Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Few Initial Thoughts on Palestinian Statehood at the UN Today

I was extremely happy to see the UN General Assembly resolution to recognize Palestine as a "non-voting observer state" pass by a large margin (138 in favour, 9 against). The countries voting against were Canada, Israel, United States, Czech Republic, Panama, Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, and the Marshall Islands.

Here are my initial thoughts:

- There is still much to do for Palestinians to have a sovereign state of their own. Israel still occupies, both with their military and civilian populations, a ton of Palestinian territory. This step is a positive one, but it is a small one.

- The US Ambassador Susan Rice said today that her country opposes "any or all unilateral actions." Apparently that doesn't include bombing civilians in Gaza.

- The US and Canada say Palestine can only have a state if it is negotiated with Israel, but when Israel became a state 65 years ago, they didn't require any negotiation with the Palestinians. The American and Canadian governments are being hypocrites with this approach.

- Even though Canada and the US see today's move as "counterproductive", thankfully only 7 other countries in the world agree with them.

- It is significant that Hamas actually came out in favour of this resolution, which recognizes Palestine within its pre-1967 borders.

- Despite what Canada, the US, and Israel are saying, this move by Palestine was not "unilaterial"; 138 countries supported them.

- The most tangible change that comes with this change is status is that Palestine will now be able to take Israel to the International Criminal Court for war crimes, if it so chooses.

Here in Canada, the NDP was the only party that came out in favour of the resolution before it was voted on. The Liberals and Conservatives both came out against it before the vote. The Liberals issued a press release moments after the resolution passed. The release did not take any explicitly different stance on the resolution itself, but it did call on the Canadian government not to punish the Palestinians for the initiative, something the Harper government has said it will do. It remains to be seen if the Conservatives will actually follow through on their threat to send the Palestinian representatives in Canada home.

Only time will tell what the actual impact of this change will be. We'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Jesus of the Emerging Canadian Social Gospel Movement

This is a paper I wrote for one of my classes at the U of A. Since a number of people I talked to were interested in reading it, I thought I would post it for all to read. It think it's pretty self-explanatory, but please let me know if you have any questions. There was a lot of research I did for this paper that I didn't use, so if there is something I didn't touch on that you're interested in, there's a chance that I have already researched the answer to it. Enjoy!



The turn of the twentieth century was a time of crisis for the Protestant Church in the West. Attendance was continually dropping, and the new generations were finding the happenings inside the church doors to be less and less relevant to the problems they faced in their daily lives. In Canada, the dominant Protestant denominations were Anglicanism, Presbyterianism, and Methodism.[1] It would be primarily out of the Methodist Church that Canada’s Social Gospel movement would emerge. According to Richard Allen, the most prominent contemporary historian of the Social Gospel in Canada, “No major Protestant denomination in the nation escaped the impact of the social gospel.”[2] The two most prominent figures in the movement were both Methodist ministers based in Manitoba, Salem Bland and James Shaver (J. S.) Woodsworth. They were both strongly committed, as the movement as a whole was, to reducing social inequality in Canada.The main point this paper will set out to prove is that the Jesus of Canada’s Social Gospel movement was one focused on the social issues of its day, based on a simple, yet firm, intepretation of the Jesus of the New Testament.
In addition to the trials faced by the Protestant Church, the same time period was also a time of flux in society more broadly in the industrialized nations of the West. On the Canadian Prairies, where agriculture had been the overwhelmingly dominant occupation since the European settlers arrived, the factories were drawing more and more people away from the farms to the cities. At the same time, wealth inequality was increasing drastically. Individual workplaces employed more and more workers as the factories grew. With bigger factories came more power for the factory owners, but a counterbalance was growing that prevented the owners from exercising absolute power over their employees. Organized labour was gaining influence as workers across industries formed organizations that would serve to defend their collective interests against the often opposite interests of their employers. Most significantly, the Trades and Labour Congress (TLC), a pan-Canadian labour organization, was formed in the late nineteenth century.[3] The rise of organized labour would play a major part in the direction, development, and theology of the Social Gospel, and to it I will return in a moment.
Before getting into the details, I should clarify two factors. The first is the time period. The scope of this paper is limited to the time period from the emergence of the Social Gospel movement in Canada until about 1920. Before that year, it can reasonably be argued that the movement was still developing and determining what direction it would go. That is not to say its path was rigid after 1920 or that it did not continue to develop, but major events in the early 1920s drastically changed the movement and would require a much larger or separate work to analyze. Salem Bland’s work which laid out the fundamentals of Canada’s social gospel, A New Christianity, was published in 1920. In 1921, J. S. Woodsworth, along with his Methodist colleague and former fellow student at Wesley College, William Irvine, was elected to Parliament. The shift of focus from the pulpit to institutionalized politics brought important changes to the Social Gospel movement. The Social Gospel movement certainly did not end in 1920 and arguably is still present in Canada today; however, those developments are beyond the scope of this paper.[4] The second clarification is that this work will not deal with the later movement starting in the 1930s within the Church in Alberta led by William Aberhart and formulated around the ideas of Social Credit. In sum, the Social Gospel movement I am referring to throughout this paper is the one clearly on the left of the political spectrum and is restricted only to the developments of the movement up until about 1920.
The Social Gospel’s interpretation of Jesus, as can be expected from most Christian movements, was at the core of the movement.There is a contemporary debate among some historians of the Social Gospel about whether the movement’s primary motivation was to tranform Canadian Protestantism’s theology of individualism into one of addressing social issues or if its main impetus was to save the Protestant Church from fading into irrelevance in the lives of Prairie Canadians. Allen has been the most prominent proponent of the former view, while Ramsay Cook espouses the latter.[5] It may be useful to begin with a commonality between the two scholars’ views on the theology of the Social Gospel. Both agree that Woodsworth, undoubtedly the most prominent figure of the Social Gospel, held views that can be seen “as an escape from theological perplexities.”[6] Indeed, Allen writes, “The social gospel could be described as a movement in search of a theology.” Cook’s view is that those who founded the Social Gospel movement were motivated by the need for the Church to change in order to survive.[7] This view downplays the theological beliefs of the Social Gospellers, I think without sufficient justification. Granted, they tended to, either explicitly or implicitly, de-emphasize the importance of a complex theology, but at the heart of their interpretation of Christianity was a very firm, though simple, theology based largely on the concept of brotherhood taught by Jesus.[8] The call of the Social Gospellers was not to dispose of theology but rather to cast aside what for them were unnecessarily complex theological debates in favour of a theology free from complications, allowing Church members to focus their time and efforts on social issues rather than theological ones. It was precisely the Social Gospellers’ firm confidence in the core aspect of their theological beliefs that allowed them to turn so much attention to the social issues of their day.
While it can be argued that the works that laid out the substance of the Canadian Social Gospel were published relatively late in the movement’s history, the views of others who wrote earlier outside of Canada had provided the theological underpinnings for the movement at least until it could develop its own.[9] Cook’s view is that the Social Gospel removed the theology from Christianity and replaced it with sociology, a substitution he pegs as the movement’s primary weakness.[10] While it is quite clear the Social Gospel had a strong sociological emphasis, it is something entirely different to suggest that social concerns displaced theology’s role in the movement. In Woodsworth’s work My Neighbor, he urges his readers to think on the phrase “Re-Christianize the Church” and suggests that the Church must take part in what he believes is a coming “great social and religious reformation.” While at first glance, this statement may seem like Woodsworth’s impetus is solely to go along with what he believes are inevitable changes in the social and religious realms, in the next paragraph he provides a theological rationale for wanting to fill that role. He cites an article by Prof. Graham Taylor which says, “...the Golden Rule and the Sermon on the Mount should govern” society.[11] Woodsworth’s strong feeling that the Church must stay relevant to stay alive is not exclusionary to theology, and in fact is based on it.
The focus of the theology of the Social Gospel was the life and message of Jesus in his most human, and therefore least supernatural, form. The Reverend A. E. Smith, a contemporary of Woodsworth’s and also a Methodist minister, gave the following description of his view on Jesus:
In my sermons no miracle was required to explain the birth of Jesus or His life and teachings. Jesus was not the founder of the church. He never formulated its harsh theologies. The mumblings and genuflections, the robes and censers and incantations of the church were completely foreign to Jesus, the Nazarene Carpenter. His name was to be cherished because He died as a leader of the people, for His principles and in protest against the unjust rulers of His day.[12]

An argument can be made using a narrow definition of theology that the above quote does not constitute a theology because it does see Jesus as a divine subject; however, if that is Cook’s point, he does not make it clear.
                Rather than declaring that theology did not have a role to play in the Social Gospel movement, aside from being a means to the end of saving the Church from irrelevance, it would be far more accurate to say that theology was not oft discussed in detail, nor was it held in any complex form. It could reasonsably be said that although a theological underpinning was present and held quite strongly by the movement’s most prominent figures such as Woodsworth and Bland, their presentations of their Christian message did not have theology as the primary focus. Indeed, a skim through either’s best-known works, My Neighbor and The New Christianity, respectively, leaves the reader dwelling primarily on social issues. Rather than being the focus, the teachings and actions of Jesus are held up as a firm foundation from which the social problems of the day could be addressed. As Allen writes, the Social Gospel forged “links between proposed reforms and the religious heritage of the nation, in the process endowing reform with an authority it could not otherwise command.”[13] Similarly, historian Walter Young writes that Woodsworth’s Protestant background, teachings, and presence with his followers in the labour movement assured them that the radical reforms they were calling for were acceptable, and even essential, within the realm of Christianity.[14] The fact that Woodsworth was a Methodist minister with a family history in the Methodist Church helped to give legitimacy to the Social Gospel for many, or rather, they felt legitimized in their social activities because there was a theological justification for their activities. In other words, the teachings of Jesus through the existing institutional Church served to validate the proposed social reforms. Allen goes on to write, “The social gospel rested on the premise that Christianity was a social religion, concerned...with the quality of human relations on this earth.”[15] It was a belief that went to the very core of the Christian message for the Social Gospellers.
                More than anything else, for the proponents of the Social Gospel movement, Jesus was about social change. Bland’s The New Christianity concludes by saying that the key aspects of Jesus’ teachings are “love, and a willingness, like His, to find a throne in a cross.”[16] In other words, love and sacrifice are the keys to Jesus’ teachings. Love, for Bland, is most sincerely expressed in the pursuit of social equality.
As Bland was one of the key figures in the Social Gospel movement and the core of his theology pointed to social equality, it is worth looking in some depth at his justification for that belief. In his work The New Christianity, Bland broke the history of the Christian Church into three different phases, which were each accompanied by parallels in social order. He began with what he called the “Aristocratic phase”, which was characterized by a social order dependent on the Roman Empire and the Catholic Church. He characterized the Catholic Church as the Roman Empire’s mirror image in the religious realm.[17]
The Aristocratic phase ended, according to Bland, at the beginning of the sixteenth century with the beginning of Protestantism. This next phase was called the “Bourgeois phase” and took the Church up to 1914, very close to the year he was writing (1920). As the bourgeois began to form out of disillusionment with the aristocracy, Bland drew a parallel with the Protestant movement forming out of disillusionment with the Catholic Church; the middle class was taking authority from the Emperor and the Protestants were taking authority from the Pope. What Bland saw as lacking in bourgeois Christianity (and certainly in its earlier aristocratic form as well) was the “passion for brotherhood,” which as mentioned earlier was for him the most fundamental teaching of Jesus.[18] This passionate brotherhood only existed at the level of the working class for Bland. He saw the Catholic and Protestant churches as ignoring the working people, who were the people society should be built to serve. The bourgeios were the least class-conscious for Bland because their chief concern was trying, as individuals, to move up to the upper class – to become the aristocracy.
The working class, conversely, was beginning to organize collectively through the organized labour movement, which was growing at an unprecedented rate with the large-scale industrialization happening in the West. As with the two previous phases, Bland saw the Church going through a parallel transformation with the social order. He predicted that “...institutional Christianity will undergo a third transformation and, in a society dominated by Labor organizations, will become democratic and brotherly.”[19] He believed both Protestantism and Catholicism would necessarily fade away and be replaced by this new form of Christianity, which would have a deeper affinity with “the Christianity of Jesus” than either of the two previous forms. Therefore, the true Jesus, for Bland, was the Jesus embodied by the twentieth-century labour movement. The message of brotherhood that was at the heart of Jesus’ teachings for Bland, had taken hundreds of years to manifest itself in both the Church and in society, but with organized labour it had finally arrived. The deepest meaning of Jesus’ message was that the members of the lowest classes of society were to live in brotherhood with each other and work collectively to improve society as a whole.
Bland’s view was that throughout the history of the Church, the Christian message had been kept secret and was only in his time being revealed. He quotes Jesus in Luke 8:17 (“Nothing is hid that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and brought to light.“) in order to explain his method for extracting what he considered the true message of Christianity out of the scriptures.[20] He goes on to explain that Paul “hid” in his writings his personal views of “contempt of marriage and lack of reverence for women.” In other words, Paul wrote his own personal views into his letters and disguised them as the views the Christian Church itself should hold. Likewise, he says Christ also hid something in the scriptures – “the equality of brotherhood.” This concept, for Bland, was the very heart of Christianity. He calls it a “the secret force, the most deeply vital essence of Christianity.” For Bland, social equality was the most important message Jesus delivered.[21]
                It is true that the Social Gospel meant widespread engagement with those outside of the Church without the primary goal of converting them to adopting a Christian theology. The reason I specify “theology” is that the Social Gospel would try to recruit followers to its version of Christianity. The difference is that the Social Gospel tended to see living by the Christian principles of love and brotherhood as living the Christian life, despite what one’s theological beliefs might be. It is in this way that the movement attempted to have appeal across the theological spectrum. Its proponents did not want the movement’s goals to be limited to a shift within Methodism or Presbyterianism, nor even a shift within the whole of Christianity, but rather a shift in the entire society. This idea is perhaps shown most clearly by Bland in his analysis of organized labour.
Before the Christianization of the labor movement was complete, he said, two things must happen. First, it needed to broaden its base to include others of the same social class who were not already part of organized labour. Second, and most importantly for our purposes in this paper, he said “Labor must recognize the Christianness of its own principles.”[22] He went on to say that he did not mean the movement, or the members of the movement, needed to convert to Christianity, but rather that it needed to recognize that its principles had as their basis the teachings of Jesus. For Bland, the organized labor movement already was Christian by its very nature. Because it was a movement based on the brotherhood of humanity, it embodied what was at the very heart of Jesus’ message. Therefore, it was not coincidental in the least that the key message of Jesus corresponded with the working class in Bland’s own time; rather, the organized labor movement was a Christian movement because Jesus himself was from the working class. It is worth quoting this section of Bland’s book verbatim because it is the key to his interpretation of Jesus:
It is not strange, after all, that among working men should arise the Church which is to give the truest interpretation of Christianity. The Lord Jesus was Himself a working man and brought up in a working man’s home; His chief friends and chosen apostles were mostly working men. How can He be fully understood except through a working man’s consciousness?[23]

Organized labour clearly was the primary vehicle in Bland’s theology through which the future of the Church would realize its main purpose: to address issues of inequality in society.
                J. S. Woodsworth had his own views on how Christianity fit into society, and although the implications of his theology resulted in a similar approach to how one is to live in the world, he framed it much differently. Woodsworth put a much bigger emphasis on “Kingdom” theology, which shows the strong influence Walter Rauschenbusch had on him.[24] The idea of Kingdom theology was essentially that instead of God’s kingdom, referenced a number of times in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, being a goal for the afterlife, the teachings of Christ were to turn the present society into the Kingdom – another word for the ideal society. According to McNaught’s biography of Woodsworth:
[The Social Gospel’s] central purpose was to work for ‘the Kingdom’ in this world. It laid heavy emphasis upon the doctrine of love and proclaimed the principle of co-operation as opposed to that of competition. It asserted the brotherhood of man and decried excessive individualism and the adoration of the profit motive in economic life. It placed greater emphasis upon the temporal welfare of individuals and society than upon the salvation of particular immortal souls.[25]

The purpose of the kingdom theology was to teach churches about “the social content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”[26] Woodsworth took great pride in the official stance of his Methodist church that it recognized its “specific the establishment of the Kingdom of God on the earth.”[27][28] Establishing the Kingdom heavily involved loving one’s neighbour as oneself, popularly known as the Golden Rule of Christianity. For that reason, Woodsworth’s book on his view of the Christian role in society took on the title My Neighbor.
Early in this book, Woodsworth wrote, in reference to the parable of Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, “And who is my neighbour?”[29] He did not answer the question directly but used the parable as the foundation for the views he expressed in the rest of the book by interpreting it in his own contemporary context of early twentieth-century urban life in Canada. Rather than applying the parable to helping only individuals one by one, Woodsworth believed his contemporary social context called for helping many individuals at the same time by reforming the system.[30]
Both Bland and Woodsworth formed their views, and informed the views of their followers, based on an interpretation of Jesus that saw him primarily as an ethical teacher. For them, he was not simply a good ethical teacher; he was the best. The life and teachings of Jesus were held up as ideals for everyone to follow in society. The goals of Bland, Woodsworth, and the Social Gospel movement more broadly, were not to convince people of a particular view of the relationship between Jesus and the divine, nor were they much concerned with the divine at all, at least in the traditional sense of the term. They were, however, extremely motivated to convert people to their point of view that the teachings of Jesus, or at least the ones they emphasized, should be followed. The shift this motivation caused, for those going from traditional Protestant views to those of the Social Gospel, was necessarily about changing the way people thought about Jesus and God, not as an end but as a means. The primary goal, the end they set out to achieve, was about changing the way people lived.  The Jesus of the Social Gospel movement was not a complex one; for many social gospellers, he was the most remarkable man ever to have lived, and his life served as a model for how one ought to treat one’s neighbours. It may have been a movement rife with utopian idealism, but one cannot deny that the Social Gospel movement in Canada had an immense impact on the Church and on the country.


Allen, Richard. The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada, 1914-28. Toronto,
                University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Allen, Richard. The View from Murney Tower: Salem Bland, the Late Victorian Controversies, and
                the Search for a New Christianity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.

Bland, Salem Goldworth. The New Christianity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973.

Cook, Ramsay. “Ambiguous Heritage: Wesley College and the Social Gospel Re-considered.” Manitoba
                History Number 19 (Spring 1990): 1-34.

Fraser, Brian J. The Social Uplifters: Presbyterian Progressives and the Social Gospel in Canada,
                1875-1915. Waterloo, ON: Wilfred Laurier University Press, 1988.

Irvine, William. Can a Christian Vote for Capitalism? Ottawa: Labour Publishing Company, 1935.

McCormack, A. Ross. Reformers, Rebels, and Revolutionaries: The Western Canadian Radical
                Movement, 1899-1919. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1979.

McNaught, Kenneth. A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J. S. Woodsworth. Toronto: University
                of Toronto Press, 1963.

Smith, A. E. All My Life: Crusade for Freedom. Toronto: Progress Publishing Company, 1949.

Woodsworth, J. S. My Neighbor: A Study of City Conditions; A Plea for Social Service. Toronto:
                The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1913.

Young, Walter D. The Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932-61. Toronto: University of
                Toronto Press, 1969.

[1] Allen, Richard. The Social Passion: Religion and Social Reform in Canada 1914-28. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973, p. 8.
[2] Allen, The Social Passion, p. 15.
[3] Until about 1900, the TLC was somewhat of a regional organization, but by the turn of the century it had expanded to cover most of the nation.
[4] A recent example of note is former Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert’s paper, “Beyond the Social Gospel”, presented in 2009 (
[5] Cook, Ramsay. “Ambiguous Heritage: Wesley College and the Social Gospel Re-considered. “ Manitoba History Number 19 (Spring 1990), pp. 30-31.
[6] Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage,” p. 18.
[7] Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage,” p. 11.
[8] The implicit downplaying of complex theological matters is clearly evident in the works that provided the foundations for the Social Gospel, such as Woodsworth’s My Neighbor and Bland’s A New Christianity. Both works are filled with commentary on the social situation of their day while discussions of Jesus and theology fill very little space.
[9] Woodsworth and Bland did not publish their books on the foundations of the Canadian social gospel until 1911 and 1920, respectively. However, both were influenced by Walter Rauschenbusch’s Christianity and the Social Crisis, first published in 1907, and the theology of the German scholar, Albrecht Ritschl, who lived only until 1889.
[10] Cook, “Ambiguous Heritage,” p. 20.
[11] Woodsworth, J. S. My Neighbor: A Study of City Conditions; A Plea for Social Service. Toronto: The Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1913, p. 336.
[12] Smith, A. E. All My Life: Crusade for Freedom. Toronto: Progress Publishing Company, 1949, p. 43.
[13] Allen, The Social Passion, p. 3.
[14] Young, Walter D. Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932-61. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1969, p. 158.
[15] Allen, The Social Passion, p. 4.
[16] Bland, Salem Goldworth. The New Christianity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1973, p. 92.
[17] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 42.
[18] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 50.
[19] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 54.
[20] Bland, The New Christianity, pp. 22-23.
[21] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 23.
[22] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 54.
[23] Bland, The New Christianity, p. 55.
[24] Rauschenbusch was the author of what is probably the most widely-known theology of the Social Gospel, his 1907 book Christianity and the Social Crisis, which placed a strong emphasis on Kingdom theology.
[25] McNaught, Kenneth. A Prophet in Politics: A Biography of J. S. Woodsworth. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963, p. 49.
[26] McNaught, A Prophet in Politics, p. 59.
[27] Woodsworth, My Neighbor, p. 172.
[28] It is important to note that not all prominent Methodists coming out of Manitoba were a part of the Social Gospel movement. Clifford Sifton, as one of the most prominent examples, was one of Woodsworth’s contemporaries; like Woodsworth, he had been a part of the Methodist Church in Brandon, MB, and also had attended Victoria College in Toronto. However, Sifton took a very different path from there by joining the Liberals and later becoming a key member of Prime Minister Laurier’s government (McNaught, 38).
[29] Woodsworth, My Neighbor, p. 19.
[30] Woodsworth, My Neighbor, p. 21.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Additional Thoughts After Encounters with Mulcair, Ashton, and Dewar

First of all, thanks so much to everyone who read my last post and gave me feedback. It's exciting that party members are so engaged in and passionate about this leadership race. Since my last post, I've had the chance to attend events in Edmonton with Thomas Mulcair, Niki Ashton, and Paul Dewar. In my last post, I ranked Mulcair in last place, Ashton in 2nd, and Dewar in 1st. After encounters with all three of them, none of those rankings have changed. These are my thoughts on each of the candidates as they have changed or been refined by the events I attended.

Thomas Mulcair:

Thomas Mulcair's event in Edmonton had the largest turnout of any of them so far (and the only candidates who haven't given a talk here are Singh and Saganash - it appears that neither of them will be making it). I don't know that it was the result of his popularity here, but likely do to the increased media hype around him over the past while. He is employing what seems like a smart strategy of portraying himself as the only candidate who can retain the NDP's stronghold in Quebec, a question that resonates with New Democrats across the country.

As much as retaining our seats in Quebec is immensely important, so is growing the party in other places. I love that Mulcair is setting his sights high on membership recruitment in Quebec because I think it's important for the entire party. I'm happy Mulcair is running in the same way that I was happy Robert Chisolm was running. Regional candidates focusing on their home bases and building the party there will benefit everyone no matter who is elected leader. I think Mulcair gave himself the "regional candidate" designation early in the campaign when he complained that he was at a disadvantage in the leadership race because the party hadn't done enough membership recruitment in Quebec. As true as that may be, if we process the implications of that statement, it was really Mulcair himself saying he didn't have much for support in the existing membership. That may be starting to change now that he is getting around the country to meet with members. However, he doesn't seem to be getting around the country nearly as much as some of the other candidates. I assume that's because he still sees his road to winning going primarily through Quebec.

Anyway, on to my experience at Mulcair's event. I had expected that the criticisms I had of Mulcair would be neatly covered up and that his visit would be nearly flawless. He is a seasoned politician, possibly more than any of the other candidates.

He started off impressively. His opening talk was good. He even paused for a second before talking about the "oilsands" and explained that his campaign team was hammering into his head that he was no longer to use the term "tar sands", which he used in the first televised leadership debate. It was one of the issues I mentioned in my last blog that put him at the bottom of my list (

But it was all downhill from there. Once he started taking questions from the audience, Mulcair the Grizzly Bear came out. There were a couple of questioners, one a youth and one not, who asked Mulcair about what he thought about state ownership, citing examples from the days of party giants Tommy Douglas and David Lewis. He told the questioners (I'm paraphrasing now) that they were delusional if they thought the NDP could become government while espousing a traditional leftist ideology that included expansion of state ownership of resources or industries. He said if people want to go back to being a party with 9 seats like we did under Broadbent, Douglas, and Lewis, they can start their own party. And it wasn't even the substance of Mulcair's response that put me off. He could have given an answer with the same substance but completely changed the rhetoric, and I would have found it acceptable. However, the disrespect he showed not only to the questioners, but also to the historical giants of our party, was appalling. The NDP is a party where many of its most active members, both young and old, have a deep attachment to its history and party icons. We have a rich tradition of advancing social democratic values in Canada. Sure, we express those very differently than we did 30, 40, or 50 years ago, and most of us are okay with that. But we have a HUGE respect for our leaders, going back to the CCF leaders J. S. Woodsworth and M. J. Coldwell, and carrying through the NDP years with Tommy Douglas, David Lewis, Ed Broadbent, and of course, Jack Layton. I wish there was video people could see so everyone could get an accurate first-hand view of what was said, but unfortunately I don't think any exists. However, I am one of many who felt the same way coming out of the event (another explanation of the event has been written by Lou Arab, who was the head of the Alberta section of the 2011 election campaign for the NDP; it can be read here:

Another statement Mulcair made that turned many members off was in response to a question about how high of a priority proportional representation would be for him if he became Prime Minister. His response was that implementing proportional representation would require a constitutional amendment and therefore would be virtually impossible. Many in the audience were shocked. None of us had ever heard anyone take that view. Even a fellow staffer, who also is a National Council member of Fair Vote Canada, found it "bizarre". I was even more confused when I started to hear reports from Eastern Canada a couple weeks later that Mulcair was talking about proportional representation as a top priority for him. Whatever his real story is on PR, it doesn't look good.

My last point on Mulcair is about his stance on Israel-Palestine. He is the least popular of any of the candidates on this topic for reasons I detailed in my previous post. I wanted to ask him a question in a way that I could get a straight answer, so I chose to ask it in a very clear way. I asked him how Canada should vote when the Palestinians statehood bid comes up in the UN, as it soon will. He began his answer by stating, almost verbatim, the official NDP policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict. He said he agreed with that position (found here in section 6.3: That was all. I spoke up and told him he didn't answer my question about how Canada should vote on the Palestinian statehood bid. He repeated that he agreed with the official NDP position on Israel-Palestine. The response was akin to this: I wanted a simple answer: yes or no (or abstain, I suppose). No other candidate has refused to answer my questions. On this specific question, Paul Dewar, Niki Ashton, and Brian Topp have all said very clearly that Canada should vote "yes" on the statehood bid. I would have had a lot more respect for Mulcair if he had answered the question, even if I disagreed with his answer.

In conclusion, I'm sure no one is surprised after this experience that Thomas Mulcair is still last on my list. He is BY FAR, in my view, the most divisive candidate in the race. I won't be surprised if he gets a lot of first ballot votes but far fewer than others on subsequent ballots.

Niki Ashton:

Niki Ashton's event was much less polarizing. There were few disagreements in the crowd. Coming only a few days after Mulcair's visit, it was refreshing to have a visitor who didn't offend anyone. This blog is getting a bit long, so I'm not going to write extensive thoughts about Ashton's visit, but I will certainly do that in another post if people are curious (let me know). I will, however, offer some brief thoughts and impressions.

Ashton seems to know the issues as well as many of the other candidates. For a candidate who is only 29 years old (she's only a year and a half older than me!), she was VERY impressive. Her opening talk was very articulate. I feel like she has her priorities right with her focus on how the focus for the NDP needs to be on a fair economy. She handed out a 10-point (if I remember right) plan on how we can achieve that.

When she was answering questions, she tended not to answer them very directly, which I know put some people off. It wasn't so much that you didn't get an answer to your question. It was more that she explained everything in kind of a round-about way. She was also quite a bit less articulate when answering questions than she was in her speech. Either way, I think her core principles, her policy depth, and her passion are all huge assets to the party. If she needs to brush up on the way she delivers a message, that can come through further training. She impressed me enough to stay at number two on my list.

Paul Dewar:

I'm not going to go into much more than I have previously on Dewar. I laid out my thoughts pretty thoroughly in my last blog. Dewar stopped in Edmonton again recently to make a policy announcement on clean energy and to announce an endorsement from Alberta's only opposition MP, Linda Duncan (announcement here: The visit included an afternoon meet and greet event with both Dewar and Duncan hosted by the University of Alberta Campus NDP, which I attended.

The visit was what I've come to expect from Dewar. He is very comfortable fielding questions of all sorts. He was even asked a similar question by the same person Mulcair had rudely dismissed, so no one can say the other candidates would have handled it in the same way. Although Dewar didn't completely agree with the questioner, he treated him with respect. I heard the next day that the questioner has decided to support Dewar. After a more formal Q & A session with the whole room listening, the end of the official event was announced, and Dewar sat down around a table with about 10 very engaged people for a discussion for 20 minutes or more before heading out.

This was Dewar's third visit to Edmonton since the leadership campaign started - more than any other candidate so far. It's no accident that the Ontario MP feels like the most Albertan of all the candidates (at least in my view). He was paying visits to Edmonton long before the leadership race when Jack Layton was still leader. When I was leading the U of A Campus NDP in the fall of 2010, we hosted him for a large public event on foreign affairs. A year or two ago, he was in town again as the guest speaker at an event in support of Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason. Both times, he met with a number of civil society organizations in the city. He spent time building our grassroots in Edmonton well before he was running for leadership of the party.

What was more significant than what was said at the event itself was the endorsement. There are currently only three elected NDP politicians in Alberta: MP Linda Duncan, and MLAs Rachel Notley and Brian Mason. Notley and Mason are both going to stay neutral in the federal leadership race at least until after Alberta's election is over. It looks almost certain now that election day will be after the leadership race is over. That means Duncan is the only elected New Democrat in Alberta who will be endorsing anyone. I've already heard from a number of fellow members that Duncan's endorsement has swayed their vote to Dewar. It will certainly be a powerful tool for Dewar volunteers to use when trying to convince other Alberta members to vote for him.

That's about all I have to say for now. Perhaps I'll do another post after we've seen another leadership debate or two. I didn't watch the Toronto debate the other night, but I'll definitely be watching the one next weekend, and the rest of the official debates. Please feel free to give me more feedback!


Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Rankings and Thoughts on the NDP Leadership Race

Sorry it has been forever since I have written on this blog. I have been quite busy over the past while and also haven’t found enough motivation to write on here. I do intend to write more in the new year (I suppose I could call that a resolution, huh?). I’ve noticed in the past that people seem to really like my posts on religion and politics, so I’ll look to explore that more in the future. Please send me any suggestions for what you’d like me to cover, and I’ll take them into consideration.

I have been asked a number of times since the beginning of the federal NDP leadership race to give my thoughts on the various candidates. I have attempted to do that a few times, but Facebook comments and Twitter are not as conducive to fully explaining thoughts as is sometimes necessary.

First, I will go through each of the candidates and explain my impression of them. I do have a current ranking in mind that represents how I would vote if the leadership convention were held today. That said, my rankings are not final and will likely shift before March 24th. I hope to actually be at the leadership convention in Toronto at the end of March, but that depends on whether or not we’re in the middle of an election here in Alberta at the time (damn you, Premier Redford, for not picking a fixed election date!). Second, I will elaborate on what I have said in my explanations of my rankings by giving some thoughts generally on what we are or should be looking for, in my opinion, when we are choosing the next leader. If there are areas I fail to cover in this post or points that are not clear, please let me know, and I will do my best to fill those areas in.

I also want to say before I start that I’m going to be very candid in this post. While I don’t think we, as a party, want the leadership race to be divisive, we do need to talk about the differences between the candidates if we’re going to choose the best leader. I hope I don’t offend anyone with my criticisms. That is not my intention. I think all of these candidates are or will make great MPs and/or cabinet ministers. I also want to say that I’ve been making my best effort to see each of the candidates as they come to Edmonton for the Edmonton-Strathcona NDP’s “Kitchen Table Talks” series. So far I’ve made it to the talks with Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar, Robert Chisolm, and Brian Topp. Unfortunately, I missed the one with Peggy Nash. I’ll be attending the talks with Thomas Mulcair (event here: and Niki Ashton (event here: in the coming week or so and hopefully to Romeo Saganash and Martin Singh once they’re confirmed. Happy reading!

I will start my rankings from last to first, since I think it’s easier for me to talk about my top pick while contrasting him with the others.

8. Thomas Mulcair

Mulcair is one of two candidates at the bottom of my list because there are things about him that make me believe his leadership of the party would be disastrous. He is the only candidate who would cause me to question my party affiliation if he were leader of the party. For some New Democrats, it is enough that he was once a Liberal for him to be placed at the bottom of their lists. For me, that isn’t a factor. As a former Liberal myself, I can’t level that criticism at anyone. I do think we should be welcoming former Liberals into our party.

There are a number of other things that put Mulcair firmly at the bottom of my list. The first is the way he treated NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies after she was caught in a “gotcha” interview speaking in favour of boycotts of Israel and saying the occupation of Palestine goes back to 1948. Instead of treating Davies like a fellow party member, Mulcair decided to publicly denounce her. I have been told on at least one occasion by a federal party insider that Mulcair is one of the reasons why the NDP has such a nuanced position on Israel-Palestine. A Google search of “Mulcair Israel” will bring up many of the concerns about his position on the conflict. His public denunciation of Davies was not his only divisive statement in the media. Since before he formally entered the leadership race, he has repeatedly made unnecessary public statements complaining either about the party generally (low membership levels in Quebec, union ties) or specific candidates (his ongoing public questioning of the character of fellow candidate Brian Topp).

Lastly, Mulcair’s inability to understand Alberta or to make the province a priority (not sure if it’s one of those or both) cements his position in last place for me. Although it seems like he’s getting better, Mulcair was still calling Alberta’s oilsands the “tar sands” when he got to the first official NDP leadership debate. I’ll never forget the day in the 2011 election campaign that Jack Layton uttered those two words in Montreal during a policy announcement on the environment. It set off a storm across Alberta, most acutely for the NDP in the campaign offices for Edmonton-Strathcona, Edmonton East, and Edmonton Centre. After a few days of damage control, we did manage to get back on our game, but it was an unnecessary mistake. Mulcair seems not to have learned from it. He seems to be developing a little better understanding of policy when it comes to the oilsands, but he has already isolated himself in the minds of many Albertans because of his statement in the first debate. It’ll be interesting to see if he speaks any differently when he arrives in Edmonton on Friday.

In sum, the problem with Mulcair is that there are too many problems with Mulcair, and these are not major problems. An NDP under his leadership will not be a united NDP, and I think it’s difficult to argue with that. A Mulcair win would divide the party. Either the face of the party would change to the point where it is no longer recognizable, or it would simply fade into irrelevance as many of those who supported Jack Layton’s NDP look for other alternatives.

7. Nathan Cullen

I had a good conversation with Nathan Cullen very shortly after he announced he was running for leader. He, along with all the other candidates declared at the time, visited Edmonton for the Alberta NDP’s annual Leader’s Levee fundraiser. I was extremely impressed with him. A few of my fellow Alberta New Democrat activists had already declared their support for him. He listened intently as a couple of us explained to him how sensitive an issue the oilsands is for Albertans of all political stripes. At that point, Cullen moved to number two on my list, behind Paul Dewar (oh no, I just gave away the ending!).

A few days later, Cullen announced his policy for “cooperation” with other “progressive parties” in Canada. I put “cooperation” in quotes because I don’t Cullen acts like his proposal is the only form of cooperation that fits the definition of the word. In fact, the NDP already does cooperate with other parties, including the Conservatives from time to time. We had minority Parliaments from 2004 to 2011. No law could be passed without at least one party cooperating with the Conservatives. The NDP also cooperated most significantly in the aftermath of the 2008 election with the Liberals and the Bloc, when we attempted to form a coalition government with the Liberal Party. That was cooperation.

Cullen’s proposal can also be defined as cooperation, but I think a more accurate term would be “non-competition”. His proposal is for the NDP, Liberals, and Greens to not compete with each other in some Conservative-held ridings. The problems with the proposal are many. Many concerns were raised when Cullen visited Edmonton for his Kitchen Table Talk earlier this winter. When asked what New Democrats would do in ridings where there is no NDP candidate, Cullen would not give a straight answer. He instead told the audience that the NDP would out-organize the other parties in his proposed joint nomination meetings. To me, that says this isn’t really about cooperating. It’s about trying to find clever ways to get more Liberals and Greens to support our candidates. If Cullen said that out front (or if he would say that at all), the policy would be a non-starter for many who see him as the uniter of all things not Conservative. Further, we should not be so arrogant as to think we can out-organize the Liberals EVERYWHERE. In Edmonton, and maybe all of Alberta, sure, I can see it. But I know other parts of the country are different. And maybe in a place like Edmonton Centre, where the Liberals held the seat with former Deputy Prime Minister Anne McLellan until 2006, the Liberals would out-organize us, even though we placed second to the Conservatives with Lewis Cardinal’s campaign in 2011. If Cardinal lost a joint nomination meeting for the next election, would he line up all of his supporters and volunteers behind a Liberal? Would party members be okay with giving up the 60% election expense rebate candidates get if they receive over 10% of the vote? Assuming Cardinal’s campaign spends the same it did in last year’s election (approximately $71,000), the party would be giving up over $42,000 in that riding alone. Granted, we don’t spend that much money in every Conservative-held riding, but we did qualify for the rebate in 305 out of 308 ridings. And does that also mean we don’t build up any supporter lists in ridings where we don’t run candidates? Probably. I can’t imagine a Liberal campaign handing a list of supporters over to us. Which brings up another point. Are the Greens or Liberals interested in this proposal? If it were to work as Cullen says it will, both of those parties would need to pass resolutions at their own federal conventions to put the policy in place. Not to mention that the NDP would have to pass such a resolution. From my experiences at two federal NDP conventions, I can’t see the party membership passing such a resolution, even if we did elect Cullen leader.

None of the concerns I have listed were, in my view, addressed in a satisfactory way when Cullen visited Edmonton. If we are looking for ways to demotivate our volunteers, members, and supporters, the Cullen plan is a great way to do that. I don’t think that’s what party members want.

I apologize for how lengthy I have been with Cullen’s proposal, but I feel that it should be discussed without the rhetoric and judged on its merits. When it is looked at closely, it becomes very difficult for people committed to making our country more progressive to embrace. I won’t discuss the idea of the Liberals and Greens as “progressive”, other than to say I think that’s false. The records of both parties do not bear that out, in my view. That discussion is a whole other blog post if people are interested.

Needless to say, Cullen’s “cooperation” proposal immediately plunged him to the bottom of my list with Mulcair. Some of my fellow New Democrats in Edmonton who had declared their support for him when he first announced immediately switched their allegiances. Whether Cullen likes it or not, he has made the proposal the sole issue on which his candidacy will be judged. Though he has significant depth on other issues, in members’ minds, most will place Cullen on their ballot in a place that shows how much they agree or disagree with the proposal. For me, that place is at the bottom.

6. Martin Singh

I’ll say only a few things about Singh. First I think his presentation in the first debate was very impressive. He is a terrific speaker. I’ve met him a couple of times briefly at the past two federal NDP conventions through the NDP’s Faith and Social Justice Commission of which he and I are both members (he is currently a Co-chair). I am very happy he has committed to running for Parliament in the next election regardless of how he fares in the leadership race.

His shortfalls are obvious. He has never been in elected office before. He had no national profile prior to entering the leadership race. Most party members didn’t even know who he was. And he has made himself a single-issue candidate. Almost everything that comes out of his mouth relates to his owning small businesses and how pro-business he is. While I think that’s terrific and I do think our party needs to talk about business more and how government can work with businesses to grow our economy and create jobs, we need more depth than that. Based on Singh’s focus on this single issue and lack of other credentials, I can only assume that the purpose of his candidacy in his mind is to give business issues a more prominent place in the leadership race. I think that’s a good thing, so I’m glad he is in the race. But I do hope he diversifies his talking points in future debates.

5. Romeo Saganash

Before I get into my views on Saganash’s candidacy, I want to say that my preferences can be divided into two categories: those I don’t believe are fit to lead the party, at least at this time, and those I would enthusiastically support if they won the race. My bottom three choices are in the former category, and my top five choices are in the latter category (making Saganash the first acceptable choice in my list so far). That said, here are my thoughts on his candidacy.

I met Saganash briefly at the 2011 federal NDP convention in Vancouver last summer. He was very impressive in person. He also gave an address to the main convention floor. His speech was very inspiring. He speaks fluently in English, French, and Cree.

He has not been to Edmonton yet for a Kitchen Table Talk, so I don’t know much about him in detail. I have followed his campaign from the beginning and haven’t seen as much activity as I have seen from a number of other candidates. He is also very new to Parliament, being recently elected in the 2011 campaign. He does have an impressive resume, but in my view, Parliamentary experience is essential. Another concern I have with him is that he seemed nervous and somewhat uncomfortable on stage during the first debate. And during his visit to Edmonton for the Leader’s Levee event, his presence didn’t draw people in from around the room like other candidates did.

Saganash, barring any major changes, will not go down on my list. He may go up on my list, depending on how he is when he does make it to Edmonton again and how he fares in the remaining national debates. He seems to be an amazing MP and maybe he’ll be ready for leadership of the party sometime down the road. However, I don’t think he’s ready quite yet.

4. Peggy Nash

Nash, for me, is the biggest question mark right now. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to attend her Kitchen Table Talk. There is still much I don’t know about her. From what I can tell, I do like her politics. The biggest complaint I’ve heard about her is that she isn’t as engaging as some of the other candidates. Some say she doesn’t inspire them. Does a leader need to be engaging and inspiring? That’s a big question and is one worth asking, but it is beyond the scope of this post. ;)

I’ve received Nash’s regular campaign updates via her e-mail list. I saw her in the national debate. I supported her in 2009 when she ran to be the President of the federal NDP and won. I was also at the 2011 convention where there was a controversy about whether or not her President’s report to the convention would be followed by a Q and A period. The convention eventually voted to force her to take questions on the report. That event, though important to some, wasn’t a defining event for me. I can get over that. In fact, I had forgotten it even happened until another Alberta New Democrat raised it when considering her candidacy for leader.

Nash has focused almost solely on the economy through her campaign so far. Part of that may be that the only official debate that has been held was focused on the subject. Another part of that is likely that the economy is where she feels she has the best credentials, relative to the other candidates. She was, after all, Jack Layton’s pick as Finance Critic when the NDP became the Official Opposition. I have been very impressed with her focus on the economy. Unlike Singh, I don’t get the sense that it is her only issue. She does seem to have more depth than that, and I look forward to hearing her views on more issues.

The two main things that put her further down my list are her lack of charisma and her lack of focus on the West. The first is something that is important to me personally, but is not something a party leader or Prime Minister must necessarily have. The second is the main reason she isn’t further up on my list. I recently had a conversation with a prominent Alberta New Democrat who had a personal meeting with Nash in which the person asked her what she saw as growth potential for the party. Nash’s answer did not include any mention of Alberta. I think it’s telling that when being asked in Alberta (where we have 27 Conservative MPs and 1 new Democrat) by an Alberta New Democrat about growth for the party, her answer doesn’t include Alberta. I find that even more telling when I consider that there are two seats besides the one in Alberta we currently hold that were priorities for the party in the last election, both of which saw enormous growth in support. It’s terrific if Nash can grow the party in the area around Toronto, in the Greater Vancouver area, and around Winnipeg. But I’m an Alberta New Democrat, so I want to know what she is going to do to grow the party here. If that’s not a priority, then she’ll likely stay where she is on my list. I do wish I had been at her Kitchen Table Talk. Maybe there is something I missed. I hope that she makes a point of putting some focus on the West over the next couple of months. If she does that, she may move up a spot or two.

3. Brian Topp

When Topp announced his run for leader, it brought up more questions for me than any of the other candidates. And I probably wouldn’t have taken much note of him, like Martin Singh, if he didn’t have the support of such party stalwarts as Ed Broadbent, Libby Davies, and Roy Romanow. He has never had a seat in any public office. I only know who he is because I’m a hyper-engaged partisan who read the articles he wrote in the Globe & Mail, read his book on the 2008 coalition negotiations, and voted for him when he became Peggy Nash’s successor as President of the federal NDP at the party’s 2011 convention.

On the day Topp announced, flanked by former party leader Ed Broadbent and prominent Quebec MP Francoise Boivin, what caught my attention, besides his company, was the first question he was asked by a reporter. He was asked what Canada should do about Palestine’s bid for statehood in the United Nations. Topp answered, unflinchingly, that Canada should support the bid. Ever since, he has been in the upper half of my list, and I’ve paid close attention to his campaign. When he visited Edmonton in December for his Kitchen Table Talk, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised. Topp was very engaging. He was charismatic. He spoke at length with substance when he answered each question. He even spoke with a relatively high degree of knowledge about the oilsands. He talked about ensuring more value is added to Canada’s natural resources, so that we’re not just shipping raw products out of the country. The issue is one of the biggest ones in Alberta and is a big concern of many who traditionally vote Conservative. I think it’s his experience working in different parts of the country that make him quick to recognize the uniqueness of our province, even though Alberta is not on his job history.

But there have been a couple of negatives, in my view, since his campaign began. I was disappointed during the first leadership debate to see the way Topp attempted to get a scuffle going between himself and Paul Dewar. It was not, for me, anything to do with my support for Dewar. To me, it was about the substance. Topp’s attempt at “debate” was based on rhetoric, not policy. It was the most unnecessary part of the entire debate. Topp, as a long-time party strategist, should know better than to act that way on national television.

The other negative, for me, came up during his Kitchen Table Talk. Topp has said he would abolish Canada’s Senate (a good thing, in my view) but that he would use the money saved to add an additional 100 seats to Parliament which would be elected proportionally. I do believe it’s the right thing to do to implement proportional representation. It’s deplorable that the NDP got 32% of the vote in Saskatchewan, yet not one NDP MP got elected from that province. It is equally deplorable that a 23% vote for the Bloc in Quebec won the party only 4 out of 75 seats. There are similar examples for the Liberal, Conservative, and Green voters through every election cycle. My first concern with 100 new MPs is that I don’t think we need 438 MPs in Parliament. The US House of Representatives has only 435 seats, and it represents almost 10 times as many people. I can’t imagine going into an election campaign trying to convince the electorate (particularly in Alberta) that we need to add another 100 seats to Parliament. Another concern arose when I shared my concerns with a Topp campaign activist after the event. I was told that each of the 10 provinces would receive 10 new seats under the Topp plan for proportional representation. To clarify, I asked if I was understanding it correctly that Prince Edward Island, currently the most over-represented province in the House of Commons (PEI has less than 35,000 people per seat, whereas Alberta has over 100,000 people per seat), would be given a total of 14 seats instead of the current 4. The answer was yes. I can’t imagine the country uniting under that proposal. Further, I can’t see Quebec, which has been so much the focus of Topp’s campaign so far, accepting representation of 1 MP per 85,000 people to PEI having 1 MP per 10,000 people (approximately the proportions that would result from adding 10 extra MPs to both provinces). I e-mailed the Topp campaign a few weeks ago to clarify the policy and have heard no response. There are only two things posted on Topp’s “On the Issues” section of his website, both to do with wealth inequality. I suppose I may just have to wait to get the full details of Topp’s proposal. For now, he sits at number three. With his method of implementing proportional representation, he likely won’t move any higher on my list. There is certainly a possibility he’ll move down if Nash and/or Saganash improve over the next few months.

2. Niki Ashton

I first met Niki Ashton a couple of years ago when we hosted her at the University of Alberta to give a talk as the NDP’s Post-Secondary Education Critic. She was very impressive. Executive members of the U of A Students’ Union, none of which were New Democrats, told me they were also very impressed with her. I experienced her public speaking skills most notably at the 2009 federal NDP convention in Halifax, where she was one of the weekend’s MCs. During the first NDP leadership debate, she was very comfortable and confident. She is engaging and charismatic. In addition to our country’s two official languages, she also speaks Cree. She has been in Parliament since she was first elected in 2008. Although I haven’t heard her focus specifically on Alberta yet, she has definitely made it clear that the West is one of her prioritieis. I look forward to hearing more about her thoughts on how she sees Alberta fitting into her vision of an NDP government. I still have much to learn about her, so I am excited to be attending the Kitchen Table Talk she is giving in just over a week (link above in the 4th paragraph). If you live in the Edmonton area, it will be an event you won’t want to miss.

I do have a few reservations at this point about Ashton’s candidacy. I was going to say I haven’t heard much from her about policy, but after looking on her website, it looks like she has actually talked quite a bit of policy so far. I suppose many don’t see her as a viable candidate, so she isn’t garnering much media attention. However, I do still want to learn more about her ideas, particularly as they relate to Canada’s place in the world. Ashton’s sound bite phrase of “new politics” has started to get a bit annoying for me, so I’m hoping she doesn’t continue harping on that. It’s a fine idea, but the phrase doesn’t need to be repeated at every opportune moment. The other thing that makes me hesitate a bit is her age. And I’m not sure if that should matter. Ashton is only 29 years old right now. Her age itself isn’t a problem for me. But the question is if it would be a problem for Canadian voters. She’ll be 33 or so at the time of the next election. Would voters take her seriously? I think it’s tough to tell. What I am sure of is that if she doesn’t win this round, she has a very bright political career ahead of her. She will finish the leadership race having pleasantly surprised many people across the country, and she’ll have a greater public profile. Assuming she doesn’t win this race, my hope is that she’ll stay in Parliament for years to come and have the opportunity to focus on a number of different portfolios (in critic positions or, if things go well, cabinet positions). She can raise her public profile even more through a few sessions of Parliament and may end up one of the top contenders for the NDP leadership job the next time around. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have a Prime Minister Ashton. I would not be completely shocked.

1. Paul Dewar

Dewar has been at the top of my list since before he announced his candidacy. In fact, I sent him an e-mail message before he declared to encourage him to put his name forward. He was first elected to Parliament in 2006 and had a teaching career before that. Since being elected, he has been one of the most high-profile NDP MPs in the country, serving as the party’s Foreign Affairs Critic from 2007 until he stepped aside to run for the NDP leadership in 2011. I have had the pleasure of getting to know Paul over the past couple years. I have talked with him extensively about foreign affairs and am always amazed at the depth of knowledge he has about the entire world. Foreign affairs, for me, is one of the most important policy areas to look at in choosing the next NDP leader. We are at the point where we are picking a potential Prime Minister. The only candidate to me who truly looks Prime Ministerial is Paul Dewar. He has a vision for the country and a vision for the world. During his visit to Edmonton for his Kitchen Table Talk, he spoke with depth on every issue that was raised. He is casual and comfortable in a room of strangers. He is confident and has charisma when he addresses a crowd. He was the first leadership candidate to really focus on the West and talk about it as one of the places the party needs to focus on. He understands Albertans’ issues. I have heard him talk a number of times about how we need to add value to our raw resources before we export them. He is a bridge-builder with broad appeal. He has made a point not to alienate any of the candidates in the leadership race, including those he has major disagreements with. I believe he’ll attract many Canadians who hesitate to look at the NDP. He is a likeable public persona.

The major criticism of Dewar, and really the only one I’ve heard, is that his French isn’t good enough. I do share some of that concern, however, I don’t think our criteria for picking the next Prime Minister should focus solely on language. He managed himself in the first bilingual leadership debate and according to a Francophone friend of mine, has improved immensely from even the beginning of the campaign. He has a French teacher who travels with him on his leadership campaign, and it is clearly working. It is extremely important that our next leader can speak French. But I think it’s naive to think that the candidate with the best French is automatically going to hold onto all of our seats in Quebec. Quebec voters are as much concerned about personality and policy as voters in the rest of the country. We need a leader who can speak French, who has progressive values and ideals, who can unite the party, and who has broad appeal across the country. Paul Dewar, for me, fits that description better than any of the other candidates.

Well, I suppose that brings us to a conclusion. For me, Mulcair, Cullen, and Singh are off the list. They are all numbered on this post, but the three of them will not be ranked on my ballot. They are the only candidate I believe would be bad for the party from the start. Saganash, Nash, Topp, and Ashton are all subject to change, and I anticipate their order on my ballot will change, though I’m not sure in what way yet. There is still much to happen before we cast our votes to decide who will be the next leader of the NDP and the Official Opposition. I’ll be trying to take in as much as possible from all of the candidates between now and the leadership convention, including the candidates I’ve ruled out. I still want to see them all as NDP MPs and cabinet ministers, inshalla. Paul Dewar is at the top of my list and will remain there when I cast my ballot, unless something drastically changes before then. His vision for Canada and the world is one that I can embrace without reservations.