January 8, 2012

I’m writing this letter the day before NDP-ers in Toronto-Danforth gather in a church to select our candidate for the upcoming by-election made necessary by the tragic passing of Jack Layton. We don’t know when that by-election will be and we all know that no one can replace Jack, but we have a job to do and we’ve got a group of very impressive candidates. By the time you read this, our election will likely be completed and you will be able to judge for yourself how we have done. For our part we will do everything in our power to make sure that our candidate joins the NDP caucus to add our voice on the Hill.

Our open nomination process in Toronto-Danforth is a reflection of the open process that we are going through as a party to select our next federal leader — the person we all hope will be the next Prime Minister of Canada. Like Toronto-Danforth, the party is well served with strong candidates and some of us will be faced with difficult choices. Before I cast my ballot tomorrow to select our local candidate I’m asking myself questions about who I want my candidate to be, questions like “will he or she connect with the diversity of communities in Toronto-Danforth?” or “will he or she work well with the executive to build our membership?” or “will he or she be a strong voice in caucus for the kind of party that I want the NDP to be?”

I’m writing this letter to share with you a somewhat similar list that I’ll be reviewing as I consider who I’ll be voting for in March for the leadership. I’ve asked myself what do I want to see in the next leader and the only thing I know for sure is that the job that Jack made look like fun is going to call on everything that the successful candidate has to offer. I’ve looked at what I think some of what our new leader will need to be in order to be successful. Take a look at this list. It may help you clarify in your mind what you are looking for and how you can make up your mind on or before March 24th. The opinions expressed here are my own. I am speaking for myself, and not on behalf of the riding association.

The leader of the NDP must be seen as a credible Prime Minister in waiting.

To be clear, I don’t mean that we have to have a middle-aged white guy for a candidate. I do mean that the next leader of the NDP must not just oppose the conservative agenda effectively and consistently, but must also propose a credible and consistent set of policy alternatives — especially on the economy. This will be no easy task with the stranglehold that neo-liberal pro-globalization views have over the majority of our mainstream media but that is the challenge. Our new leader must be able to break through to make clear to Canadians that the middle of the Great Recession is not a time for austerity. She or he must be able to make the case that there is and must be a role for government to reduce inequality.

– Look for a candidate that can inspire with vision and conviction

The leader of the NDP will bring Canadians together, not drive them apart.

Stephen Harper and the wedge politics that he practices are corrosive to Canadian democracy. The NDP can and must build the bridges necessary to create a broad and coherent movement of Canadians to oppose the corporate and financial agenda that has brought the economy to its knees and enriched so few at the expense of so many.

– Look for a candidate that listens, a candidate that hears, and a candidate that doesn’t have to be right all the time.

– Look for a candidate that, like Jack, is focused on making meaningful gains for Canadians and not just scoring political points.

The leader of the NDP will build the party in Québec.

Québec has a strong progressive movement. Core NDP values are also core Québécois values. We share the view that peacekeeping is a better use of our troops than is war-making. A pan-Canadian daycare model based on the Québec approach would address multiple issues of child poverty and support for working parents that Harper’s policies can’t even touch. Québec’s history of progressive activism on social issues has created a large population of activists, many of whom could be persuaded that the NDP can be their home — especially with the Sherbrooke Declaration in our pocket to be clear that we respect the aspirations of the Québécois.

– Look for a candidate that can relate to the Québec that can be, instead of the Québec that was.

– Let’s be clear that bilingualism is NOT an afterthought. If you want to lead this country, you need to do so in both official languages.

The leader of the NDP will reconnect the federal NDP with all those voters in
Western Canada that vote NDP provincially.

The Regina Manifesto. The Winnipeg Declaration. The home of the co-operative movement. The electors of multiple and successful provincial NDP governments. The destruction of the Wheat Board. My new federal NDP leader will create the conditions that will enable the majority of NDP federal candidates in B.C., Saskatchewan, and Manitoba to be successful.

– Look for a candidate that can connect to family farmers and lumber workers in the Prairies and B.C.

– We need a leader that will not accept that Canada’s role is as an exporter of resources. We can become a leader in environmentally sustainable resource extraction and processing — IF we have a leader with the political will to make it happen.

The leader of the NDP will welcome individual progressives from many backgrounds into the NDP, but reject the Liberal Party as a strategic partner.

There are progressive Liberals, but the Liberal Party is not a progressive organization. Those members that can see themselves as social democrats or democratic socialists should be welcome in the NDP. The Liberal Party, however, should be recognized for what it is — a dinosaur. It is structurally and historically a party of the elite and powerful. It may have campaigned on some populist messages but it governs on behalf of the rich and powerful (the 1 per cent). Now that Harper has “united the right” the Liberal Party represents the interests of even fewer Canadians. While it’s legitimate to work with other parties in government (see proportional representation below), working with them in or before an election should be anathema.

– Look for a candidate that is open to building our party.

– Look for a candidate that won’t get in the way of the Liberal’s self destructive ways.

– Look for a candidate who believes that the NDP has a message that can win the next election on its own.

My NDP Prime Minister will implement proportionate representation.

There is a democratic deficit on Parliament Hill. The Harper government hopes that Canadians will believe that the government has a mandate for its “Republican not-so-lite” agenda if it repeats that lie often enough. We know that a 40 per cent vote from the 60 per cent of the voters that turned out last year means that only 24 per cent of eligible Canadians voted for the Conservatives. This is not a mandate and is a clear demonstration of the failure of the first-past-the-post system that we are burdened with. Proportional representation will ensure that all Canadians’ votes will count and will make a mockery of false majorities such as the one we have now. Proportional representation may mean more minority governments, but it will also mean minority governments that are more likely to work together FOR Canadians instead of against them.

– Look for a candidate with a grassroots campaign and a deep understanding of the value of working with others.

– Look for a candidate committed to reducing the power of the Prime Minister’s Office and increasing the power of parliamentarians and parliamentary committees.

My NDP Prime Minister NDP will focus on the health of Canadians not the wealth of the health-care industry.

The portion of GDP spent on salaries for health-care professionals has remained relatively stable while health-care costs continue to rise. A large part of the rise in health-care costs is due to the increasingly expensive technical and pharmacological resources being brought to bear. Despite a publicly funded health-care system most of these resources are in private hands and the health-care system is increasingly an effective method for turning public wealth into private profit. Too few resources are devoted to preventing illness and increasing wellness. Poverty reduction strategies, for example, will contribute to significantly better population health outcomes. The same could be said about policies that would enable Canadians to reduce the portion of processed (and profitable)food-like products in their diet in favour of locally grown foods. The current system should be labelled an illness-treatment system, and what is needed is an actual health-care system.

– Look for a candidate willing and able to stand up to the health industry lobbies.

My NDP Prime Minister will build a green economy.

We all understand that an economy built on the idea that there is an inexhaustible trove of natural resources that can be exploited for a continually growing economy will, sooner or later, fail. The only question is whether humanity will fail with it. Clearly the first step to avoiding this catastrophe is to recognize that the economy is part of the environment and not above or outside of it. We need to re-invent the Canadian economy so that the resources we have now are the resources that we pass on to the seventh generation. Anything less would be criminal negligence of our responsibilities.

– Look for a candidate committed to setting and achieving realistic targets that will move Canada to the forefront of countries wanting to build a real future.

– Look for a candidate capable of generating policy alternatives based on science and evidence, not just ideology.

My NDP Prime Minister will prevent crimes, not build useless prisons.

The Harper government is increasingly operating in a fact-free zone and this is nowhere more evident than in its latest obsession with prisons and convictions. Harper and his cronies are convinced that they know best despite the overwhelming preponderance of evidence that their approach to crime will be more expensive and will decrease the safety of Canadians.

– Look for a candidate that will base public policy on solid research.

– Look for a candidate that will rebuild the trust that Canadians should have in their civil servants.

My NDP Prime Minister will re-establish a balanced Middle-East Policy.

Prime Minister Harper and his government have become one-sided cheerleaders for Israel. They have fundamentally shifted Canadian policy away from support of human rights and opposition to terrorism, whoever perpetrates it, to refusing to condemn Israel, irrespective of any evidence. An NDP Prime Minister must, at the very least, return Canada to a position of support for a two-state solution and clearly condemn provocative actions by any party to the dispute. This includes, in my view, a clear and unequivocal declaration of support for the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

– Look for a candidate willing to stand for human rights, even when that’s not popular.

– Look for a candidate that will support the rights of the Palestinian people.

My NDP Prime Minister will work with the provinces to establish stable and continuing funding for cities.

Whether it’s a national transit strategy or a national infrastructure program, Canadians have been riding and driving on a legacy of the past that we have not maintained. Cities need to be recognized as separate entities and given the kind of funding that will enable them to plan and budget for the long term. Ideally, NDP federal leadership in partnership with the provinces will set the framework for this spending.

– Look for a candidate that has the vision to see a way forward and the fortitude to carry it through.

Who to choose?

Quite frankly I haven’t made up my mind yet, and I suspect many who read this letter will be in the same boat. I know that I’ll be watching the debates and visiting the websites to enable me to make my choice. I’m going to go the convention and listen, watch and learn so that I can participate in what will be an historic event.

At the end of the day no candidate will be perfect. But with an open process and a democratic vote on March 24th, the NDP can take a long stride towards forming the next government. I’ll be comparing my view of what the NDP leader should be with the candidates we actually have and will cast my ballot for the next Prime Minister of Canada. I hope see many of you there.


John Wunderlich
Vice-President, Toronto-Danforth Riding Association

John Wunderlich is vice-president of the Toronto-Danforth NDP Riding Association.

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