OTTAWA—Promising to tour the country to gather ideas and fight the rise of cynicism and distrust in Canadian politics, Charlie Angus is pitching the membership of the NDP that he is their best bet to lead the party.
The 54-year-old MP from northern Ontario registered to run with Elections Canada last week, but officially kick-started his leadership campaign Sunday during an afternoon of music and speeches at the Horseshoe Tavern on Queen St. W.
In an interview with the Star, Angus said he was urged to run by supporters across the country and hinted at the policy proposals he plans to unveil during the campaign.
Job No. 1, he said, is making up for the deflating electoral defeat of 2015, when the NDP appeared on the cusp of victory, only to lose its status as Official Opposition and drop back into its traditional slot as the third party in the House of Commons.
“This race is about rebuilding a relationship of trust with the New Democrat base,” Angus said.
The best way to do that, in his mind, is to speak with members across the country to garner policy ideas from the grassroots of the party. “Rather than just come out and tell people what to do and lay out the program in advance … I want to hear what they’re thinking,” he said.
“I really learned that from (former leader) Jack Layton. Jack inspired me a lot. He talked me into getting into this crazy racket,” he added.
The economy also has to be a priority for the NDP, which Angus argued is the true champion of working people and the “middle class” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau frequently claims to be governing for.
“Maybe he just doesn’t know where the real middle class in this country is. What I see, talking to people, is more and more people being burdened down with massive amounts of student debt, unable to buy houses in the communities they grew up in, and caught in an endless cycle of short term work contracts,” he said.
He went on to say most Canadians don’t see their priorities reflected in Ottawa, and that an NDP that is “bold” and offers practical solutions to economic problems is the best answer to counter nascent Trump-style populism in certain areas of the country.
“They don’t hear Ottawa reflect their reality,” Angus said. “We need to be the voice speaking for them.
“I didn’t come this far in political life to have political arsonists like Donald Trump and guys like Kevin O’Leary suddenly get to pass themselves off as speaking on behalf of blue collar workers. That’s ridiculous. And the only way that happens is if New Democrats fail in our job to stand up for working class people.”
Indigenous issues will also be central to his leadership campaign. Angus said he would pursue true reconciliation and begin to dismantle the “colonial structures” of government that deliver inadequate services to people living in aboriginal communities.
Canada also needs to transition away from fossil fuels to a green economy, which Angus called the “job of our generation.” But he stopped short of calling for a moratorium on pipeline construction and cautioned against moving too quickly because industries like the oilsands employ so many people.
“We don’t throw a generation of workers under the bus to make a political point. The only person that’s ever done that is Margaret Thatcher,” he said.
Angus has been the MP from Timmins-James Bay since 2004.
Before he was elected he was in a punk band for former NDP MP Andrew Cash — the group was called L’Étranger — and played in another group called Grievous Angel. He later worked at a homeless shelter, launched a magazine, fought the export of Toronto garbage to an area landfill, and served as a school trustee.
He has also written six books, most recently about how Canada’s policies have affected indigenous children since the time of Confederation.
Angus is the second candidate to join the race to succeed Thomas Mulcair. B.C. MP Peter Julian was the first to announce, while Quebec MP Guy Caron is scheduled to make an announcement about the race on Monday in Gatineau, Que.
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