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Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash chats with a constituent in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2011. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Parkdale-High Park MP Peggy Nash chats with a constituent in Toronto on Sept. 30, 2011. (Fernando Morales/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

Nash becomes first woman to enter NDP race Add to ...

A former union activist who says Jack Layton convinced her to enter political life has become the seventh person to declare an interest in leading the federal New Democrats.

Peggy Nash joined what is becoming an increasingly crowded field of candidates on Friday morning. Her entry into the race to succeed Mr. Layton was widely anticipated, and she is expected to mount a strong challenge.

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“I decided to run because I feel very strongly that Canada is going in the wrong direction and that I have the experience and the credentials to make the case to Canadians that we can do better, we can move Canada forward,” Ms. Nash said in a telephone interview with The Globe and Mail. “I think it is going to be a very exciting leadership race.”

Ms. Nash first won the Toronto seat of Parkdale in 2006, then lost it in 2008 to Liberal Gerard Kennedy, and won it again this past spring.

During her hiatus from Parliament, she was elected president of the federal party and was succeeded by Brian Topp, who, along with Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair, is one of the presumed front-runners in the leadership campaign.

The four other men who are running for the NDP’s top job are MPs Nathan Cullen, Paul Dewar and Romeo Saganash and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh.

Robert Chisholm, a rookie MP from Nova Scotia who was once leader of the provincial New Democrats in that province, is expected to announce his own campaign on Sunday.

In addition to being past party presidents, Ms. Nash and Mr. Topp have union roots in common. He is a Toronto director of the Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists. She is a former airline booking clerk and became a union activist with the Canadian Airline Employees Association and then a negotiator for the Canadian Auto Workers Union.

The Conservatives have sent strong signals that they intend to attack the next NDP leader over the party’s ties to the labour movement. But Ms. Nash said she would welcome that line of assault.

“I am going to say how proud I am to have spent my working life trying to improve the lives of hard-working Canadians, to improve their wages, to improve their working conditions ...” she said.

Ms. Nash is popular with the rank and file of the party. She is also fluently bilingual – an important trait for any federal leader but especially for the New Democrats who hold so many seats in Quebec.

She was introduced to supporters at her candidacy announcement in a Toronto hotel by two of her caucus colleagues – Randall Garrison from the B.C. riding of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, and Anne Minh-Thu Quach, from the Quebec riding of Beauharnois-Salaberry.

Mr. Topp and Mr. Mulcair have received endorsements from large numbers of MPs. But it is impossible to determine the degree to which that will translate into support in the one-member-one-vote system that the New Democrats will use to select a leader.

Ms. Nash has the distinction of being the first woman to enter the race – something of a surprise for a party that prides itself on its adherence to the principles of equality.

“It shows that our work is not done,” Ms. Nash said. “But I’m not in this race because I am a woman. I’m in it to win. And my job over the next few months is to show why I am the best candidate to lead our party into the next election.”

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