Opinion Column

Nash right choice to lead New Democrats


"Great necessities call forth great leaders."
- Abigail Adams, former U.S. first lady - 1744-1818

Political parties face no tougher challenge than selecting a new leader, especially after the departure of a proven winner.

The test is even more difficult for the federal New Democratic Party because of the death of Jack Layton shortly after he reached the height of success.

The NDP's choice March 24 will become the new leader of the official opposition, the alternative to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the 2015 election.

And that makes party unity a necessity for victory.

While replacing Layton is impossible, the field of candidates to succeed him is very strong.

As Globe and Mail newspaper columnist Jeffrey Simpson flatteringly put it: "Frankly, it's doubtful the Liberals or Conservatives could field a group of eight such intelligent candidates."

In observing the NDP hopefuls, and talking directly to most, I've also been very impressed.

But a leadership campaign is about choices, and I've made mine - I will support Peggy Nash.

My reasons for backing the Member of Parliament for Toronto's Parkdale-High Park riding are both complex and simple.

It's rare to find someone who is extremely tenacious as well as gracious - two qualities I admire and easily see in Nash.

She was the first woman negotiator to lead a union into bargaining with a major auto firm, in 2005, for the Canadian Auto Workers with Ford.

Nash refused to accept defeat in running for Parliament, losing narrowly in 2004, winning in 2006, before facing a setback in 2008. Last year, she was triumphant again.

A less tenacious person might have packed it in - she didn't.

Nash comes unquestionably from a dedicated career in labour. She has the wisdom, however, to understand that Canada is built on a private sector economy whose success helps provide the public sector services that Canadians depend on.

And she isn't about top-down leadership.

"What they get with me is someone who's connected with the grassroots of the party," Nash says. "If we're going to grow, if we're going to build, if we're going to inspire people to work with us, we've got to stay connected with the grassroots."

Fluently bilingual, tough, experienced, knowledgeable, a powerful speaker, and a social democrat who will listen and learn as well as lead, Peggy Nash is my choice.