Topp on centrism, paying the bills, cooperating with Liberals, fighting the Conservatives and Norway

As vaguely promised a few days ago, here are several excerpts from my conversation with Brian Topp. My brief survey of his candidacy is on newsstands now and if you’d like to follow along with all our coverage, you can bookmark the tag “NDP leadership.”

These first three excerpts follow from a question I asked about whether there would be more debate as the leadership race proceeded. The fourth excerpt comes from a question about the inevitable attacks his tax proposals would attract. The fifth excerpt follows a question about international models the NDP might look to.

On whether the party should move to the centre. “I think faced with a choice between two Liberal parties on the opposition benches in the next election that the electorate will pick the real one. So I don’t support the idea of morphing our party into a more quote-unquote ‘centrist’ political party that resembles the Liberal party. Which I assert Tom was essentially talking about in the early days of his leadership and that is consistent with his background as a cabinet minister in a Liberal government. I think we can win and we should win by remaining true to our principles and our values and sticking to the hopeful and optimistic approach that Jack Layton offered because it’s such a notable contrast from what is available from Mr. Harper and we need to marry it to the deep traditions of competent government that we have in our provincial sections … I think if we offer the people of Canada that combination I think we will be very competitive indeed and we will do so in a way that when we win we won’t be defeating ourselves even as we’re winning by adopting the agendas of our opponents.”

On Nathan Cullen’s suggestion that the NDP consider joint nomination meetings with other parties. “I have a lot of respect for Nathan Cullen. He was an excellent environment critic, when he had the portfolio, and he’s quite a lively and interesting colleague, but I don’t agree with him on this idea. I think New Democrats have the right to vote for a New Democrat candidate. And if we had made arrangements like this in the last election, based on the results from the one before it, we would never have had that result in the province of Quebec, which has positioned us to be the government of Canada.”

On fiscal responsibility. “In that exchange with Paul Dewar, what I was trying to say in those brief moments, mindful that the amount of time that there actually was for debate in these debates is absolutely miniscule, I was speaking about something that I feel very, very strongly about, which is that we’re not going to be able to credibly offer ourselves as a governing alternative if we don’t do the hard work as well as the easy work. And the easy work is making lists of things we want to spend. There’s nothing easier than that and there’s nothing that New Democrats love to do more than that and we’re very, very good at it. But when you spend some time actually in the government, as opposed to just talking about being in government, then you learn that the hard work of government is finding the resources to do what you want to do. And if we don’t deal with the hard issues as well as the easy ones then I don’t think we will look to the public like we’re ready to govern … This is at the heart of my offer to our members, which is that we take hopeful, optimistic, social democratic approach of Jack Layton and we marry it to our best governing traditions and that means that we have a chance to persuade Ontarians, for example, who don’t have fond memories of their single NDP premier, now leading the Liberal party, and we overcome the millstone of that record and to all Canadians argue that we’re competent to government.”

On whether he can win a tax debate with the Conservatives. “We can win it and we must win it because if we can’t win it and don’t win it then we’re not going to be able to reverse the Harper agenda and get on to ours. The reason why Conservatives cripple governments through otherwise inexplicable and indefensible tax cuts, reverse Robin Hood tax cuts aimed at bringing benefits to those that need them the least is because they want to cripple government, not just during their mandates, but in all future ones. And if we’re not prepared to take that on, then you cannot credibly advance the rest of your agenda.”

On international examples for what the NDP is attempting to do. “I’m impressed by the Norwegian Labour party because I think of all the sister parties out there, they have been most successful at addressing challenges similar to ours. They too face the risk of petrolium disease, of over-dependence on the export of raw resources and the distortions in their economy and of their currency that are attached to that model of development. And they’ve done, it seems to me, a very competent job of balancing the opportunities their resources give them with the need to work toward income equality in their society, to maintain their competitive industrial economy and to be building for the future when those resources aren’t around anymore. A much, much better job than we’re doing.”

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