Friday, June 23, 2017

Ashton strong in lively Toronto NDP leadership debate

Last night the NDP leadership candidates met in Toronto at what was an '"unofficial" debate organized by the United Steelworkers. Perhaps due to this the debate was the liveliest and most interesting to date with telling exchanges and real energy in the room.

In part this was directly attributable to the fact that the organizers lifted the idiotic and deadening "no applause" rule of all the official debates. This allowed candidates to see when their lines or messages were resonating and to, in some cases, feed off of this. Hopefully the NDP's debate brain trust will take note and nix this silly prohibition.

The debate format also allowed for more actual interaction between the candidates and produced some notable moments. While the debate was still dominated by platitudes and rhetorical flourishes (some less successful than others) it also saw differentiation around specifics or the lack thereof.

Two of the clearest instances of this put Jagmeet Singh on the defensive both times. In the first Guy Caron noted that Singh's poverty reduction plan for seniors included the elimination of universality for the Old Age Security (OAS) benefit. Caron correctly stated that this was a repudiation of the NDP's historic commitment to universality, would open the door to the "stigmatization" of those receiving it if it became means tested, and would be something that the party would absolutely oppose if proposed by the Liberals or Conservatives. It was the highlight of an otherwise quite weak outing for Caron.

Singh countered that his plan would use focused and targeted programs to eliminate poverty among seniors and did not in anyway back down on his proposal which certainly puts him at odds with traditional positions on this issue within the left.

In the second case Ashton questioned whether Singh's plans for more progressive taxation went far enough. She contrasted her commitment to taxing capital gains at the same rate as income with his proposal to raise the capital gains rate to 75% while also stating that his idea of introducing new and higher personal tax rates on those making $350,000 and up was too high a bar that left out a great number of very wealthy people. Singh was left to state that he was open to other ideas on the matter and also highlighted his call for a tax on estates valued at over $4 million, though without noting that this valuation would exclude principal residences making it a tax that would apply to only a very tiny number of them.

Similarly, Peter Julian went at Charlie Angus for the lack of any numbers or specifics in Angus' proposal for a hard carbon cap. Angus answered with the non-answer of saying that it would all be decided by a future committee of scientists. Angus generally turned in a rather forgettable and paint-by-numbers performance that seemed tired and neither built on nor offered anything new versus the past outings.

Singh on the other hand, despite the two moments above, was quite dynamic with considerable support from the crowd while displaying his genuine charisma and oratorical skills. He had powerful points as when he said the NDP had to resist and oppose any attempts to privatize public infrastructure projects and came out with solid proposals such as creating a comprehensive urban agenda (he was the only candidate to really show an understanding of the importance of this and of having specific polices centred on cities like Toronto) and banning the practice of carding by the RCMP across Canada.

Likewise Julian rebounded from his lackluster St. John's appearance. He was charming, likable and at times even rousing getting one of the biggest rounds of applause when saying that if temporary foreign workers are "good enough to work" in Canada they are also good enough to live in Canada. On policy Julian stuck to his themes emphasizing such things as environmental issues and free tuition plans to good effect.

The night, however, was truly Ashton's night. She was focused and on point with her message throughout delivering not just her strongest debate so far, but the strongest outing of anyone in any of the contests yet. From the first question to last she had nary a misstep while working to clearly differentiate herself from the rest of the candidates, and while hammering away at the Liberals, neo-liberalism and issues from precarious work to pensions. Even when the questions were those that produced considerable consensus her responses stood out.

This led to a closing statement in which she directly positioned herself as the champion of the left by saying that she was the only candidate calling for "fundamental change", that incremental change "won't cut it", and by referencing and drawing inspiration from Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

It was a fitting end to a debate that will have no doubt fired up her supporters.

See also: Fourth NDP leadership debate sees some actual debate bucking the tedious trend

See also: The winner of the Sudbury NDP debate was the terrible format

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