You could say that NDP MP Charlie Angus put the “social” back into Canadian Socialism when he announced he was joining the NDP leadership race. On the last Sunday of February, a large crowd of supporters, curious observers, and media squeezed into the back room of Toronto’s legendary Horseshoe Tavern. The room seemed much too small to contain the event. It was like attending an oversold rock show even if many attendees were wearing suits and ties.
Angus said he chose to kick off his campaign at the Horseshoe because that was where he saw his first punk show when he was 15 years old.
“It opened my eyes that the world didn’t need to be the way I was taught it was – that you could make a change,” he told the audience.
“It was in a punk club just up the road” from the Horseshoe where Angus first met former NDP leader Jack Layton. Angus was 21 at the time and Layton had just been elected to Toronto city council.
“He came up to talk to us about getting active in organized politics which we thought was pretty weird at the time but that was Jack,” Angus recalled. “He was a real leader because Jack wasn’t doing this to benefit him. He was planting seeds to build a better community, a better city, a better nation, and those seeds have been planted so that is why we are here today at the Horseshoe Tavern.”
In an interview Angus elaborated on the theme of how his music roots have shaped his approach to politics saying, “I think what people don’t remember about the punk movement – they remember images of mohawks and leather jackets – but, it was an opportunity to break the mold and give a lot of kids that did not fit in a chance to be themselves, and to speak, and to try to think of ideas about how the world was.”
Angus, the MP for Timmins-James Bay since he was first elected in 2004, is a strong advocate for First Nations and aboriginal issues. Serving as the NDP critic for Indigenous and Northern Affairs he pushed both Stephen Harper’s Conservative government and Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government to live up to the promises they made and follow through with action and funding.
“There’s a huge moral issue that we can look upon these conditions and not feel that Canadians and political structures need to address it,” Angus said. “I can’t even conceive how someone can look at these issues, see the systematic negligence and think – ‘That’s too bad but life carries on.’”
Even if he’s put on some weight and his hair has greyed, his attitude towards politics still has “that punk DIY sensibility.”
“I didn’t go to Ottawa to sit in a comfy chair and meet famous Canadian politicians. I went there to make change,” Angus emphasized, adding, “And that’s what I’m going to do.”
As passionate as he is about change, he tempered his comments by saying, “Compromise isn’t a bad word. Compromise is about ‘What do we need to do to get there?’ but you don’t compromise your principles.”
When Angus spoke to his supporters from the stage at the Horseshoe on Sunday his words were met with loud applause and hollers of approval. If this enthusiasm, spreads beyond those already aware of Charlie Angus he says, “I’m ready for that. If it’s to be prime minister, why not have someone who’s passionate about making change? Why isn’t that possible? Why isn’t that something we should dream for and not worry that it will somehow damage us?”
As he finished his speech on Sunday Angus pledged “We’re going to stir shit up and we’re going to have some fun doing it.”
Three other candidates have already registered to run for the leadership of the federal NDP. Guy Caron, who represents the riding of Rimouski-Neigette–Témiscouata–Les Basques in Quebec win was part of the orange crush when the NDP took an unprecedented 59 seats in the province of Quebec in 2011. Caron has promised a guaranteed basic income if he leads the party to victory.
Peter Julian, who has held the riding of New Westminster, B.C. since 2004 has also registered to run. Julian’s proposals include eliminating post-secondary tuition fees across the nation.
Niki Ashton, the representative for the riding of Churchill-Keewatinook in Manitoba, is making her second bid for the leadership. In 2012, she ran unsuccessfully when she argued that it would be wrong for the party to drift to the centre to broaden its appeal.
The NDP is not holding a traditional convention and has announced that voting for their new leader will take place largely online. To be eligible voters must be registered with the party by Aug, 17. Voting will begin Sept. 18 online or by mail-in ballot. The first ballot closes Oct. 2.