Federal NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton speaks at the Old City Station Pub in Nanaimo on Monday afternoon. (NICHOLAS PESCOD/NEWS BULLETIN)

Millennial struggles front-of-mind for NDP leadership candidate during Nanaimo stop

Niki Ashton hopes to revive the federal New Democratic Party

The struggle is real for many young Canadians.

That was the message from NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton during a campaign stop at the the Old City Station Pub in Nanaimo on Monday afternoon.

“I will represent and fight for working people, people struggling in poverty, for seniors, for young people, for everybody,” Ashton told a room of about 30 supporters.

The MP for Churchill-Keewatinook Aski is competing against Guy Caron, Jagmeet Singh and Charlie Angus, who stopped in the Harbour City in March, for party leadership, which will be determined later this year. Ashton said the NDP were crushed in the last federal election because they lost touch with their core beliefs and allowed the Liberals to move too far to the left.

“We lost a lot of the ground and that is connected because of the way in which we distanced ourself from our key principles,” she said.

Ashton told the crowd that not only is her party at a critical crossroads, but so is the entire country. She said the two biggest challenges facing Canadians are economic inequality and climate change.

“Here in Canada we talk about how we are better than the U.S. and how we are different than the U.S., but the reality is we are becoming more and more like the U.S.,” she said. “We know that wealth is being accumulated at the top faster and faster and we know that inequality has different faces in our communities.”

She said the new normal in Canadian society is precarious work or contract and temporary work with little or no benefits or pensions. She said that reality, combined with record-level tuition fees, mounting student debt, the rising cost of housing and lack of affordable rental units, has made living in Canada incredibly difficult for many young people.

The Manitoban said she’s heard countless stories from young people nationwide who hold degrees in significant fields such as science, but cannot find work in their field within their own communities. She said more and more young Canadians are having to work two jobs just to make ends meet and that in some cases, young people are abandoning the idea of having children because they’re afraid they will not be able to provide the kind of life for them that they had growing up.

“These are the stories of the young generation emerging in our country,” she said. “This is the reality.”

Ashton said the struggles facing many young Canadians are the result of years of poor economic policies by the Liberals and Conservative governments. She said in addition to creating a national good jobs program, Canada’s labour laws need to be updated to reflect the workforce of today.

“There needs to be comprehensive action,” she said. “Yes, there needs to be changes in terms of the labour code. Putting an end to unpaid internships, cracking down on the abuse by temp agencies, but we always need to talk about expanding the social safety net and expanding EI because many precarious workers don’t have access to it.”

She said the middle class in disappearing in Canada and the younger generation is at serious risk of being worse off than their parents.

“That’s why we are calling for a bold, progressive vision to take on this kind of inequality to ensure that in a country as well-being as Canada that people aren’t struggling in poverty and struggling in third-world conditions,” Ashton said.

She told the News Bulletin that Vancouver Island is an important NDP stronghold, adding that it was a no-brainer to stop in the Harbour City.

“Without question, we had to come here to Nanaimo and spend a considerable amount of time visiting across the Island,” she said.

nicholas.pescod@nanaimobulletin.com