People were standing up and putting a spotlight on those who have caused the economic insecurity really having got away scott-free. Those who paid the price were left suffering the consequences.”
 
“Personal debt is at an all-time high right now. And the level of inequality in this country hasn't been this high since the 1920s. So it's an issue – it's something the Occupy movement put a spotlight on, was the level of inequality.”
 
While it is unclear whether Nash has a shot at party leadership – she's still not widely known, nor carrying some of the backing of other top-tier candidates – some speculate that, with the party's preferential ballot, she may at last-moment and come up the middle of Topp and Mulcair in the final count. Milling about at The Helm – by night a gay bar, by day a lounge – Nash weaves slowly through a crowd of 75, about three-quarters of whom seem less than 30, many wearing freshly minted rainbow-emblazoned 'Queers for Nash' shirts. She smiles as she takes the floor, and the bar hushes.
 
“I've sat across the bargaining table across from some pretty tough companies,” she said. “But I'll tell you -- the gains that have given me the greatest satisfaction are gains around equality issues.
 
“None of us has a good life and a just life -- unless all of us has a good life and a just life.”

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