New Democrat Andrew Cash on why Toronto needs its MPs to fight ‘elbows up’ for the city

There’s no skating around the fact the NDP did poorly in Toronto.

Once again, Justin Trudeau’s party benefited from a strong anti-Conservative sentiment in the city. Once again, all 25 federal Toronto seats went Liberal.

On Monday, former Davenport MP Andrew Cash was the sole New Democrat candidate to finish within 2,000 votes of winning their seat in Toronto, narrowly beaten by Liberal incumbent Julie Dzerowicz. The same result as 2015, when Cash lost his seat.

The Star spoke with Cash on Friday about losing a second time, unfinished business and why an all-Liberal Toronto may be bad for democracy.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You did well on Monday with more than 40 per cent of the vote and more votes even than when you won in 2011. What do you take away from the campaign?

The feeling that is lasting has been — how should I say this without sounding schmaltzy? — the whole campaign was really affirming and energizing, every day of it. I knew we had a good chance of winning but I didn’t think we would get over 20,000 votes as the non-incumbent. I was really blown away by that.

This is going to sound weird, but even people that I know did not vote for me were inspired by our campaign, by (NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh) and by our platform — it’s one of the peculiarities of an election like this that a lot of those people voted Liberal.

What were some of the things that you found inspiring?

We are fed this myth that people aren’t engaged in politics, and I’ve never experienced that….It’s not that people are removed from politics, it’s that politics has been removed from people.

I’m really proud that we never lost our focus on what we were trying to do, which was to change the system here in Canada so that we could properly address the real issues that people are facing, especially in a city like Toronto with the incredible issues of affordability.

With you outside of Parliament, do you still see a way forward on getting workers’ rights and other issues onto the agenda in Ottawa?

For sure, I do. One of my first conversations with (former NDP leader Jack Layton) about running in 2010 was a conversation about freelance, contract and self-employed workers and how they need their issues brought into the public debate. From that conversation to today, I think we’ve made some good strides forward.

And one of the reasons I was so excited about (the NDP platform) was that it addressed these issues. Equal pay for contract workers, a broader social safety net, including pharmacare and dental care. These are things that help to create more stability for workers who will never have a workplace health and dental benefits plan, and will never necessarily ever have a traditional employee-employer relationship.

As we all know, the ranks of those kinds of workers are growing.

Once again, the city is entirely Liberal. Does the fact that the city is represented by the governing party change how its issues get heard in Ottawa?

Yes. I think with such overwhelming Liberal representation in Toronto — all 25 seats, again — the foot just gets off the gas, you know, when no one’s holding you to account.

Let’s just say with regards to something like Sidewalk Labs. That’s an issue that directly involves the federal government, for which there’s not a single Toronto opposition MP to provide any kind of countervailing approach.

I think that’s a real problem, generally. It’s difficult to get the voices of people who are working outside of the traditional employee-employer relationship heard unless you have people there for whom that’s their focus.

The whole system is set up for the way work was 40 years ago. I think it’ll be more incumbent on organizations like the Urban Worker Project, the Broadbent Institute or the Workers Action Centre to be acting in part like de facto opposition members.

In a minority government, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will have no choice but work with the opposition — likely with Singh on a lot of issues — but the NDP has no representatives from Toronto. How do you make sure that the issues you would have fought for as an MP are on the mind of the party?

While Jagmeet is representing a West Coast riding, he is from the GTA — albeit he’s not from the 416, but he’s going to bring that sensibility and understanding broadly of what’s at play here. (Editor’s note: Singh represented the GTA riding of Bramalea-Gore-Malton as a provincial MPP from 2011 to 2017.)

But, honestly, I don’t have a great answer for you, because I don’t think it’s a great situation. I really don’t. I tried to make that case in the election, that there are 25 seats, they’re all Liberal, and that’s maybe not a great thing for our democracy.

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Our federation, by its current design, skews not in Toronto’s favour. P.E.I. has a population of about 155,000 people and there are four MPs. The riding of Davenport has about 117,000 people and there’s one MP.

You really have to fight elbows up. And focus on Toronto when you’re in (Parliament). You have to be dogged about that.

I’m glad it’s a minority, honestly. That’s the best-case scenario, short of electoral reform.

What do you say now to those people who you’ve spoken to in your riding who support your ideas, but voted for Liberal candidate Julie Dzerowicz for strategic reasons?

What I would say is: I understand and respect their decisions, first and foremost, but at the same time, we’re never going to get what we want until we vote for what we want.

Have you thought about your plans for the future? Would you consider running again if an election happens again sooner rather than later?

At this moment, I feel really good and I feel energized that the result disappointed me but it hasn’t disabled me.

I’m still very much engaged and excited by what’s possible for the NDP. Depending on the timing and what’s going in my life, we’ll see. I’m certainly not ruling anything out, that’s for sure.

What if other opportunities come up in municipal or provincial government?

Who knows? I’ve learned not to predict the future.

What does shutting down a campaign look like? I’ve never been there.

I tell you one thing, it’s easier to shut down a campaign office than to shut down a campaign office, a constituency office and a parliamentary office all at the same time. So it’s a little less complicated (than it was in 2015).

The first thing you have to do is take your signs down. It’s a singular experience, losing and then going out and taking your signs down the day after the election. The conversations that you have with people are quite something.

We have to pack it all up and store those signs somewhere. It is what it is, you know.

Ed Tubb

Ed Tubb is an assignment editor and a contributor to the Star’s coverage of the 2019 federal election. He is based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @edtubb

TORONTO STAR

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