04/20/2017 01:39 EDT | Updated 04/20/2017 01:39 EDT

I'm Standing Up For Canadians By Seeking Economic Justice

The year 2017 is going to be a big one. I will be crisscrossing Canada from coast to coast to coast and I have already put on two thousand kilometers visiting across the Prairies. When we launched our campaign just over a month ago, we asked people across Canada to join us in building a movement for fundamental political change. One of the key aspects of building this movement is connecting with people in communities across the country.

We're starting in the Prairies -- my home region. This is a part of the country where the NDP's roots run deep. It is in this part of the country that a progressive political movement -- the CCF -- was founded. This is the land of J. S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas. This is where I grew up learning what it means to be a New Democrat.

niki ashton

NDP leadership candidate Niki Ashton speaks during a leadership debate in Montreal, Sunday, March 26, 2017. (Photo: Graham Hughes/CP)

Originally, we had planned to drive across western Canada to communities across the Prairies through the Rocky Mountains and finally to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Our trip was to include stops in British Columbia, but our brothers and sisters from the B.C. NDP campaign asked that leadership candidates stay away during the election period.

I believe it is important that we support our provincial counterparts during elections, as I have done many times before, but I want to respect those running the campaign and I do not want to distract from the key goal of electing a NDP government in B.C. If I am to be elected as leader of the federal NDP, I will work tirelessly with our provincial counterparts to elect progressive governments. Solidarity isn't just a word: we need to practice it.

Our goal is nothing less than to build a movement for fundamental political change. Change in the face of the two big challenges of our time, growing inequality and climate change. This means rejecting the agenda that has brought us here, the neoliberal agenda, of privatization, deregulation, austerity, bad trade deals and growing corporate concentration. It is time to stand up to the billionaires, banks and corporations who are behind this agenda. It is time to challenge the Liberal and Conservative parties who have promoted the neoliberal mantra. Canadians are being sold out. Working people and those living in poverty are being pushed further to the margins. We can and we must change that.

That's why this tour is also about economic justice. We launched the tour in Thompson, my home town, in front of the railway that was privatized by the Liberals in the 1990s, all but given away to an American billionaire who just last year, without any notice, shut it down. That's why we're calling for the re-nationalization of the Port of Churchill. There are similar struggles against corporate greed and economic injustice in communities across the country.

I want to talk to Canadians about what the struggle for good jobs and against corporate greed looks like in their communities. I want to hear from New Democrats and progressives about the struggle against poverty in their part of the country. And I want to hear about the ways in which people are resisting and fighting back. Whether it's in the struggle to oppose privatization or to keep value-added jobs, the struggle against precarious work and for dignity -- Canadians are challenging the status quo. Labour activists, environmental activists, indigenous activists and migrant worker activists are showing us all the way. We must work together to challenge the status quo and demand dignity and justice.

As leader, my priority will be to work with those on the ground in the fight for social, environmental and economic justice for all. That starts with listening to the grassroots and working together in solidarity. That means respecting riding associations and NDP members. That means returning to our principles and being proud of being a progressive party on the left that isn't afraid of standing up to the rich and powerful. That is the message I'm taking throughout the prairies and throughout Canada, a message inspired by the history of our party and a vision of progress for our country.

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