The NDP leadership race

Our analysis

In July of this year, Courage members voted in an internal referendum to determine how best to intervene in the upcoming federal NDP leadership election. Options on the ballot were: 

1. Endorsement: recommendation of a particular candidate

2. Scorecard: a ranking of each candidate against Courage’s Basis of Unity

3. Analysis: a neutral examination of the candidates against Courage’s Basis of Unity

The results of the vote were close, but the majority of the membership did favour Option 3: Analysis. It is in recognition of that decision that we present our analysis of the NDP leadership race, measured primarily against Courage’s ‘Basis of Unity’, as well as on a broader leftist perspective. Our Basis of Unity comprises the core values that Courage’s members agree upon and support, and includes such demands as; democratic control over our economy; a society which includes and empowers all people, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, religion or class; environmental sustainability; international solidarity with oppressed people everywhere, including the Palestinian people and all migrants and refugees; decolonization and self-determination for Indigenous peoples everywhere; and inclusive and asymmetrical federalism. We offer our survey of the four leadership campaigns as interpreted through this unique lens. This analysis will not however address issues of personality such as popular appeal and charisma, as it is our feeling that these aspects have been given adequate coverage in other sources. It is important to note that our survey is not exhaustive—it leaves out policies for all of the candidates—and as it is the work of a collective it will not align perfectly with the views of any one member.

A note on foreign policy: at the time of writing none of the campaign platforms contained significant foreign policy, nor has there been a debate dedicated to the subject; a glaring oversight on the part of the candidates and also the party. An area where there is some distinction between the candidates is on the subject of Israel and Palestine. As the plight of the oppressed is of special interest to Courage, and as pro-Palestinian candidates have been known to be “turfed” by the NDP, a decision was made to limit our foreign policy analysis to where the candidates stand on this issue. We feel it necessary to point out that criticism of the State of Israel does in no way equal anti-semitism, and that Courage stands strongly against racism in all its forms.

Charlie Angus

Charlie Angus is the veteran in the NDP leadership contest, elected as an Ontario MP in 2004. Being the second to declare (after Peter Julian, who has since dropped out) and thought to be the initial frontrunner, the Angus campaign has presented its candidate as a champion for the typical Canadian, the worker: Charlie “has your back.” Angus does have a solid history organizing for social justice—particularly in championing Indigenous issues—that backs up this claim.

On the environment, Angus would like to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel industries, and legislate a “hard-cap” on emissions over a five-year period, but has not taken a particularly hard stance against pipelines, with the Hill-Times identifying him as the “most pipeline friendly candidate” in the race. This conclusion, however, is contradicted by his passionate advocacy for Indigenous peoples, his commitment to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and to not oppose Indigenous rights in court. Angus also aims to promote Indigenous child welfare, work to hand over programs to Indigenous communities and improve access to housing and education.

Angus’ platform offers no specific gender-based or LGBTQ+ policy, and while thin on migrant rights, he does promise to fund EAL programming, employment assistance and other services. On Palestine, he has criticized Israel on the issue of settlements, supports the labelling of goods originating in the occupied territories, and opposed parliamentary condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, though it should be noted he does not support boycotts or sanctions against Israel.

Apart from not presenting a taxation plan, Angus has advanced strong economic proposals, pledging to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour, introduce anti-scab legislation, and—of particular interest to Courage—to create a program which would make it easier for urban neighbourhoods to set up democratically controlled cooperative enterprises. Among other progressive housing initiatives (a $1.1 billion low income housing benefit, $2 billion to social housing) he also pledges to expand cooperative housing, promoting democratic control of local resources and community land trusts. We view cooperatives as a key element in the transition to a democratically controlled economy; any program that encourages their development is something that we support. [*]

While Angus has made a return of the party to its grassroots base a central promise of his campaign—commendably promising to hire regional organizers for example—some in the party have alluded to a troubling tendency toward autocratic rule during his time as caucus chair. This potentially represents a weakness in what one could reasonably expect to be Angus’ strongest area—intra-party relationships and support. Additionally, given Courage’s stance on improving internal democracy within the NDP, any notion of a ‘top-down’ leadership style is cause for concern.

Niki Ashton

On the issue of strengthening the internal democracy of the NDP, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton has pledged to make the NDP a ‘bottom-up’ organization in which left-wing grassroots organizations and activists have a greater say in policy and direction of the party. The candidate in the NDP leadership race to most vocally identify as a democratic socialist, Ashton’s campaign messaging and rhetoric has for the most part supported that label.

Ashton supports public ownership and democratization of the economy through the nationalization of key sectors—though she has not been thoroughly specific on her plans to do so. Likening herself to Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, Ashton has also promised free post-secondary education, offered positive gender-based policy such as a well-funded national action plan on gender-based violence, and plans to take “decisive action” on employment discrimination against gendered, Indigenous, racialized and LGBTQ+ persons. It should be noted here that some have found Ashton lacking in her allyship; during and after the Victoria debate, the issue of Ashton’s blatant cherry-picking of quotes to misrepresent candidate Jagmeet Singh’s stance on LGBTQ+ changes to Ontario’s sex-ed curriculum was the subject of critique from both party members and the media.

Ashton’s tax reform plan is ambitiously redistributive, seeking to close loopholes and ensure corporations and the wealthiest 1% of Canadians pay a commensurate rate by limiting capital gains tax exemptions and increasing wealth and estate taxes. She also proposes the creation of a Postal Bank, and an end to corporate giveaways and trade deals which benefit executives and corporations over workers here and across the world—though again without a great deal of specificity. Through aggressive taxation and a plan to end corporate subsidies, Ashton proposes a robust climate justice plan, including green job guarantees, retraining for oil sector workers, a national retrofit strategy, phasing out the sale of gas and diesel vehicles by 2040, and the creation of a new crown corporation to lead a green energy transition.

On support of oppressed peoples, Ashton has been vocal on Indigenous rights in Canada—particularly around Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW), increasing funding for Indigenous education, and issues of access in the North—and has taken a bold position on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. While Ashton has not officially endorsed BDS, she does support it, and we acknowledge her strong defence of the Palestinian people. She also maintains a clear pro-migrant rights and pro-refugee position, and opposes military expansionism.

Guy Caron

The role of economic steward has been assumed by Québec MP Guy Caron in this campaign, who has made his Basic Income Guarantee the signature component of his platform. A guaranteed basic income as implemented by a Caron-led government would be a supplement provided by the state, serving as a top-up to help low-income Canadians reach the so-called ‘low-income cut-off’ (LICO) line. Guaranteed basic income is regarded with mixed opinions on the left: there are some who see it as ameliorative; a good first step toward alleviating some of the cruelest effects of income and wealth inequality. Others view it as possible ammunition for conservatives to point to as justification for cutting—or even eliminating entirely—the broader social support offered by the state. It should be noted that Caron has gone on record stating that his approach is definitively ameliorative, however more clarity is needed with regard to how his Basic Income Guarantee would interact with other social programs such as daycare or tuition-relief. Further to the economy, Caron also promises an ambitious taxation plan which aims in part to net $2 billion from a new inheritance tax and $12 billion from a new wealth tax.

Caron has pushed electoral reform to the top of his campaign’s agenda, promising that the first piece of legislation in a Caron government would be to institute Mixed Member Proportional Representation (MMPR) as Canada’s new electoral system. While we applaud this, it should be noted that MMPR has been promoted by all of the candidates as the system with which they would replace Canada’s current First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system, and that doing so is already official NDP policy.

Often overshadowed by his Basic Income Guarantee, Caron’s environmental plan is significant. He opposes the Kinder Morgan, Energy East and Keystone XL pipeline projects, and like the other candidates, he plans to end fossil fuel subsidies. Caron also wants 50% of vehicles on the road by 2041 to be electric, and would create a Secretariat to coordinate this electrification strategy by incentivizing electric vehicle purchases. Additionally, Caron promises that a government under his leadership would invest in green infrastructure projects, immediately begin accepting climate change migrants, and would align the National Energy Board with the Paris Agreement and UNDRIP. Further to UNDRIP, Caron pledges to implement it as law in Canada, as well as adopting and implementing all the recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). He also plans to reset and modify the National Inquiry into MMIW and seek a new nation-to-nation dialogue with Indigenous peoples around revenue sharing from resource extraction, which are all positive efforts. Caron’s stance on Palestine earns mixed reviews from the left, in that while he voted against a Parliamentary motion to condemn BDS, he remains unsure that it is a constructive method of intervention. Lastly, the Caron platform has offered no specific LGBTQ+ or gender-based policy.

In August, the Caron campaign released a Québec policy platform that pledged to respect the Québec legislature’s “authority” to pass laws on secularism, citing an alleged emerging consensus from both the left and right in that province on legislation that would impose limits on religious clothing, such as niqabs and burkas (candidate Niki Ashton also initially agreed with this approach before later changing position, calling restrictions on clothing “a line in the sand”). It is worth noting here that a theory held by many in the pundit class that Thomas Mulcair’s position against the niqab ban ultimately cost the NDP Québec in the 2015 federal election. We must be clear: Courage absolutely condemns the process of “othering” in any case, and doing so in a misguided attempt to gain political favour in a particular province or region is no exception to this condemnation.

Jagmeet Singh

A frontrunner in the campaign even before he declared, Singh has been called the candidate to beat—that observation seemingly borne out by his being the frequent locus of the most heated leadership debates. Initially, the national press’ interest in Singh tended to be based more on style than substance, presenting him as an NDP answer to the Liberal’s Trudeau. That thought was of little comfort to many on the Canadian left, some of whom were already concerned that Singh would skew towards centrism in a bid to power. This concern momentarily appeared warranted early in the campaign when Singh refused to rule out support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline, though he did eventually release a climate change plan that opposes both the Energy East and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects, and more recently has also come out against Keystone XL. Singh’s climate change plan includes a Green Building Compact, the phasing out of coal, a new tax on high emission vehicles, fossil fuel worker retraining and a commitment to UNDRIP. It should be mentioned here that other than his commitment to UNDRIP, there was a notable lack of any other Indigenous policy in the Singh platform until after online voting began [*], and Courage would also like to see a clearer policy on immigration/citizenship from his campaign.

The strongest policies in Singh’s platform are in the area of justice, as one might expect from a former criminal justice lawyer. For example, his Racial Justice Agenda calls for a federal ban on racial profiling and street checks (‘carding’), the uprooting of systemic discrimination within the criminal justice system, and an examination of the collection of race-based data—all actions that Courage agrees are long overdue. Singh’s Criminal Justice Reform Agenda is equally ambitious, with key plans being the full decriminalization of all drugs and the decriminalization of sex work. The Singh platform contains a number of positive LGBTQ+ initiatives such as repealing the blood ban and requiring LGBTQ+ training for the CBSA and RCMP, and has recently added a gender-based violence policy [*].

It has been mentioned that as the campaign has progressed, Singh has moved leftward in his policy decisions, recently promising free post-secondary education being one notable and welcome example. As well, his pledges to increase the capital gains tax from 50% to 75%, to impose an estate tax of 40% on assets over $4 million dollars, and to introduce higher tax brackets on incomes of $350K and $500K are welcome efforts at redistribution. On the issue of Palestine, Singh spoke out against a motion in the Ontario Legislature to condemn BDS, citing it as an attack on free speech and criticism of government. He also supports a labelling regime on goods imported from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

Finally, it is no secret that Courage in its earlier incarnation—Renewal—was a key player in the grassroots-led ouster of Tom Mulcair as leader of the NDP at the 2016 party convention in Edmonton, and tentative embrace of the Leap Manifesto. That move pitted us against the will of the NDP establishment. With that and our commitment to restoring internal democracy in mind, the presence of party establishment figures (e.g., Brad Lavigne, James Pratt) among Jagmeet Singh’s supporters remains an area of concern to us.

Racial discrimination in the leadership campaign

Before closing, it is profoundly important that we highlight the racism Jagmeet Singh has been forced to endure during this campaign, both from outside the party—such as the infamous racist verbal assault at a campaign stop in Brampton, Ontario—but also from within. We must be clear that Courage will not tolerate racism in any form, be it in the form of race-baiting campaign tactics, or in letting racism, xenophobia or Islamophobia slide in an ill-advised desire to appeal to “the Québec vote.” We also reject the notion that racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia are problems that are somehow unique to Québec—these despicable traits are present in all corners of Canada and must be fought and educated against with urgency. We must be loudly and actively anti-racist.

Toward a better world

Widening global economic inequality, civil war, famine, cataclysmic weather events, hideous demonstrations of fascist politics, mass killing in Yemen, the Philippines, Myanmar—each day reinforces that we as a species face critical, structural crises. In response to these, we are given two options; we can devour one another in a desperate scramble to hoard what resources remain, or we can revolutionize our systems of social organization and interaction to create a world wherein wellbeing and prosperity are truly shared among all.

If there was ever an appetite for unabashed leftism the world over—and a truly leftist NDP in Canada—this is it.

[ * After this document was finalized for review by our membership on September 18, several campaigns have released new policy that could alter elements of our analysis. Due to time constraints, we were not able to analyze the further information, but areas that we highlighted include the Charlie Angus campaign with a new Justice policy, and the Jagmeet Singh campaign with a new Indigenous policy as well as a new Gender-Based Violence policy and encourage readers to link to these additions ]

Indigenous Land Rights

Toward real nation-to-nation relationships

Canada’s government has used words like “nation-to-nation relationship” and “reconciliation” with regard to Indigenous nations. However, the government has continued the same colonial policies as its predecessors, albeit with a change in rhetoric. Recently, Canada’s policies have earned it condemnation from the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

A true nation-to-nation relationship requires Canada to completely rethink its approach to how decisions are made about land, and who controls it. Though much of the country is governed by treaties, and much more land is unceded, Indigenous nations control a mere 0.2% of Canada’s land mass. We arrived at this result through violence and treachery. Treaties were broken, or were never intended to be honored. Lands were stolen through violence displacement of entire populations. All this was legitimized by the ridiculous story that Canada was an “empty land” – a Terra Nullius – when it was “discovered”.

A true nation-to-nation relationship requires Canada to completely rethink its approach to how decisions are made about land, and who controls it.

Even as reconciliation has become one of the government’s top buzzwords, terra nullius remains to this day the core of its policy toward Indigenous land and who makes decisions about it. As the late Arthur Manuel put it, “the land issue must be addressed before reconciliation can begin.”

Respecting Indigenous sovereignty would benefit all people in Canada. It’s our best chance for committed long-term environmental stewardship of the vast lands within Canada’s borders, and the best way to ensure that long-term economic development respects ecological limits while protecting and expanding the value of interconnected watersheds, human systems, and plant and animal life.

Making fundamental changes to Canada’s approach to Indigenous land rights – as outlined below – would bring government policy in line with these stated values, and the treaties and alliances to which the country owes its existence.

Many non-Indigenous people in Canada are only now beginning to understand the violence of Canada’s colonial policies, as residential schools, Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, the Sixties Scoop, the Millenial Scoop, and other injustices become more widely understood. As parts of our history become more widely known, we run the risk of becoming satisfied with only a partial understanding of what happened.

Colonialism was always about land

These injustices were not the result of mistakes or outdated thinking. Instead, these and other violent actions by the Canadian state, corporate interests and settlers themselves were part of a coordinated assault on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and the land.

In many European cultures where settlers come from, centuries of unspeakable violence were required to separate people from land… a legacy embedded in settler values.

In many Indigenous nations, culture, way of life, and identity are inseparable from the land. One cannot exist without the other. It’s actually remarkable to have a large population separated from its relationship with the land. In many European cultures where settlers come from, centuries of unspeakable violence were required to separate people from land. From enclosures to witch burnings, many European-descended people living in Canada are still living with the legacy of that violence, which is embedded in settler values.

The belief that land is a commodity to be owned and exploited is deeply embedded in the culture and language of Canada’s settler population. By actively attacking Indigenous nations’ relationship to the land, settler governments and corporations have attempted to destroy the basis of culture, identity, and governances for entire peoples. Stopping these attacks, unlearning the values that drive them, and understanding the violence that created those values is part of settler Canada’s path to decolonization.

Colonialism at its core is about erasing Indigenous nations’ sovereignty over their lands.

Canada doesn’t follow its own rules

Canada’s corporations continue to acquire billions in profits from colonial policies. From Hudson’s Bay Company to Inco, from Barrick Gold to Syncrude, colonial violence has been directly and indirectly sanctioned by the Government of Canada to weaken and divide Indigenous peoples so that corporations can generate profits from land without concern for the well-being of the people who live on it.

In both Treaty and Unceded territories, when Indigenous people stand up for their rights, they are forced to fight in court, in many cases spending millions on legal fees (while the Canadian government hires battalions of lawyers with taxpayer dollars to fight them), as appeals drag on for ten years or more. (If a court challenge is lost, First Nations sometimes must pay the legal fees of their opponents). These costs divert resources from social services in the essential fight to make the Canadian government respect its own laws.

For decades, the federal government has used structural violence as a bargaining chip.

When communities take action to prevent the government from breaking its own laws, the result is often overt violence from the police or even the army.

Every Indigenous community experiences some form of structural violence, whether it be chronic underfunding of education (children on reserves receive 30% less funding on average), denial of access to healthcare, racist policing, or lack of access to food and housing. They’re also subject to tight control by the bureaucrats at Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, who can use their authority to simply take away the nation’s ability to govern itself.

Indigenous nations face impossible choices

For decades, the federal government has used these forms of structural violence as a bargaining chip. When it comes to land rights, the approach of both Conservative and Liberal governments has been to force Indigenous nations to “terminate” their claims forever.

Indigenous leaders are often faced with a horrific choice: give up their (and their future generations’) rights as a nation in exchange for funding that could help their communities escape the effects of the federal government’s violent policies. The federal government controls the rules of the game, ignores the law at will, and plays to win.

Sovereignty over land is the fundamental issue. As long as Indigenous nations are relegated to what Arthur Manuel called the “0.2% economy,” their people will remain in a state of dependence. “I found out very early,” Manuel wrote, “how futile it is to tinker with programs and services within the 0.2 per cent land base.” Land rights and true nation-to-nation relationships that reject terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery are how we break that cycle.

First steps toward real nation-to-nation relationships

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has an extensive list of recommendations (published 2015) for how to begin to reverse the damage done to Indigenous people and nations. However, it doesn’t discuss land rights in any depth. And yet, who governs and has access to land is both at the heart of why colonization happens, and is the way we will reverse it.

The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (passed by the General Assembly in 2007), which Canada nominally adopted in 2016, speaks directly to land rights. The UNDRIP is a very important international framework for protecting the lands, lives and cultures of Indigenous nations. However, the broad framework has been watered down by 25 years of negotiations, and does not provide any Canada-specific vision or recommendations.

Despite initially claiming to uphold UNDRIP unconditionally, Trudeau’s Liberals have, since they took power, placed conditions on its implementation. These conditions amount to an attempt to “domesticate” Indigenous people by subordinating their rights to the government’s laws and policies.

For a look at what Canada would like like if it truly respected the spirit and letter of its own laws, a robust source and foundational starting point is the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, convened by the federal government in the aftermath of what is known in colonial Canada as the Oka Crisis. It published its extensive recommendations in 1996.

Decolonizing: some first steps

While some policies were acted on (the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was originally an RCAP recommendation), many of the transformative demands have gathered dust. These include:

  • Abandon terra nullius and the doctrine of discovery. The legal concept that the Canadian government’s orientation to the territory within its borders is still based on is the offensive, dehumanizing and inaccurate claim that when Europeans “discovered” Canada, that it was an “empty land”. (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission also demanded this in #46 and #49 of its “calls to action”.)
  • Take responsibility for all colonial policies of the past and present. Recognizing the damage of residential schools was an important first step, but the full range of colonial policies, including significant parts of the Indian Act and the current land claims regime are ongoing.
  • Replace the Indian Act with legislation that makes inherent and treaty rights of Indigenous nations the law of the land. Nations would not have to fight endless decade-long legal battle to assert their rights if the government respected them. The Indian Act protects inherent and treaty rights in limited ways, but is also the main instrument of colonial oppression. New legislation created with extensive consultation and the free, prior, and informed consent of First Nations, Métis and Inuit would expand recognition of inherent and treaty rights while dismantling colonial control.
  • Move from toothless “consultations” to shared governance. On treaty lands, Indigenous nations should be integrated into decision-making about land use and equipped with veto powers, not treated as a group that can be nominally “consulted” and ignored thereafter.
  • Establish, strengthen and expand Indigenous self-government. Through funding for training and other resources, the Federal government should help create the capacity to devolve social, cultural, economic, housing, health, and educational services to Indigenous governments. The commissioners make a convincing case that these investments would pay for themselves. Control of a vastly expanded land base would make self government effective in the long term.
  • An immediate freeze on extraction projects that don’t have the consent of the title or treaty holders. We shouldn’t wait for any of these major policy changes to implement free, prior and informed consent using existing powers.

Implementing all of the above is not a complete answer to Canada’s legacy of colonialism or a complete reversal of its current colonial policies. It would, we believe, represent a step towards a true nation-to-nation relationship between settlers and Indigenous nations.

Art by Dustin George

» Click here to sign on to these proposals

Courage invites Indigenous people and groups to share their responses to this statement (email us at, which will appear below.

Kaella-Marie Earle:

In addition, many non-Indigenous people do not understand the inherent identity crisis involved in land theft of Indigenous people. Anishnaabe amoung many other Indigenous nations have very culturally significant views on land. All beliefs are wholistic in connection with nature.

Indigenous people do not believe land can be owned and made private. The land and waters are very sacred and part of a circle of life in which people are also a part. Shkagamik kwe (Mother Earth), is the mother of all life. However Shkagamik kwe is treated is how the people are treated; however Shkagamik kwe is sick is how the people will become sick.

Indigenous people have a deep understanding that humans are made of the earth. Anishnaabe people know they are made of the earth and will go back to her when they die.

This belief leads Indigenous people to hold the land in the highest regard. The land is where the Creator can be found, where every bountiful thing is given, and where healing can be had. Every single life lesson and method of learning and teaching youth is land-based. Every plant and animal has a story, and each story has either cultural or wholistic scientific significance. Every word in many Indigenous languages has land-based significance. The Anishnaabe word for medicine, “mshkiki”, has the word “ki” in it twice. This is the word for “earth”. The word “biimadziwin”, meaning “life”, has the word “bi” in it, meaning water. “Biinojiinh” (baby) also has the word for water in it. The connection to the land in plentiful ways provides Indigenous people with cultural and personal identity.

Traditional Indigenous governance also takes root in the land and removal of land further contributes to violent colonialism. Every governmental role is related to the role and responsibilities of different animals.

Different animals in nature teach Indigenous people different things about their identity and life role, and provide a structure of family and community. The loon communicates with both land and water animals so is often the leader role. The bear is strong and patient so takes on the role of protecting and policing the people. The eagle flies the highest and so provides wisdom and insight. The clan animals as identity markers (last names) also act as supporters of biodiversity within Indigenous populations. No one marries within their clan. All within the clan are considered family and welcomed as such when travellers go through communities.

Taking the land and treating it as a reductionist commodity to be raped and sold is extremely offensive to the Indigenous people, resulting in violent genocide of Indigenous culture and identity.