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Let's challenge the orthodoxy and change the story

The next federal election is scheduled for October 19, 2015. That's almost four years from when this article was written -- 1,419 days to be precise.

I'm running to lead the federal NDP, and propose we use that time to get more co-operation among progressive, federalist parties. In Conservative-held seats, we should hold joint nomination meetings-like a leadership race or a U.S. primary-with the winning candidate representing the party of her or his choice.

I am the only candidate for NDP leader proposing that we co-operate before the next election. I'm also the only one who has actually beaten a Conservative MP. And my party's historic breakthrough puts us in an ideal position to lead the conversation about how to get better politics.

Stephen Harper was elected prime minister 2,133 days ago. He received a majority government with less than 40 per cent support. Almost nine million people didn't vote. We can't let that happen again.

Sadly, party establishments seem to think elections are about them, not you. So instead of asking you if there might be a better way to hold elections -- one that focuses on what progressive voters share -- they seem determined to focus on the issues that divide, which we know in many seats helps elect Conservative MPs.

There is a better way and enough time -- 1,420 days -- for people to speak up, and demand new politics that reflect this country's values. The kind that sees parties co-operate a little more; with a little less partisanship and a little more generosity.

The problem is that despite environmental challenges bigger than at any time in human history, and economic crises worse than any point in most people's lifetime, people are turned off politics. Voter turnout is heading in the wrong direction. Ask someone to join a political party, and you'll likely get a "why" in return.

Let's challenge the orthodoxy and change the story.

As long as too many of us see politics as a spectator sport, most Canadians will wake up after a Harper victory asking how it happened. As long as it's something that other people do, we'll keep sliding backwards on climate change, keep seeing economic inequality grow and stay stuck with a voting system that doesn't work.

Last week, the interim leader of the Liberals, Bob Rae, blamed this sorry state on New Democrats and Conservatives. According to him, the problem is that we just don't speak about big issues enough.

That's a bit simplistic. Liberal governments spoke about big issues, like climate change, a lot, but little got done. Eventually, though, parties bickered less and built more, thanks to the NDP.

During the last Liberal government, New Democrats rewrote a federal budget. In it, we took away tax breaks for big oil companies that, within five years, Liberal platforms would oppose, too. We invested in several priorities, including public transit and energy efficiency-practical ways to fight climate change.

In earlier Parliaments, we were practical, too. It's how Canada got universal health care and public pensions. If those things can happen by co-operating after elections, why is co-operating before so radical? I can tell you that after making the proposal, I received notes from many members and MPs of political stripes saying it was about time someone said it.

This brings me back to whether politics is a spectator sport or one to participate in. Over the 1,420 days before the next election, the New Democrats and Liberals will both be electing new leaders, and both are remarkably easy to vote in.

It's fitting that the NDP is first. Our historic breakthrough in the last election lets us take the lead in getting better politics now. I believe that starts with a bit more co-operation among parties.

There are enough days left. There are enough frustrated citizens who want it, too. The question is whether they are willing make party establishments listen. I hope so, because by the time we next get to vote, Mr. Harper will have been prime minister for 3,553 days. We can't afford any more time lost.

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