OTTAWA – And then there were two.
Ontario MP Charlie Angus officially entered the NDP leadership race Sunday — a competition that’s expected to start heating up soon with a debate scheduled for next month in Ottawa.
In an interview with The Canadian Press, Angus said the New Democrat race will be about renewing the NDP — a party that is struggling to rebuild after being reduced to third-party status in a devastating election loss in 2015.
“If there is one thing I am going to commit to during this process, it’s to try and build that relationship of getting out, of meeting people, of getting people to re-engage,” he said.
Angus, a northern Ontario MP first elected in 2004, said his politics have always been rooted at the community level, and that he tries to speak truth to power in a clear way.
“That’s how you excite people that’s how you sign up members,” he said. “That’s how you get people to donate.”
With its coffers drained, one of the party’s biggest challenges will be to restore its fundraising capacity ahead of the next vote in 2019. It will also need to win back the support of progressives who voted Liberal in the last election.
Angus said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t have the same understanding of the ‘middle class’ that he does, adding both Liberal and Conservative governments have contributed to its erosion over 25 years.
“I still know people who are trying to get by on $12 an hour and can’t feed their families,” Angus said.
“I know what they are going through; I can feel it and I can articulate it. I don’t know if the prime minister knows those people because it is doesn’t seem it is reflected in the policies he brings forward.”
Angus, a former musician and father of three girls, freely admits he never thought he would be a politician. He avoids “fancy functions” in Ottawa as a rule because he’s never found much point in attending.
“I am always focused on the people I represent,” he said.
“Does that make me an outsider? I don’t know. I think it just makes me still rooted in the communities I come from and our politics need to be rooted in communities if we are going to offer Canadians something real in Ottawa.
“I come from a real place, I speak about real issues and I stay out of all the silly stuff.”
Angus, well-known for his advocacy on indigenous issues, made the announcement Sunday to coincide with the anniversary of a motion he introduced in the House of Commons in 2012 over equitable access to education for aboriginal children.
The motion was named after Shannen Koostachin, a teenager from the northern Ontario First Nation of Attawapiskat who advocated for First Nations schools and died in a car accident in 2010.
Angus decided to launch his campaign at the Horseshoe Tavern in downtown Toronto — a place where he says he has deep roots because of his musical background.
“The very first punk show I ever saw was here when I was 15 years old,” Angus told the crowd. “My first political lessons were with a punk band.”
He said those lessons have stuck with him. At one point during his speech he took some time to acknowledge his new suit.
“I just bought this suit,” Angus told his amused audience. “It cost me 160 bucks. I spent the money because we’re going to bring a little bit of class back to politics.”
Many of his supporters say they hope he can bring the party back to its core values.
“I had so much hope for (outgoing NDP leader Tom) Mulcair,” said Margarita Ramon, 58, who came to see Angus speak. But she said she feels Mulcair moved the NDP too far toward centrist policies in the leadup to the 2015 federal election.
“I was very disappointed,” she said.
B.C. MP Peter Julian is also a registered candidate in the race to replace Mulcair at the helm of the NDP.
Quebec MP Guy Caron is expected to enter the competition on Monday, while Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and deputy Ontario NDP leader Jagmeet Singh are also considering bids.
The first leadership debate will be held in Ottawa on March 12 and voting is scheduled for October.
With files from Maija Kappler in Toronto
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