Tuesday, January 31, 2012

No Way YVR! The fight starts now against Vancouver International Airport's plan for 33% hike in Airport Improvement Fee - unaccountable YVR can take off, eh?

No Way YVR!

Welcome to Vancouver - $20 Airport Improvement Fee - or else!
Vancouver airport's improvement fee hike, set by unelected officials with BC Liberal ties, should be grounded

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday January 31, 2012

By Bill Tieleman
"I'm leavin' on a jet plane/I don't know when I'll be back again." 
- John Denver, "Leaving On A Jet Plane," 1966.

If you're leaving on a jet plane out of Vancouver International Airport starting in May, you'll be leaving 33 per cent more money behind for YVR's Airport Improvement Fee.

That's because an unelected, unaccountable YVR board of directors led by a chief executive officer making $500,000 a year wants to raise $1.8 billion, primarily to handle baggage faster for international passengers transiting through YVR to and from Asia.

And they want to take that $1.8 billion straight from your pocket, by increasing the Airport Improvement Fee by $5 to $20 for 10 years on every passenger flying out of British Columbia.

I have a reaction of two words that start with the letters B and S -- Bellingham and Seattle airports!

Take off elsewhere

Thousands of British Columbians are already saving hundreds to thousands of dollars by flying out of those two U.S. airports, fed up with a variety of taxes, fees, charges and fuel surcharges on tickets.

And that will increasingly cost Vancouver airport jobs and governments revenue.
It's estimated that one in five Canadian leisure travellers already drive to the U.S. to avoid domestic taxes and another 11 per cent are considering it, according to a survey by the Hotel Association of Canada.

So it's no surprise Bellingham airport has a $30-million expansion of its own underway to accommodate Canadian passengers.

And it's not shocking that Seattle's airport set a new record for passengers in 2011, with 32.8 million travellers, while Vancouver had just over 17 million last year.

Vancouver's Airport Improvement Fee was imposed as an allegedly temporary measure in 1993 and a former YVR CEO predicted in 1996 that it would be gone by 2002.

But why give a sucker a break?

And don't expect a big public hearing or consultation on the Airport Improvement Fee -- the YVR board of directors can do whatever it wants to the travelling public.

That's because YVR's structure is among the most undemocratic and unaccountable you can imagine for an organization responsible for Canada's second-busiest airport.

In 1992, it was transferred from federal government control to become a strange not-for-profit that does not answer to either the federal nor provincial government.

Here's who gets to appoint the board of directors under YVR's rules:
• The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of B.C.
• The Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia
• The Law Society of British Columbia
• The Vancouver Board of Trade
• City of Richmond
• City of Vancouver
• Metro Vancouver
• Government of Canada -- two directors.

Those members appointed by the above then choose four members from "the community at large," but any review of the current 14 directors could only conclude that membership is restricted to B.C's elite. YVR CEO and president Larry Berg is also a director.

Board's BC Liberal ties

A review of Elections BC records finds that at least six directors have made contributions over $250 to the BC Liberal Party since 2005, including over $109,000 from "director at large" Rusty Goepel, either personally or through companies he had leadership roles in.

A man listed as "Lawrence Berg" has given over $21,000, and a "Larry Berg" separately gave $2,000. 

Elections BC will not give further information about donors to confirm identity.

When asked whether YVR CEO Larry Berg had made contributions to the BC Liberals, the airport authority's director of communications Rebecca Catley responded: "We don't have access to information about the private and personal contributions of Larry Berg over the past seven years."

Canadian government appointee George Cadman has donated over $8,000 personally or through his company. 

Other BC Liberal donors on the board include chair Mary Jordan, Carol Kerfoot and Brian Bentz, while director Gerri Sinclair publicly endorsed ex-premier Gordon Campbell in the 2009 election.

Of course, it's easy to make political contributions when YVR's chair is paid $115,000 a year, committee chairs $26,000 and other directors $20,000, plus $1,000 for every board and committee meeting attended and $500 for other meetings.

And it's easy to think raising the Airport Improvement Fee is no big deal when the CEO makes in the salary range of $368,000 to $552,000, when the senior vice-president range is $196,000 to $294,000 and vice-presidents from $160,000 to $240,000 -- with benefits and retirement packages as well.

Loser, not user, pays

The reality is, as Berg has admitted in the media, that rapidly expanding air travel to China is what's driving this expansion.

In an opinion piece published by the Vancouver Sun on Thursday, Berg writes that: "China's demand for air travel is growing by seven per cent annually, one of the fastest growing markets in the world. We want YVR to secure its fair share of that market..."

"Today it takes an average of 90 minutes to connect from an international flight to a domestic flight. In order to be the gateway of choice, connection times are the key... We want to get connections times consistently under 60 minutes," he says.

So British Columbians are going to pay more so passengers flying to and from China and other Asian destinations save 30 minutes. That may be good marketing for YVR, but it isn't user pay -- it's loser pay for those of us who don't need connecting flights when we arrive in Vancouver -- we're home.

YVR actually makes the outlandish claim that it is a "community-driven organization" by pointing out it holds a "public meeting" every year and stating that "we welcome your feedback."

Well here's my feedback -- if you want to raise $1.8 billion for better service to travellers who are only passing through Vancouver, then charge them the Airport Expansion Fee -- but not the rest of us who actually live here!

I'm sick and tired of paying the existing Airport Expansion Fee for 20 years and no, I don't want to pay an extra 33 per cent more per flight as of May.

If you agree, join my new Facebook protest page -- No Way YVR -- and send the airport a strong message -- that if they ignore us, we can take off elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

NDP’s next leader of the opposition should be Peggy Nash

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

Peggy Nash and Bill Tieleman - December 2011

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday January 24, 2012

By Bill Tieleman

“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 New Democratic Party because of the tragic death of Jack Layton shortly after he reached the height of success.

The NDP’s choice on 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. Both those perceived as frontrunners by media and those trying to make a breakthrough have much appeal.

But a leadership campaign is about choices, and I’ve made mine – I will support Peggy Nash for leader.

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

Extremely Tenacious and Gracious

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

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

Nash has refused to accept defeat in running for Parliament, narrowly losing narrowly in 2004, winning in 2006, facing a setback in 2008 and triumphing again in 2011. 

A less tenacious person might have packed it in – she didn’t.

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

Her knowledge and experience led Layton to appoint Nash finance critic in 2011 – the most important portfolio in a leader’s shadow cabinet.

Nash is also a social justice advocate, passionate about ending inequality and defending human rights everywhere, serving as an international observer for South Africa’s historic 1994 election that chose Nelson Mandela as president and in the Ukraine.

She is outspokenly supportive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered rights, has been honoured by the Sierra Club for environmental leadership and by the YWCA for championing women’s rights.

And Nash isn’t about top-down leadership.

“What they get with me is someone who’s connected with the grassroots of the party,” Nash said recently. “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.”

“Those aren’t just words to me. It’s my life’s work,” Nash concluded.

When I endorsed Jack Layton for leader in 2003, I saw a former Toronto city councillor with values, experience and a vision. 

I couldn’t foresee that Jack would lead the party to opposition status for the first time by dramatically capturing the most seats in Quebec.  But I could see the same enormous potential for success in Layton that I see today in Nash.

Social Democrat Who Understands The Economy

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

But I deeply respect the other candidates - Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair, former NDP president Brian Topp of Toronto, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar,
B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash  and Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh

And whether Nash or another candidates wins the NDP leadership, they will have my support in taking on the Harper Conservatives and likely the Liberals led by Bob Rae, as well as my criticism when they make mistakes, as Layton sometimes did.

Nash, like the others, must address some challenges.

Some question whether Nash can hold and grow the NDP’s newfound support in Quebec – but not Pierre Ducasse.

The long-time NDP activist, who wowed many when he contested the party leadership against Layton in 2003 and then became his special advisor on Quebec, has endorsed Nash.

"Peggy Understands Quebec" - Pierre Ducasse

 “Peggy understands Qu├ębec and she’s someone who really brings people together,” Ducasse says.

In an interesting YouTube interview last November, Ducasse discussed the possibility of regional battles over the leadership dividing the NDP.

“Many political commentators and analysts try to portray this as one region against another, east versus west or Quebec versus rest of Canada,” Ducasse says.  “I really don’t think that’s the dynamic of this race.”

“I think that the membership will want to support the best person and I think the membership has not fallen into that trap – but must not fall into that trap – of those little regional dynamics.”

“Let’s support the best person for the job,” Ducasse concluded. Exactly right.

Three Quebec MPs - Anne Minh-Thu Quach, Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet and Dany Morin – agree with Ducasse that Nash comprehends their province, endorsing her campaign

Nash also has the support of former federal NDP leader Alexa McDonough, B.C. MPs Denise Savoie and Randall Garrison, actor-director Sarah Polley and many others.

But in the NDP’s one member-one vote leadership contest, endorsements, while important, are secondary to convincing non-members to sign up before the February 18 deadline.

Also critical is persuading as many New Democrats as possible to make you their first, second or even third or fourth choice in the preferential balloting.

And while a few may doubt the willingness of Canadian voters to elect a woman as prime minister, that route to success has already been well travelled around the world. 

World of Women Leaders

With women currently serving as national leaders from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Argentinian President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner to Brazilian President Dilma Roussef to Icelandic Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir and many more, a party leader’s gender should not be an issue.

Nash’s biggest advantage may come down to her ability to build an electoral coalition of New Democrats determined to select a progressive leader who can grow the party while still maintaining its core values.

“We absolutely need to vote for someone who is first and foremost and extremely clearly a social democrat,” says Ducasse.  “That should sound obvious.”

Nash is definitely that – a social democrat who could lead the country.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

"Ethical Oil" my gas! How hypocritical Enbridge pipeline pals trying to pump petroleum past us

Ethical Oil My Gas!

One of Ethical Oil's provocative ads promoting Canadian petroleum
Enbridge pipeline cheerleaders full of hypocrisy in criticizing 'foreign intervention.'

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column
Tuesday January 17, 2012
By Bill Tieleman
"Oil they would buy from anyone. From Satan." 
- Christopher Buckley, Florence of Arabia, 2004.

"Ethical oil" my gas!

The number of hypocrites promoting the $5.5 billion Enbridge pipeline through northern B.C. that would ship "ethical oil" to China by tankers is astonishing.

First, pumping Alberta tar sands or oil sands oil -- who cares what term we use other than theindustry -- by a pipeline through pristine B.C. wilderness to the port of Kitimat is damaging enough.

Enbridge's pipeline spill record is scary -- 170 spills and leaks in the United States since 2002 byEnbridge-owned companies.

Enbridge says it's got a better than industry average but Transportation Safety Board says Enbridge and TransCanada were involved in three out of four of reported cases in last two years.

South of the border, don't bother jumping in or fishing on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan -- Enbridge spilled more than one million gallons of diluted bitumen there in July 2010, and the clean up continues.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says there is "a ban on surface water activities on the Kalamazoo River as part of the county's state of emergency, including swimming, wading, fishing, boating, canoeing and kayaking... No one should eat fish of any kind from this stretch of the river."

Then Enbridge would ship oil by giant tankers through dangerous B.C. coastal waters, one of the world's most fragile ecosystems -- and it says everything is totally safe. Just watch this video!

Right. Exxon Valdez going aground in 1989, British Petroleum oil rig explosion in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off Louisiana -- what could go wrong?

China, our ethical customer?

At a time when a huge cruise ship with 4,200 passengers in the calm Mediterranean can run aground and sink with potentially disastrous environmental results, the industry claims oil tankers are safe?

And where is the "ethical oil" going to go? Mostly to prop up the repressive Communist military dictatorship in China.

"Ethical oil" will keep the machinery oiled for a government that throws world-renowned artists like Ai Weiwei and Nobel Prize-winning human rights activist Liu Xiaobo in jail for daring to want every citizen to get a democratic vote and a choice of parties beyond Communist.

So while the Arab Spring overthrows brutal oil dictators like Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia -- we grease the skids for more Chinese repression.

And let's not even discuss how “ethical oil” will help China continue to build a new coal-fired power plants and soon burn half the world's coal, ensuring its world number one greenhouse gas emitter status.

The Tory public relations strategy

How to get the Enbridge pipeline approved when First Nations, environmentalists and concerned British Columbians don't want it?

Use federal Conservative cheerleaders to create an astroturf group called Ethical Oil and blur the issue by claiming Canadian oil is produced honourably while everyone else is bad.

Ethical Oil spokeswoman Kathryn Marshall (who writes for 24 hours on unrelated political issues) admits the organization takes money from Canadian companies.

But she won't reveal if oil firms donate to the group, citing group policy not to identify any donors.

And Marshall strongly denies it's an astroturf group created to push the industry position. She argues it has "a few hundred members" and over 1,600 Facebook page "likes."

Then blame environmental groups for taking millions from U.S. foundations while ignoring the foreign-owned oil companies spending billions in to produce oil sands gunk.

"Stop foreign billionaires from sabotaging Canada's national interest!" shouts Ethical Oil's website Our Decision.

Get pro-Enbridge politicians from Prime Minister Stephen Harper to Energy Minister Joe Oliver to BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark to all publicly denounce "foreign meddling in our decisions" -- as Clark put it on Sunday -- while welcoming multinational oil companies' participation in hearings.

Pipeline backer now aide to BC premier

Next have Clark pick ex-Enbridge lobbyist and former top Harper advisor Ken Boessenkool as her new chief of staff.

But heck, there's no way he'd influence the province's position on the pipeline -- Christy says so!

Boessenkool, Clark says, is "leaving his private sector connections in the past in coming to perform public service here in British Columbia."

"The fact is, advisers advise, premiers decide," Clark also claimed.

Of course, if the "ethical oil" crew and their Conservative government fan club really cared about foreign intervention that is morally and deeply wrong, they would have been the first to demand Canadian company SNC Lavalin stop building prisons for Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi to torture his own people.

But that would mean criticizing SNC Lavalin's $300,000 a year chair Gwyn Morgan, the hard right-winger who is a Christy Clark advisor, was CEO of natural gas giant Encana and who calls Levant his "favourite iconoclast."

Pumped up indignation

Or the ethical oil can gang might have joined forces with those opposed to the massive takeovers of our country's biggest companies by U.S., Chinese, Brazilian and other foreign corporations -- allying themselves with the nationalist Council of Canadians.

But they didn't. They only use the foreign intervention card to help their non-Canadian petrochemical pals push the Enbridge pipeline past those nasty environmentalists.

It's a cynical strategy made worse by their pumped up indignation.

And while Enbridge would admittedly create lots of construction work building the pipeline, once competed how many permanent jobs does B.C. get from all this risk?

About 104 direct jobs shared with Alberta. Until the first spill, that is.

The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is a high risk, high reward project -- but the risks are all for British Columbia and the biggest rewards flow to big oil.


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Five NDP leadership contenders look for upset win to become opposition leader over frontrunners

Running Uphill: Five Contenders for NDP Leader

Front runners don't triumph every time. Meet those counting on an upset to win the race.

Bill Tieleman's 24 hours/The Tyee column

Tuesday January 10, 2012

By Bill Tieleman 
"A leader is a dealer in hope." 
- Napoleon Bonaparte

The next leader of the opposition will carry the New Democratic Party's future hopes of not only defeating Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper but also forming Canada's first social democratic national government.

It's an enormous challenge to replace the party's late leader Jack Layton but eight candidates believe they can do it.

Last week this column profiled the media-perceived "frontrunners" -- Montreal Member of ParliamentThomas Mulcair, Toronto MP Peggy Nash and former NDP president Brian Topp of Toronto.

But just like at the horse races, the favourites don't win every time.

So Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Manitoba MP Niki Ashton, Quebec MP Romeo Saganash and Nova Scotia businessman Martin Singh are all criss-crossing the country to meet as many of the estimated over 100,000 party members eligible to vote in the March 24 decision in hopes of an upset victory.

Dewar's campaign in fact believes he is surging to compete with the top tier contenders, while Cullen relishes his outsider status and Ashton talks convincingly about the "new politics" she brings to the race as a 29-year-old woman.

A victory by Saganash would be an amazing story -- the transformation from young child seized from his parent's home and sent to native residential school to leader of the opposition.

And unknown pharmacy owner Singh has surprised with articulate performances focusing on health care issues.

I recently met with Dewar and Ashton and spoke by phone with Cullen to get a sense of their priorities and personalities. (Unfortunately time constraints didn’t give me an opportunity to do the same with Saganash and Singh.)

Paul Dewar & Bill Tieleman
Paul Dewar is an engaging, affable and highly energetic politician -- someone who instantly feels like an old buddy.
Perhaps it's because Dewar, 48, grew up in politics. His late mother Marion was the popular mayor of Ottawa and an NDP MP. 

It also helps that he's been a public school teacher and an aid worker in Nicaragua.
Dewar himself was first elected in 2006, taking over Ottawa Centre riding when former leader Ed Broadbent retired, and served as foreign affairs critic under Jack Layton's leadership.

Dewar has strong support in Manitoba, where he won early support from several provincial MLAs and labour leaders, and in Ottawa. Most recently B.C. NDP MLA Mabel Elmore and Jim Clancy, National Union of Public and General Employees president, endorsed his leadership.

Dewar faces two big challenges. First, to gain backing from NDP MPs -- to date none have joined his campaign, though that is expected to change soon.

And second, while Dewar speaks French, his command of the language has been questioned enough to be an issue in a contest where fluent bilingualism is considered essential. Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm has many admirable skills but his lack of French caused him to bow out as a candidate after the first debate, where he required a translator.

Dewar addressed his need to improve his French by moving into the home of his language tutor for a week before Christmas to improve his ability. We'll see the results in upcoming party debates startingJan. 29.

A history of upsets

Political blogger Eric Grenier's ThreeHundredEight.com has undertaken an innovative "endorsement ranking" that illustrates Dewar's possible dilemma.

According to its weighting of the backing each candidate has received, Dewar ranks fourth with 5.7 per cent of "endorsement points" as of Jan. 4.

Topp leads with 40 per cent, Mulcair is second with 25.5 per cent, Nash ranks third with 20.3 per cent. 

Following Dewar are Ashton at 3.9 per cent, Cullen with 3.0 per cent, Saganash at 1.6 per cent and Singh at zero.

Grenier is quick to point out that his ranking method "is, in no way, a scientific method that is meant to have any precise predicting capability. It is just one way to interpret the endorsements and what they might mean in the respective leadership races. And they are just to make the race a little more fun."

I suspect leadership campaigns will take them rather seriously, particularly as Grenier demonstrates from past federal Liberal and NDP leadership contests that they can mirror the actual results.

But while the value of endorsements is always seen as high in leadership and nomination battles, B.C. Premier Christy Clark proved last year that even having just one BC Liberal MLA out of a caucus of nearly 50 supporting her campaign was no impediment to winning it.

In other words, big names don't necessarily win big votes.

And political leadership contests have changed enormously with the demise of delegated conventions, where those attending could dramatically affect the outcome as their favoured candidate dropped off the ballot and urged them to support another contender, with multiple rounds of balloting.

Upset victories at such conventions were legendary. Joe Clark's surprise 1976 Progressive Conservative Party leadership win on the fourth ballot after finishing with less than 12 per cent of delegate support on the first vote is perhaps the ultimate example.

Nathan Cullen
While Dewar wants to be a frontrunner, Nathan Cullen not only knows he's a dark horse candidate on this track, he celebrates it.
B.C.'s only contender hails from Smithers -- almost as far from Ottawa as you can get and still represent Canadians.

Send Cullen a cell phone text to set a time to talk and you get a one word response: "Cool!"

Cullen has received excellent media and member reviews for his performance in debates and town halls, where his confidence, fluent French and willingness to discuss politically difficult ideas have encouraged his supporters.

Cullen suggests the NDP form a one-time electoral alliance with the Liberal and Green parties to defeat the Conservatives.

Then, he proposes, the parties that routed Stephen Harper would introduce some form of proportional representation electoral system, end their deal and fight future elections on their own.

It's a controversial position -- ironically like his initial voting with the Harper Conservatives to kill the long gun registry in the last minority Parliament, a measure that failed but will almost certainly pass with a Conservative majority now in place.

"As I said when I voted in support of the bill to repeal the registry last November [at second reading], it's time to stop dividing the country over guns and move on to find effective ways to reduce gun-related violence," Cullen stated in June 2010.

Cullen added in a release that he "has received 'clear and decisive direction' from his constituents to oppose the gun registry, a position he agrees with personally." (Cullen has recently criticized the new Conservative bill to end the long gun registry because of its intent to destroying past registry records and include sniper-style rifles as unrestricted weapons.)

Cullen's endorsement support is limited, He has four B.C. NDP MLAs backing him -- Robin Austin, Gary Coons, Norm Macdonald and Doug Donaldson.

It's hard to see how Cullen could win this contest without a dramatic turn of events, but at 40, his goal may be more to increase his public profile and build support for the next leadership campaign. So far, he's succeeding admirably.

Niki Ashton & Bill TIeleman
If Cullen has lots of time, Niki Ashton is even better placed for the future.

At 29 years old, Ashton has already been elected as an MP for Churchill twice, holds a masters' degree in international affairs, is completing her PhD and is fluent in not only English and French but also Spanish and Greek.

She also knows that defeating seasoned politicians with decades more experience than her is unlikely. And that's not a worry.

Her performance at the recent BC NDP convention leadership town hall meeting surprised and excited many delegates, as she more than held her own on the stage.

In person Ashton is friendly, personable and enthusiastic. She exudes quiet confidence that seems well beyond her age.

But it's not too surprising since Ashton, like Dewar, comes from a family where politics were a big part of growing up.

Her father Steve Ashton is a Manitoba NDP cabinet minister who ran against current Premier Greg Selinger to replace Gary Doer in 2009.

Ashton has the backing of B.C. NDP MLA Guy Gentner, three MPs and several Manitoba MLAs.

Ashton has been a strong voice fighting the Conservative government's elimination of the Canadian Wheat Board and calling for action to end deplorable conditions faced by northern and aboriginal people, as most recently seen in Attawapiskat.

Romeo Saganah
Romeo Saganash more than shares Ashton and the NDP's concerns -- as the first indigenous person to enter the national leadership contest of any party, he is a powerful voice of opposition to Harper.

No candidate for any Canadian political party has made an opening campaign statement as eloquent and poetic as this one, which begins:

"The shore of a lake, deep in the woods of Quebec, was my birthplace and my first classroom. Growing up in the bush, what I knew about life I learned from my parents and 13 siblings; from the Elders and our small community; from the moose and beaver; the fish and birds; the trees and plants; and the very rock and soil that supported us all," Saganah wrote.

Saganash survived the residential school experience to become a lawyer, speaks fluent Cree, English, French and Spanish and has years of experience as a First Nations leader.

While he is unlikely to win the leadership, Saganash is going to change both New Democrat and national politics for the better. He has two NDP MPs backing his bid.

Martin Singh
Martin Singh came to the leadership contest as an unknown even in his home province of Nova Scotia but he may leave it as a potential key political figure there.

Singh was born with the name Martin Hill but converted to Sikhism in 1996, changing his last name then. Singh became the first Caucasian convert in Canada to head a gurdwara or place of worship.

Singh owns several pharmacies and residential care facilities in Nova Scotia and Ontario. The former federal Liberal describes himself as a "pro-business member of the NDP" and also serves in the Canadian Armed Forces Reserves.

Singh's main campaign push is for a national pharmacare plan that would replace current public and private plans -- a move he says would save both Canadians and private companies hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Despite his lack of past party experience, Singh has performed surprisingly well in public appearances, making his entry into electoral politics a real possibility.

So what will happen March 24? Can any of these five candidates break from the pack and dash past Topp, Mulcair and Nash to an upset win?

It's extremely hard to predict the outcome of a wide-open, one-member one-vote leadership contest where multiple factors are at play.

But with a fascinating and talented group of contenders in an event sure to gain prolonged national attention, the NDP can be assured that Jack Layton's successor will not be ignored -- especially by Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party.