Jack Layton talks about the New Democratic Party and his win at New Democratic Parties leadership convention in Toronto, Ontario.
Question: re:politics (formerly, Maple Leaf Web) – You won a pretty convincing first ballot victory in the leadership contest, even though you came in as a bit of an outsider compared to some of the other candidates. To what do you attribute your victory?
Answer: Jack Layton – Team building. Hundreds of people in every province and territory worked on our campaign. We were able to inspire NDP members, with our ideas and platform (which is still available at www.jacklayton.ca). And our team was able to attract thousands of new members to the party, including a lot of young people.
Q: re:politics (formerly, Maple Leaf Web) – Some of the other candidates in the leadership campaign stressed the importance of having a leader in the House of Commons. Most of the sitting MPs supported other candidates. Is it important to you to seek a seat in the Commons soon? How do you plan on building bridges with the party’s
A: Jack Layton – I have to say that the caucus has been really great. Right from the start, they have been very supportive. We have a tremendous team of women and men working for their constituents and voicing the real concerns of Canadians in the House of Commons. They are there to lead our fights in the House.
I’ve worked with them to establish new approaches, most notably by creating five advocacy teams. These teams will propose solutions and connect the Parliamentary team with academics, community organizations and citizens across Canada. So each of the NDP’s priorities – health, the environment, peace, communities, democracy – now has an advocacy team.
And even though I do not have a seat yet (something I’m very confident will change after the next general election), I am still spending three or four days a week in Ottawa when the House is sitting. I am there, strategizing with my caucus colleagues and available to speak with reporters after Question Period, and I think we have been pretty successful so far. Also, I’ll spend a lot of my time traveling across the country because my personal priority is to mobilize our party activists.
Q: re:politics (formerly, Maple Leaf Web) – The NDP resurgence in 1997 was due to a breakthrough in Atlantic Canada for which Alexa McDonough was widely credited. The party’s traditional strength is in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. You’re from Ontario, a province that has been reluctant to embrace the NDP in recent years. How do you plan to maintain support in Atlantic Canada and the Prairies and still break through in Ontario?
A: Jack Layton – Well, the NDP believes that its obligations are to Canada as a whole – and in order for the NDP to gain national strength, it means expanding where we are strong, and building where we are not. In the end, it all comes down to vision and leadership.
The NDP is offering something that has been in very short supply in this country under Chrétien. We offer hope. Not false hope, but realistic hope that we can build again – that together we can start moving forward with vision and values that go to the heart of the Canadian community, values shared by Canadians from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
If we work hard, and stay true to our social democratic values, the small victories, household to household, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, riding by riding, can add up to big victories.
Q: re:politics (formerly, Maple Leaf Web) – One of the perennial concerns for the NDP is its ties with organized labour. With the impending changes to Canada’s election finance laws (supported by your party), donations from unions will be severely limited. Is your party going to be rethinking its ties with the labour movement?
A: Jack Layton – The fact is the last federal election had the lowest voter turnout of any election in our history. Canadians are losing faith in their democratic institutions and in the political process.
We need to reverse that. Changing the way that parties are funded will do that. So yes, it is true that we will have to work differently, to fundraise differently, but in the end it will actually be a good thing for our party and for democracy itself in our country.
We always have to keep in mind that the labour movement is one of the founding partners of the New Democratic Party. It is a strong partnership that we need to keep in order to be a successful political movement. And clearly we will need to do a better job at reaching out to rank-and-file union members, and work hard at convincing them to take out individual
memberships in the NDP.
Q: re:politics (formerly, Maple Leaf Web) – Although the NDP has managed to stay alive through the last few elections because of the strong support of a dedicated core of supporters, the party hasn’t really caught fire with voters. How can the party can attract new supporters or regain the support of voters who have drifted away?
A: Jack Layton – We are already doing that! We have over 80,000 members now. And within the first week following the leadership convention, over 2,000 people joined the NDP! I am very excited by the enthusiasm I can feel and see everywhere I go.
But we have only started. Watch for us to launch campaigns that will put the NDP where it needs to be: at the centre of debate on the issues that matter to Canadians. We will be more visible, we are already attracting new voter support, establishing the NDP as the clear alternative to the Liberals. Our NDP team will be bold in our choices and creative in our approach, and we believe Canadians will want to log on to our web site, www.ndp.ca, and join with us in our campaigns for peace, for a better environment, for an improved public health care system and for a fair treatment of our communities.