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NDP Leadership: Peggy Nash Goes 1 On 1 With HuffPost Canada (VIDEO)

OTTAWA — NDP leadership hopeful Peggy Nash says none of the other six candidates in the race to replace former leader Jack Layton has all the skills required to do the job.

Speaking to The Huffington Post Canada, Nash said her pitch to the 128,351 members of the New Democratic Party is that she is the only candidate who can hit the ground running after the party’s March 24 convention.

“Each candidate has some qualities but I am the candidate that has all of the qualities necessary, from economic experience, public, private, to grassroots experience on a range of issues, to party president, having built our riding associations through our period of biggest growth, to electoral experience having run four times (and) knowing what that means to build a riding association and to win. I have the experience and I have the capacity to unite our party and to bring our movement together,” Nash said.

“I am the strongest candidate. I am the one who has all of the qualities we need in order to succeed as Official Opposition and to win the next federal election,” the 60-year-old MP asserted.

Nash, the MP for Parkdale — High Park, first won her seat in 2006 but was defeated in 2008 by former Liberal MP and Grit leadership hopeful Gerard Kennedy. After winning the seat back from Kennedy last spring, Layton made Nash, who had been working with the Canadian Auto Workers, the NDP’s finance critic.

She told HuffPost she believes parliamentary experience is crucial — a small stab at her competitor, former NDP party president Brian Topp, who has never held elected office. She also believes the ability to speak French fluently is necessary — something one of her other challengers, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, is still struggling with.

Nash’s task during the next three weeks is to reach out to as many NDP members as possible, especially those who haven’t yet made a decision, she said.

“I think there is still a good number of undecided voters and I think there are a number of people who may have decided on their first choice and they haven’t really thought through if they may need a second, third or fourth choice.”

Advanced online voting started on Thursday, so Nash has little time left to convince those NDP members she should be high on their list.

“We need to connect with them before they do fill out their ballot,” Nash said during an interview in her Parliament Hill office.

The NDP race is wide open, with no clear front-runner so far. Nash, however, is considered a top contender in the race. She has strong support in Quebec, she said, and the second largest number of NDP members of Parliament who back her nomination.

Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair is the only candidate with more support, with backing from 42 of the party's 101 MPs. This week, news emerged, leaked by Tory sources, that Mulcair had contemplated joining the Conservative Party before running for the New Democrats.

Nash declined to say whether Mulcair’s flirtation with Stephen Harper bothers her.

“He said that was something that he didn’t want to pursue and we need to accept that," she said. "He chose the NDP and has, you know, he’s worked as a social democrat and that’s the record we have to look at.”

Because NDP members will select their next leader through a preferential ballot, it is in every leadership candidates’ interest to be nice to their opponents.

Two candidates have already bowed out: Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm and Quebec MP Romeo Saganash. But Nash, Mulcair, Dewar, Topp and B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh are still crisscrossing the country.

Nash acknowledged that it may be a bit difficult to differentiate between many of the candidates positions, but that she believes that is the very reason NDP members need to select the person who can best sell and organize the party.

“I think on policy issues there will be some variations but we are all NDP MPs or NDP party members, so policy wise we are going to be fairly similar. I think what our members need to look at is what kind of experience we bring, what kind of approach we bring, whether candidates are absolutely ready, day one, to assume their position, in the House of Commons, as leader of the Official Opposition,” she said.

If she wins, her task list will included the continued modernization of the party, ensuring that it has the technological tools to compete with the Tories and building its fundraising capabilities.

“Fundraising is a massive challenge,” Nash wholeheartedly admitted. The NDP will lose millions due to the end of the per-vote public subsidy over the next four years and the party doesn’t yet receive the kind of individual donations that the Conservatives and even the Liberals attract.

The NDP also has a lot of work to do to build non-existing riding associations in Quebec and strengthen weak ones across the country, especially in areas where the provincial wing of the party has been able to make electoral gains, Nash said.

“It is a lot of work to show people in Quebec, who trusted us with their vote in the last election, that yes, it was worth your vote, we’re working hard for you, we do respect Quebec, we will defend Quebec’s interests,” Nash said.

A key plank of her platform is the economy. Nash argues the party needs to do a better job of proving to Canadians that the NDP can be good fiscal managers.

“I’m convinced that we do have a better story to tell, we do have a better plan in terms of managing the economy,” Nash said. “If we are going to offer opportunities to young people, if we’re going to develop regions of the country, it can’t just strictly be digging stuff out the ground and shipping it out as fast as possible.”

Nash’s strategy of building upon the NDP's incredible success on May 2, 2011, includes reaching out to the 40 per cent of Canadians who didn’t bother voting at all.

“I think there are a lot of Canadians who are fed up with politics and say that ‘none of them represent me.' I think a lot of people are angry, especially people on the low end of the economic scale, so we really need to do the difficult work of building trust and offering hope to people in a way that they have never had the opportunity to before,” she said.

Nash also plans to go after non-traditional supporters, people who haven’t voted for the NDP before — something she believes won't be impossible.

"(There are voters) who may have, in the past, said, ‘Yeah, I like the NDP but you can’t win, and I want to defeat the Conservatives.' Well, we can win,” Nash said.

“Now, we have the opportunity to say to those people who share our values, but didn’t think we could win, now is the time to work together because we can win but we’ve got to really do the job building that support.”

Like Huffington Post Canada's Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj's reporter page on Facebook and follow her onTwitter for all the latest news from Parliament Hill.

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