WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Jacinda Ardern has been riding a wave of popularity since taking over as New Zealand’s opposition leader last month. The 37-year-old is hoping to unseat conservative Prime Minister Bill English, 55, when the nation votes in the general election on Saturday.

Ardern’s liberal Labour Party is promising to build thousands of affordable homes to combat runaway housing prices, to clean up rivers and to invest in education. Her opponent is campaigning on his success steering a growing economy and is promising tax cuts.

Opinion polls have been volatile but indicate a close race.

Ardern talked to The Associated Press about being thrust into the role of party leader after her predecessor Andrew Little unexpectedly resigned, her views on why the economy is failing to deliver and the appropriateness of campaign-trail questions about whether she plans to have children while in office.


THE ECONOMY

“Our view is that you’ve got to look beyond just simple measures of growth, and look at the wellbeing of your communities. And whether or not people feel like they’re better off. If you’ve got a housing crisis, and the worst homelessness numbers that we’ve seen in some time, does that demonstrate a successful economy? If you’ve got people who aren’t able to access health care, or if you have educational success in some areas declining? In our mind, we actually have to get some of our basics right again. That’s really how you build the foundation for a thriving economy.”


HOUSING

“Gosh there’s such a range of issues that we have to tackle in the housing market that have given rise to where we are now. In part, we’ve certainly taken the view that the ability for foreign speculators to invest in the domestic market has been problematic … but actually our view is that there also just hasn’t been the ability for the market to meet the demand.”


UPBRINGING

“I’d have to say it was probably the most idyllic upbringing I could have really hoped for. We had a small orchard, my father was a policeman, my mom ran our school cafeteria. But as a family, for a number of years, we kept that orchard ticking over, exporting just a little bit of fruit. And so I learned to drive tractors and cherry pickers, and use a grader, and all of the things that come with being a semirural kid. But it was a great start in life, and one I’m really grateful to have had.”


LEADERSHIP

“Andrew (Little) made a decision as leader of the Labour Party that he thought that our chances might be different if someone else was at the helm, and then went from making that decision to nominating me to take on the role, which I found pretty extraordinary. And so to be honest there’s been very little time to reflect on that moment. We’ve had to move straight into campaign mode, reorganizing some of our campaign plans and strategy. And I’ve enjoyed the pace of that, I’ve enjoyed the ability to simply make decisions that instinctively feel like the right thing to do, that connect into the vision that we have for where New Zealand needs to go.”


CHILDREN

“I think probably actually the evening I was elected to be leader, someone asked me the question around my plans to have children or not. And it’s a question that I’ve faced frequently in politics that wasn’t new at all. … I see myself opening up to them as being completely separate as the debate to whether another woman should have to answer those questions. And I chose to strongly defend the fact that no woman should be expected, in the workplace, to have to answer that question. It anticipates that they can A) predict their future and B) that actually anyone has the right to ask that. That really does prejudice someone’s opportunities, and in 2017 just shouldn’t be the question that women are being asked.”

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NICK PERRY
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