Having already blazed the trail to become the first-ever James Bay Cree to hold a seat in Parliament, Abitibi–Baie-James–Nunavik–Eeyou New Democratic Party MP Romeo Saganash has decided to take his political career even further by announcing his candidacy to become NDP party leader.
If he wins, Saganash will become the first-ever Aboriginal to be head of Canada’s Official Opposition and he could end up as the first-ever Aboriginal to run as a party leader for Prime Minister or even end up as Prime Minister.
Since the NDP lost party leader Jack Layton to cancer on August 22 there was a great deal of speculation if Saganash would declare his candidacy at the NDP national caucus meeting September 13-15. Saganash however decided to hold his tongue until the following day when he could be amongst his constituents in Val-d’Or.
“I did it before the Val-d’Or Chamber of Commerce on September 16 because I thought I owed it to the people who elected me to tell them first,” said Saganash.
He said he spent much of his time at the two-day caucus meeting mulling over whether this was his time to make the move as other party members had already began consulting their fellow MPs over whether they should run or not.
“I did it the other way around. I didn’t start by calling or meeting with my colleagues, I wanted to make this decision first for myself and to be comfortable with it. That is why I took some time to think about it,” said Saganash.
Looking at the upcoming race, Saganash said the party platform will not change at this time as all of the MPs will remain loyal to the vision Layton had for Canada and Canadians. Instead, a great deal of this race will be about who can best articulate that vision that gave the NDP an unprecedented amount of seats in the last federal election.
Who becomes the next party leader won’t be left up to the MPs either as those who join the NDP before February 18 will have the opportunity to cast their vote in the leadership race that will be held in Toronto next March 24. Members unable to attend the event will be able to cast their votes either electronically or via mail.
According to Saganash, what many Canadians are unaware of is just how old someone needs to be to join a political party. The legal age in Quebec is 16 and in some provinces it’s as low as 13 or 14.
Now what Saganash has to do is increase the party membership in his riding and beyond. He said in recent weeks he has been helping out NDP members in other ridings in Quebec and Ontario doing membership drives and has seen some MPs double their riding’s membership over the course of a weekend.
In the coming weeks, Saganash will head back up north to do the same throughout the Cree communities and other Aboriginal reserves. Saganash is hoping that people in his riding will respond favourably as membership drives have not been seen too often in these areas.
As for his daytime job as an MP, Saganash has had to give up his position as opposition critic for the Natural Resources portfolio. However, he has worked it out with interim party leader Nycole Turmel so that he can continue to ask questions. He said he felt that this was particularly important because of the lrage amount of natural-resource development going on in his riding.
As for the man whose shoes he wants to fill, Saganash said he really sees his running as a continuation of what he already promised Layton back when he was asked to run last February.
“He and I both agreed on the fact that the global challenge we are facing on the planet right now is what we are seeing here in this riding, like climate change, resource development, environmental protection, water rights and relations with Aboriginal peoples. We were on the same page and he told me who better than me to represent this.
“It was that commitment that I made to (Layton) that I want to continue. Unfortunately, he won’t be there beside me, but I’ve decided to continue the work we started together,” said Saganash.