Olivia Chow’s Contribution to the Hill Times: Lesson from Jack’s Experience at the NDP Helm

OTTAWA – In responding to The Hill Times invitation to contribute some ideas for the NDP leadership race, Olivia Chow pulled together a few key points from Jack Layton’s experience as a new leader in 2003—not to be prescriptive—but simply to share a few of the ideas that worked well for him and the party.

Share the love

A national leadership race, for any party, takes its toll on everyone involved. This is especially true for the candidates, but applies equally to campaign teams, supporters, and the party as a whole. Jack brought people together quickly and showed his or her love and support so that the party remains strong, united and effective.

Deal with debt

The leadership candidates, including the one who is ultimately successful, will most likely be saddled with campaign debt. As a new leader, Jack offered his support to his former running mates by assisting them with fundraising to help pay off campaign debts as quickly as possible.

Meet with members of caucus

Jack met individually all members of caucus to discuss their aspirations for their ridings and the country (we were much smaller then). This is especially important given that every riding and region of the country is different and faces unique challenges and opportunities. The personal and professional goals of each member should also be taken into account as some critic portfolios are likely to change with a new leader.

Review strengths and weaknesses

As a new leader, Jack reviewed and assessed the party’s strengths and weaknesses. Seeking feedback from members of caucus, staff, party members and supporters will assist the new leader in determining what is working and what is not, and most importantly, what needs to be done to move the party and Canada forward.

Reach out to natural allies

Reaching out to groups that are natural allies is critically important. When Jack was first elected leader, he organized forums with leading movement groups. Bringing people together goes a long way towards building bridges and strengthening the party. He also took their ideas and working with NDP members, staff and MPs, he modernized the party’s policies and election platform.

Form an ambitious travel plan

Jack reached out to as many Canadians as possible from coast to coast to coast. Working with local riding associations and caucus members, a detailed travel plan was outlined to ensure maximum reach and exposure for the new leader.

Develop a long-term financial plan for the party

When Jack was first elected he made it a priority to ensure the long-term financial stability of the party. To this end, he led the party in raising millions of dollars to purchase a building at the corner of Bank and Laurier Streets in Ottawa. The building now serves as national headquarters for the NDP. Other innovative ideas should be sought to build on this legacy.

Work to form the next government

Most importantly, the new leader will need to unite New Democrats to defeat the Harper government in the next election. More than half the voters in the last election made it abundantly clear that the Conservatives’ vision for Canada is not their own.

Ottawa is broken. The NDP is the only party to offer a compelling vision to restore Canada’s reputation both at home and abroad. Canadians can count on the NDP to stand up for them and fight for jobs, health care, pensions and to make life affordable.

I invite and encourage those who are not yet members of the NDP to join us. Join us in a social movement that unites and inspires Canadians. Join us in honouring Jack’s legacy, and his final words: “Let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”