Federal New Democrats: down, but not out


OTTAWA – The New Democrats enter the 42nd session of Parliament with fewer than half of the members that they had going into the 2015 federal election campaign.

Despite being forced back to third-party status by voters, however, the party is poised to start over with a lot of fresh, young blood — ready to rebuild and focused on the majority Trudeau Liberals to account.

Erin Weir, one of 16 rookies on the New Democrat bench, sees his role as an MP as much like his election campaign — honed in on building Canada’s economy and protecting the environment.

One significant additional responsibility: reinvigorating his party in time for the next election.

Part of the process will involve assessing the strengths of the current NDP caucus and, perhaps more painfully, looking back to learn from the lessons of what went wrong during the campaign.

“The Liberals were able to out-manoeuvre us to some extent as the agents of change,” said Weir.

“But now that they’re in power, we’ll have to see whether they follow through on those promises, and we’ll be there to hold them accountable.”

With 44 seats in the Commons, the NDP still covers a fairly broad demographic spectrum. Nearly half are middle aged, between 30 and 49 years old, and the vast majority are between 30 and 64. Roughly 41 per cent are women, a significantly higher percentage than the overall female total in the 338-seat House — 26 per cent.

But the new batch of New Democrats is also saddled with clear weaknesses in terms of visibility and geography.

They have not a single representative in Atlantic Canada, nor the North. And, despite running the largest number of aboriginal candidates of any party in the election campaign, only two were successful. The NDP also has just two members of Parliament who can be classified as visible minorities.

At 33 years old, Weir is among the younger members of his party’s caucus. But the life experience he gained prior to narrowly winning his seat appears to go far beyond his young age.

Educated in economics, history and political science, he worked in the civil service — at the Treasury Board Secretariat, Department of Finance, and Privy Council Office — where for a time he wrote briefing notes for the prime minister and minister of finance.

He went on to work as an economist for the Canadian Labour Congress and the United Steelworkers Union before moving to Belgium as senior economist at the International Trade Union Confederation, a labour umbrella organization representing 175 million workers in 153 countries.

He also ran unsuccessfully as a federal NDP candidate in 2004, and then for the leadership of the Saskatchewan New Democratic Party in 2013.

Weir worries that the economy is slowing down, rather than accelerating since the recovery started to take hold following the recession of 2008. And he favours a proposal that was a centrepiece of the Liberal policy platform during the election campaign.

“I think it’s important for the government of Canada to make major investments in infrastructure, in public services,” said Weir, who was also president of the public policy group Progressive Economics Forum.

“First and foremost because we need the infrastructure and we need the services, but those investments will also tend to boost the economy and create jobs.”

Weir is also looking to the Liberals to diversify the economy and get the message across to Canadians that investing in environmental technology can be beneficial to the country.

“The fight against climate change shouldn’t be seen just as an economic burden,” he said. “There’s also an economic opportunity to develop more renewable power, public transit, energy conservation.”

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