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A Canadian Politician Is Campaigning for Bernie and Some People Are Pissed

The MP says what she did was perfectly fine considering her party's similarities with the Sanders campaign.

by Jake Kivanc
Jun 6 2016, 7:45pm

This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.

Niki Ashton, a federal NDP MP [New Democratic Party Member of Parliament] from the Canadian province of Manitoba, announced yesterday that she is currently in the US campaigning for Bernie Sanders—and people aren't happy.

Ashton, who was reelected in the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding last year, posted yesterday that she was heading to North Dakota to campaign for the Democratic hopeful alongside a handful of others.

The tweet—featuring a photo of her in a Bernie Sanders campaign shirt and the #FeelTheBern hashtag—has garnered backlash from Canadians who say that, as a sitting federal politician, Ashton shouldn't be interfering in US elections.

"If you want to focus on doomed political movements @nikiashton I'd suggest you stick with your own," John Groves, a self-described baseball player and "snarky conservative," wrote on Twitter.

Many users criticized her for wasting Canadian tax dollars and leaving the country where she was elected to go campaign in another, but Ashton quipped back by noting that parliament was not in session on Sunday.

While expressing opinion on a foreign election is generally considered a faux pas for politicians (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shied away from commenting on the US election, remaining neutral on Donald Trump's inflammatory politics), others questioned whether what Ashton was doing was even legal.

While there are no laws against foreign politicians showing support for American candidates, the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) specifically forbids the contribution of campaign funds or donations by "foreign nationals," which Ashton would fall under. Volunteer work, however, is permitted, so it is not actually illegal for a foreigner to help raise awareness, and Ashton says that she didn't donate and didn't spend any work expenses on the trip.

Campaign contributions include the purchase of campaign merchandise—such as the shirt Ashton is pictured wearing—but only if it's purchased directly from the political campaign. Purchases from another person or a reseller do not count as a contribution, and therefore would not violate any laws.

Ashton told VICE that she was merely visiting North Dakota—being that it neighbors the border of Manitoba—to learn from the accomplishments of the Sanders campaign and help out in campaigning for the candidate.

"It's not any secret [that I find] Bernie Sanders's campaign very inspiring," she told VICE. "I wanted to get a sense of that. North Dakota and Manitoba have many similar issues, many similar demographics. Seeing how they're taking on the issues is very interesting."

Ashton says that complaints about foreign politicians expressing their opinion on their own time are moot—she specifically points to Tom Mulcair's harsh words for Trump as an example of how political ideologies are not bound by borders.

"My leader, [Mulcair], has had some serious criticism of the Trump campaign, so I'm not sure—Justin Trudeau and I are different pages on many things," she told VICE.

"Many people in our country are very excited about Bernie Sanders, the things he's putting forward, the way he's running his campaign... For me, it was important to be there as somebody who was inspired [by his campaign] to see how we can improve off it."

The NDP MP is pictured here with another person wearing Bernie Sanders campaign shirts in a photo she posted to her account. Photo via Twitter

Follow Jake Kivanc on Twitter.

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