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NDP MP Niki Ashton announces her candidacy for the party's leadership on Nov. 7, 2011 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
NDP MP Niki Ashton announces her candidacy for the party's leadership on Nov. 7, 2011 in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Niki Ashton becomes youngest contender to succeed Jack Layton Add to ...

Niki Ashton attacked Stephen Harper for practising the “old style” politics of divide and conquer as she launched her bid to become leader of the New Democratic Party.

Ms. Ashton is a second-term MP from Churchill, Man., and is now the ninth candidate vying to succeed the late Jack Layton. Just 29 years old, she is also the youngest candidate and only the second woman.

Going back and forth effortlessly from French to English, Ms. Ashton promised Monday that her “new” style of politics would prevail over the Prime Minister’s antiquated strategy for winning votes.

“For Canada today Stephen Harper’s politics are old politics. Stephen Harper seeks political division as a deliberate tactic,” she said. “It attempts to divide people by region, by background, by sexual orientation or anything else to get their votes.”

She added that old politics “imposes economic and social divisions” on all Canadians. New politics, however, “brings Canadians together,” she said.

Ms. Ashton noted that Mr. Harper’s politics is about ending things: “Today it’s the Wheat Board. Tomorrow it’s other marketing boards, the CBC and medicare.”

She said that she wanted to build upon Mr. Layton’s legacy. Many New Democrats credit his positive, high-road approach to politics for the party’s success in the last election, when they were able to beat the Liberals for Official Opposition status.

Not surprisingly, too, Ms. Ashton touched on the Canadian Wheat Board, given that she and her fellow Manitoba MP, Pat Martin, are fighting against the Harper government’s legislation to end it.

For Ms. Ashton’s riding, ending the agency’s monopoly means the loss of about 200 jobs and the survival of the deep water port in her Churchill riding. Ninety-five per cent of the port’s business is shipping wheat board grain.

In a recent interview with the Globe, Ms. Ashton hinted about a possible bid but said that her focus at that time was on the wheat-board fight. Politics, however, is in her blood. Her father Steve Ashton is a long-time cabinet minister in Manitoba and was elected to the Legislature before she was born.

She represents a huge northern riding that has 22 isolated communities, 18 of which can only be accessed by plane. And she’s got spunk, having not been turned off politics after having survived a plane crash when she was first campaigning for the job in the 2006 election.

She was not successful in that one but won in 2008. “It went off the runway and crashed into the bush,” she said. “We were okay in the end.”

Ms. Ashton launched her leadership bid in Montreal in an effort to present a vision of “new” politics and the need to bridge the West, Quebec and Ontario, according to her campaign co-chair, Saskatchewan lawyer Noah Evanchuk.

She also has caucus support. Her other national co-chair is Jean-Francois Larose, the MP for Repentigny, and Francois Choquette, who represents Drummond, was also at her launch.

Mr. Evanchuk, meanwhile, said that over the campaign Ms. Ashton will not be “sniping” at any of her competitors nor will she be “bellyaching” about the rules. She will be running a positive leadership bid that will be a “campaign of ideas.”

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