Peggy Nash is struggling with a big decision.
As the Official Opposition’s finance critic, the 60-year-old New Democratic Party MP for Toronto's Parkdale-High Park has the hottest job on Parliament Hill. She spends her days on centre stage in the Commons, needling Jim Flaherty about what she calls his failure to present a coherent strategy for job creation and to cancel the corporate tax cuts.
Last week, the Finance Minister lashed out, accusing Ms. Nash of “bad mouthing” the country and trying to reduce confidence in the Canadian economy.
Is she getting under his skin? His office says no and that he was simply participating in the “theatrics of Question Period.”
Regardless, Ms. Nash is being noticed – and she loves what she’s doing. So, this decision she has to make about her future is a tricky one.
“People have been urging me to run [for the NDP leadership]” she said in an interview Friday. “And I have been seriously thinking about it … ”
But it comes with consequences. Interim Leader Nycole Turmel has set down rules, prohibiting leadership candidates from keeping their critic posts.
“I would have to step back from that and that would be challenging,” Ms. Nash said. “To me, it’s [the finance job]just so important and it’s the key issue right now.”
So far, there are two strong contenders in the race – former party president Brian Topp and B.C. MP Nathan Cullen. Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar is expected to announce on Sunday.
Ms. Nash believes she, too, has something to offer the party and the country – private-sector and federal experience and good grassroots instincts. Oh – and did she mention that she’s bilingual?
Before federal politics, Ms. Nash was into union politics. Armed with a degree in French literature from the University of Toronto, she took a job as a ticket agent for Air Canada.
The airline hired her because she could speak French; she wanted to travel. Instead, she found herself becoming involved in her union. It was a time of much turmoil in the airline industry – privatization of Air Canada, deregulation and small airlines disappearing.
Eventually, her union merged with the Canadian Auto Workers, and Ms. Nash moved to the national office, where she earned her stripes as a successful labour negotiator.
But hearing Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister, speak about investing in child care and the value of women’s work made her believe women could make a difference in partisan politics.
There was that epiphany – and then there was some urging by Jack Layton, whom she knew from Toronto as a fellow activist.
In the 2006 federal election, Ms. Nash defeated the incumbent Liberal but lost in 2008 to a Liberal. She stayed involved, becoming party president, and then an MP again in the May election.
“Are you sitting down?” Jack Layton asked her just after the vote. He was on the other end of the phone, putting together his shadow cabinet. “I would like you to be my finance critic.”
It was unexpected. Winning the election was enough; she would have been happy with “nothing.” She was thrilled.
“I guess what we’ve been trying to bring to the House of Commons is what we are hearing,” she said on Friday, reflecting on her role. “Wherever I go, people are talking to me about their concerns, about job security, their pensions, savings. People see the news and there is a sense of insecurity. They want the government to act.”
She fears the country could be slipping back into a recession. The signs, she said, are “troubling.”
But Stephen Harper's Conservatives are fighting back against her demands to cancel the tax cuts, saying that doing so would amount to a tax hike.
“What’s the NDP economic plan?” party strategists asked in a missive distributed on Friday to Tory supporters. “Massive job-killing tax hikes that would cost Canadian jobs and hurt our economy.”
And there is the Finance Minister’s contention that Ms. Nash is fear-mongering, creating insecurity by saying Canada is on the brink of another recession.
“I’m used to both opposition parties badmouthing the Canadian economy,” Mr. Flaherty said. “It’s misguided. It’s wrong. But it’s not surprising.”
He said the NDP “deliberately and constantly ignores Canada’s economic strengths.”
Ms. Nash, however, argues the government is deliberately ignoring the economic trouble that is brewing.
“If there are storm clouds on the horizon, [Canadians]expect the government to not to be in denial …,” she said. “They want reassurance that the government is in touch and they have a plan. We have not seen that from this government.”
And will New Democrats see her give up this role for an even bigger one? “I haven’t had a huge amount of time to put plans in place,” she said, still sitting firmly on the fence. “I am certainly very seriously considering it.