Linda McQuaig is a best-selling author, a well established journalist for the Toronto Star and on September 15th she was chosen as the NDP candidate for the upcoming by-election in Toronto-Centre. She recently spoke to The Political Bouillon.
Nadir Khan : What does the chance to sit in the House of Commons mean to you?
Linda McQuaig : It actually means a lot to me. I’ve been an advocacy journalist and author all my career. I’ve really been interested (in) taking a strong stance on issues. I’ve also had the opportunity to write about issues that I really care about. Like rising inequality, the austerity agenda, the assault on the middle class. This is an opportunity to kind of take it one step further, and put some of these ideas into action. It just strikes me that people with progressive ideas..you know, at some points we have to try and flip them into action! There’s different ways to do that but ultimately the political process is vital. I mean, if we’re actually going to change how this country is and make a more equitable society. It’s going to take people in parliament who want that vision of the country.
NK : You mention that you’ve been outspoken and taken a strong stance on issues you care about. Certain research groups like Samara have found, through interviewing MPs, that MPs are surprised by how much party discipline is present in Parliament.
What are your thoughts on that? If you’re elected, do you see your outspoken and combative approach changing within the context of how disciplined our Parliament can be?
LM : I mean I certainly didn’t get into politics to kind of modify my voice. Or cease to be outspoken on issues. You know, that would be counterproductive. At the same time, I would say that I understand that if you enter politics it’s a different process than being a writer. You belong to a party and you make decisions collectively within that party on what the stance is going to be. And I accept that as part of the democratic process. I understand that that it is…the way it should be. So, among other things, one of the things I look forward to is to be a strong and effective voice within that NDP caucus. Advocating those progressive positions that I’ve long done publicly.
NK : The NDP has changed quite a lot since it first came on to the scene as the CCF. In 1933 the CCFs Regina Manifesto had a pretty strong message, stating that erasing capitalism and implementing a planned economy was a primary goal. In the 80 years since a lot has changed! The message has been adjusted and altered, and in 2013, NDP delegates voted to remove socialism from the party’s constitution entirely. All parties change, and all parties evolve over time.
What do you think about the evolution of the CCF and the NDP? And do you think that there’s still a place for the beliefs of people like Tommy Douglas in today’s society?
LM : Ya I absolutely do. I absolutely do. I think in general there’s been a kind of, you know, in society in general the whole set of political debate has drifted farther away from the social democratic ideals that were prominent in the early post-war period. And that’s one of the things that I’ve been very outspoken about, and very much want to restore to the public debate. And that would be one of my focuses coming into politics, to assert strong social democratic positions. And to to push to try and recapture a lot of those ideas and put them forward in the public domain, and get more discussion around them. And I think that’s part of the reshaping of the political landscape.
NK : For many observers, the party you’ve joined is moving closer towards the middle. Does that worry you?
LM : Let’s put it this way, the party I’ve joined is the only party that’s taking a progressive stance on issues that are important in the public domain. From its stance on protecting public programs, on taxation, on a whole range of issues like rebuilding the employment insurance program, rebuilding the affordable housing program, fighting poverty. On all those issues, the NDP is clearly the most progressive party. And that’s the party that I feel comfortable with. And I think, more broadly, what we have to do in society is move the debate. Essentially in the past 30 years our society has been so dominated by this extreme right-wing set of economic policies, Thatcherism or Reaganism, whatever you want to call it. The whole policy debate has shifted rightward. And its been a terrible, terrible development.I think the Thatcher, Reagan neoliberal solutions for the past 30 years have been an absolute disaster. It’s led to increased inequality, social breakdown, and the really unfair results for the vast majority of people, as money just goes strictly to the top. I want to fight to reverse that trend, and to restore social democratic values that were much more prominent and widely accepted in early post-war Canada.
NK : Recently a post election analysis that was written by NDP strategist Brian Topp was leaked to the media. In it he had some interesting things to say when he analyzed the latest BC election. He mentioned that “zingers, political theater, and a bloody minded campaign focused on discrediting the opponent” were all elements the party should have adopted.
If this is the nature of the modern campaign? What can constituents in Toronto expect from your campaign?
LM : First of all there are probably a lot of important lessons to learn from the BC election. And I’m certainly not the expert on what went wrong there. But for myself, I want to run a campaign that is focused on issues. That is tough, and that goes after the opponent on issues. In other words there was some commentary around that Brian Topp document that was suggesting that the NDP was going to be cutthroat or something. There’s nothing to that…cutthroat is not the goal! That would be completely unattractive and unappealing! Now, I want to be tough. I want to be aggressive.
I want to go after the issues and the policies or in the case of the Liberals, which are the main opponents in this riding, the lack of policies! Because my opponent [Chrystia Freeland], in this by-election, is also someone who writes about income inequality, but she has no solutions! She advocates nothing, and that’s absolutely typical from what we’ve had from the Liberals. In fact, Justin Trudeau as we see has absolutely no policies. I mean he talks about the erosion of the middle class but has no ideas about how we can counter that. And in fact, my sense from reading my opponents work, is that she doesn’t really see the situation as something that we necessarily should be doing anything about, this rising inequality. ‘It’s regrettable, but you know, that’s just kind of the way the market economy work’s seems to be her attitude. So I totally disagree with her approach and her ideas.
I plan to run a campaign that addresses the distinction between us, so that people see that. And I don’t consider that hostile or cutthroat or nasty or any of those things. I consider that smart politics, and valid politics. So that the public gets to see the difference in the positions. And it’s extremely important, particularly as I was saying, given the right-wing economic policies that have dominated the political landscape for the past 30 years in this country under both Conservative and Liberal governments. It is absolutely vital that the NDP in its campaigns, and in its political campaigns, attack those policies. We must, in my opinion at least, show the difference between our policies and those policies which have caused such disaster to this country in terms of income inequality and income security for ordinary people. I plan to make those points very clearly and very assertively.
I have strong opinions on political issues, and I will fight for those issues.
NK : A lot of people in the media like to brand you as a certain type of figure that is very prolific and very feisty. In a sense people and the media think they know you. What would you say is something people don’t know about you or your personality?
LM : Probably how easy to get along with I am ! I mean it’s absolutely true. I think I am kind of feisty and I take strong stances. But I have strong opinions on political issues, and I will fight for those issues. But, people who know me personally, will tell you that I get along with just about everyone I know! I’m actually very easy to get along with and I’m kind of a cooperative person. You know, I like getting along with people, I really do. I’m just saying I’m not in any way denying that it’s true about those strong positions about me. But there is a…a friendly side. I would say that’s something that’s not very known about me.