During the NDP leadership race, rabble.ca invited all the leadership candidates to participate in interviews in which rabble readers ask the questions. Nathan Cullen, Brian Topp, Peggy Nash, Paul Dewar and Niki Ashton all agreed to answer your questions in a live interactive Q&A session. Thomas Mulcair declined our invitation and Martin Singh did not respond. As the March 24 convention date rapidly approaches, here’s a reminder of what the NDP candidates had to say to babble, rabble.ca’s online discussion forum.

Nathan Cullen was the first candidate to appear, and readers were naturally interested in his much-touted (and much-critiqued) co-operation plan. For Cullen, the May 2 watershed moment for the NDP and the groundswell of progressive support in Canada makes this conversation particularly urgent. “The crisis of climate change, growing inequality and the dominance of oil industry interests,” Cullen said, “demands that we rise to the crisis and be more generous in our politics.” Some babblers, however, questioned his decision not to include progressive candidates from the Bloc Québecois in his arrangement. “Talk of the Bloc brings us into another conversation that isn’t helpful,” he responded.

When the popularity of Cullen’s plan was cited to Brian Topp by rabble.ca columnist Murray Dobbin, however, it became clear that co-operation might be a hard sell to the other candidates. “I believe New Democrats have the right to vote for a New Democrat,” Topp replied. “I don’t agree that we can’t win, something long and insistently said of our prospects in Quebec, until we spectacularly proved that this was not true. Now the suggestion seems to be we can’t win in English Canada — on much less evidence.”

All the candidates were pressed on the NDPs precarious stance on foreign policy and the Middle East. Topp maintained that he was against any “military adventure in Iran,” which tended to be the consensus amongst candidates. Peggy Nash advocated “focusing all efforts on diplomacy and prevention,” while Niki Ashton — the only candidate to receive an A+ from the Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) for her position on Palestine — noted her alarm at Stephen Harper’s “war-mongering” and “dangerous rhetoric.” Paul Dewar stated that he’d like to see a return of Canada’s peackeeping heritage to the international stage and cited the Congo as a place where Canada’s “leadership” could play a productive role.

Many candidates spoke out about the way their public persona has been received by mainstream media and Canadian audiences. Against the accusation that mobilizing the Canadian electorate could prove difficult for her, Nash replied “Nothing wins the air war like bold ideas and clear direction. If we remain bold and exciting and don’t shy away from risks, I think we’ll sway the 40 per cent that didn’t even bother to vote this last election.” Brian Topp, who faces similar criticism, remarked “none of the current candidates are currently known to the people of Canada,” but that his electoral success would be inevitable “against an incompetent Conservative government.”

Niki Ashton, whose achilles heel some say is her youth, pointed out that she is one of the more experienced members in the caucus, despite her youth, and in fact her youth could count as an asset. “We need New Politics,” Ashton says. “I will put forward a vision of a new kind of leadership — one where leaders have the confidence to allow others to show leadership, too.”

Paul Dewar detailed some of his tax platform, promising to reinstate Canada’s corporate tax rate to 19.5 per cent. “That would be a saving of almost $10-billion per year to invest in a better place, like fighting poverty, building affordable housing, delivering better health care and protecting people’s retirement.” Niki Ashton also committed to rolling back corporate tax cuts and proposed a tax reform commission “to modernize our tax system and in particular review all aspects of our tax system to make sure they are equitable and progressive.”

To end poverty, candidates proposed a variety of solutions. Nathan Cullen promised to build on the work of Libby Davies and Olivia Chow and introduce a National Housing Plan. Peggy Nash opted for government incentives as a central strategy to produce high-paying jobs. “In the last two decades we have watched the decimation of our manufacturing sector and those good-paying jobs haven’t returned.” Niki Ashton frequently cited the poverty of aboriginal populations, urban and rural, as a major problem an NDP government led by her would address.

All candidates asked about electoral reform reiterated their support. Peggy Nash agrees that one of the main ideas the NDP needs to champion over the next four years is a proportional representation voting system. Brian Topp was more specific, citing his preference for “a mixed proportional House, blending the current House with a tier of MPs elected by proportional representation somewhat on the German model.” Paul Dewar favours the New Zealand model “where a mixed-member proportional representation ensures that we can maintain the connection of MPs to their ridings, and at the same time balance out the results of a first-past-the-post election.”

Dewar also noted his admiration for the post-secondary students of Québec, currently en grève. “We need a post-secondary education act,” Dewar affirmed. “We need federal support to reduce tuition fees, we need targeted grants for low-income students.” He also proposed a new initiative — “Your Canada Year” — in which young Canadians have the opportunity to volunteer at home and abroad, rewarded with a year of tuition coverage. Niki Ashton also gave a passionate defence of higher learning, outlining her education policy in which accessible education is a key part of an inclusive economy. “I believe that education is key to moving forward,” she said. “And the priority must be to support our post-secondary education system and make it affordable and accessible to all.”

For other issues and more detailed answers to the ones summarized above, be sure to read the abridged interviews or the original babble discussion threads, and join the ongoing discussion!