One of a well-briefed, thought­ful group will take on Lib­eral in­cum­bent Yasir Naqvi

Ottawa Citizen - - CITY - DAVID REEVELY

For On­tario’s New Demo­cratic Party to get any­where near power in next June’s elec­tion, they’ll have to win rid­ings like Ottawa Cen­tre — which they haven’t done in 27 years.

But the gov­ern­ing Lib­er­als are vul­ner­a­ble. The po­lit­i­cal left is more en­er­gized than it’s been in a while thanks to Don­ald Trump. And the New Democrats have an eye-pop­ping quar­tet of can­di­dates seek­ing to carry the orange ban­ner in the heart of On­tario’s sec­ond-big­gest city.

“I think ev­ery­one in the On­tario NDP wants us to win back Ottawa Cen­tre,” says Shawn Bar­ber. He’s a di­plo­mat — a for­mer high com­mis­sioner to Mozam­bique and rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity who’s also worked for Canada in Afghanistan — and a life­long New Demo­crat whose dad was a steel­worker.

He’s in some awe of his fel­low com­peti­tors for the nom­i­na­tion, who in­clude a se­nior econ­o­mist for the Cana­dian Labour Congress (An­gella MacEwen); a ca­reer com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, univer­sity lec­turer and ed­u­ca­tion re­searcher (that’s all one guy, Joel Har­den); and a public­school trustee and small-business owner (Erica Brauno­van).

In the last cam­paign in 2014, the nom­i­na­tion fight was be­tween for­mer city coun­cil­lor Alex Cullen and school-board chair Jennifer McKen­zie. Cullen had lost his coun­cil seat and lost the nom­i­na­tion to McKen­zie — an en­gi­neer and a fine can­di­date on pa­per, who ul­ti­mately drew the fewest votes of any New Demo­crat there since 1995.

Why is Bar­ber, who’s spent his adult life in the for­eign ser­vice, run­ning for pro­vin­cial of­fice? Be­cause his home base has been Ottawa for decades and he’s been dis­mayed by the Lib­er­als re­cently. He read about the party’s cash-for-ac­cess fundrais­ers at his post in Mozam­bique, about the shock­ing con­di­tions in On­tario’s jails and how the jus­tice sys­tem ap­par­ently for­got about an in­mate named Adam Ca­pay, who stayed in soli­tary in Thun­der Bay for years.

“I’ve worked in places where that hap­pens. Not here. Not in my coun­try,” he says.

Many of On­tario’s prac­ti­cal prob­lems could be less­ened with a stronger econ­omy whose ben­e­fits were more widely shared, he be­lieves. It’s the com­bi­na­tion of ris­ing prices — for hy­dro, for hous­ing, for trans­porta­tion — and stag­nant in­comes that’s deadly.

Bar­ber says he’s not an ide­o­logue, that “no slo­gan has ever worked” to solve a problem. He’s built a ca­reer by solv­ing com­pli­cated prob­lems prag­mat­i­cally and he’ll bring those decades of ex­pe­ri­ence to a cam­paign and ul­ti­mately govern­ment.

That’s one way of be­ing a New Demo­crat. Joel Har­den has an­other.

“I’m proud I’ve de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion that peo­ple turn to me. When they say, ‘We need to mo­bi­lize hun­dreds of peo­ple, we need to get a mes­sage out to the me­dia’, (they say), ‘Joel can you help us’,” he says. His cam­paign web­site photo shows him speak­ing into a mega­phone.

Now a re­searcher for the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Stu­dents, Har­den has worked for the Cana­dian Labour Congress and lec­tured in Car­leton Univer­sity’s law pro­gram. He mod­els him­self ex­plic­itly on Bri­tain’s Labour leader Jeremy Cor­byn and Sen. Bernie San­ders of the United States. The “ex­treme cen­tre” is not a win­ning place for the NDP, Har­den ar­gues. The party should think big.

He helped or­ga­nize the post-Char­lottesville anti-racism demon­stra­tion out­side the Amer­i­can Em­bassy last month, for in­stance. There’s en­ergy to be tapped. What gets peo­ple in the streets is what gets left-wing politi­cians votes.

“I’m sens­ing a shift in the winds for so­cial-demo­cratic par­ties,” he says. “Peo­ple are will­ing to en­ter­tain a more am­bi­tious shift in our pol­i­tics.”

He was re­luc­tant to run, he says, hav­ing been dis­ap­pointed by the NDP’s cen­trist drift es­pe­cially in the last elec­tion, and think­ing there are al­ready enough white guys in pol­i­tics. But he thinks the party’s mov­ing back his way and the young ac­tivists he works with con­vinced him.

“We have to get peo­ple ex­cited about pol­i­tics again. I find far too many peo­ple ex­pect far too lit­tle of pol­i­tics,” Har­den says.

MacEwen, the Cana­dian Labour Congress econ­o­mist, says she com­bines both Bar­ber’s and Har­den’s strengths. She used to be in the navy. Her job now is to pro­vide pol­icy heft to an ac­tivist or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“I do have a pretty good job and I like my job. But I’ve been work­ing on mak­ing change from out­side pol­i­tics, through ac­tivism and writ­ing pol­icy, all of those av­enues, and it just feels like the right time. Glob­ally, we have this shift. You’ve got Bernie San­ders in the United States — (on Wed­nes­day) in­tro­duc­ing a bill on uni­ver­sal health care,” she says.

She wants pro­vin­cial of­fice be­cause that’s where the ex­cit­ing so­cial poli­cies are. The labour congress is a na­tional group but very of­ten when she writes rec­om­men­da­tions for the fed­eral govern­ment, they be­gin: “Work with the prov­inces to ...”

Saskatchewan pi­o­neered medi­care. On­tario un­der an NDP govern­ment could lead the way to uni­ver­sal phar­ma­care and den­tal cov­er­age, MacEwen says. “There seems to be a real pos­si­bil­ity that we can do this leap for­ward within govern­ment, to push some real ground­break­ing poli­cies.”

Brauno­van, mean­while, is the only one of the four who’s held pub­lic of­fice. She co-owns Brown Van Brew­ing and rep­re­sents the down­town Som­er­set and Kitchissippi wards on the Ottawa-Car­leton Dis­trict School Board. In her three years on the board she’s be­come frus­trated by the lim­its the pro­vin­cial govern­ment puts on schools’ abil­ity to meet ob­vi­ous needs.

“I feel like there’s points in time when I’m ask­ing ques­tions and try­ing to do things and hear­ing, ‘The min­istry won’t let you do that’ and it doesn’t seem like there’s any way to get a di­a­logue go­ing,” she says. Some­thing as ba­sic as build­ing an ad­di­tion to Elm­dale Pub­lic School, which has been on the school board’s to-do list for years, can’t get pro­vin­cial fund­ing.

It’s the same in health, in higher ed­u­ca­tion, in so­cial work, Brauno­van says.

“I think that if be­ing an elected school-board trustee has taught me any­thing, it’s that we need to lis­ten to ev­ery­body. We need to have big ideas but we also need to have prac­ti­cal so­lu­tions,” she says. She’s done the gru­elling work of cam­paign­ing for her­self and is up to the fight, she says.

To­gether, they’re a fear­some group — all well-briefed and thought­ful. I’ve never seen such a strong set of would-be New Demo­crat can­di­dates in any East­ern On­tario rid­ing, which is surely part of the rea­son the party hasn’t won a seat here since 1990. There’s a cy­cle of hope­less­ness, made the worse when fed­eral New Demo­crat MP Paul De­war lost Ottawa Cen­tre to a Lib­eral in 2015. The most se­nior New Demo­crat in of­fice any­where around here is Catherine McKen­ney, the city coun­cil­lor for down­town Som­er­set.

“I think the cir­cum­stances have changed,” Bar­ber says. “Not the least of it is this govern­ment is long in the tooth ... They’re go­ing through these spasms of try­ing to throw ev­ery­thing on the ta­ble at the last minute.”

In 2014 the Lib­er­als won an un­ex­pected ma­jor­ity by hoover­ing up votes from the left and tak­ing away even his­tor­i­cal NDP strongholds and here we are again. They’re bring­ing in a $15 min­i­mum wage, for in­stance, an idea the New Democrats have pushed for years. Pub­lic cov­er­age for pre­scrip­tion drugs for peo­ple un­der 25. Fi­nan­cial machi­na­tions to cut elec­tric­ity prices in the short term. More tuition aid for stu­dents.

“They’re mas­ter­ful at mar­ket­ing. I’ll give them that. In prac­tice, they’re im­ple­ment­ing a very piece­meal agenda,” Har­den says.

“I spend my work­day ex­plain­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween su­per­fi­cial and sub­stan­tial change on these is­sues,” MacEwen says. “Com­mu­ni­cat­ing with work­ers, in a sub­stan­tive way, how what we want to do is dif­fer­ent from the Lib­er­als is one of my strengths.”

All four agree that their best shot at tak­ing down Lib­eral MPP Yasir Naqvi, be­yond out­work­ing him, is to hang the govern­ment’s fail­ings around his neck.

“We have to hold him ac­count­able for his record,” Bar­ber says.

He’s an en­er­getic re­tail politi­cian, they all say, who keeps up a hec­tic sched­ule of com­mu­nity events and is easy to talk to. He won a flat-out ma­jor­ity in 2014 and he’s not the type to take re­elec­tion for granted.

Naqvi’s also been in of­fice for 10 years, in in­creas­ingly se­nior jobs. He was the Lib­eral party pres­i­dent (re­spon­si­ble for the party’s habit of hold­ing big­money fundrais­ing din­ners with lob­by­ists).

He was the min­is­ter for jails (an­swer­able for over­crowd­ing and Adam Ca­pay) and polic­ing (re­spon­si­ble for racism and lax over­sight). Now he’s the at­tor­ney gen­eral (a top-tier cab­i­net post, where he’s on the hook for all that’s amiss in the courts). Those are rich veins for crit­ics on his left to mine.

“I think that all four of us have the bless­ing of be­ing in a rid­ing like Ottawa Cen­tre where there are a lot of en­gaged ac­tivists,” MacEwen says, a view all four would-be New Democrats share. “I think the key is get­ting those ac­tivists to be­lieve that it’s pos­si­ble to win, and then they’ll come out and work for us.”

The party’s nom­i­na­tion meet­ing is Oct. 29. dreevely@post­ twit­

I’m sens­ing a shift in the winds for so­cialdemo­cratic par­ties. Peo­ple are will­ing to en­ter­tain a more am­bi­tious shift in our pol­i­tics.


Joel Har­den is one of four can­di­dates for the On­tario NDP nom­i­na­tion in Ottawa Cen­tre. He is a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer, univer­sity lec­turer and ed­u­ca­tion re­searcher.


Erica Brauno­van is an Ottawa-Car­leton Dis­trict School Board trustee rep­re­sent­ing the Som­er­set and Kitchissippi wards and is also co-owner of a lo­cal brew­ing com­pany.


An­gella MacEwen hopes to bring her so­cial pol­icy ex­pe­ri­ence as Cana­dian Labour Congress se­nior econ­o­mist to rep­re­sent­ing the pro­vin­cial NDP in Ottawa Cen­tre.


Shawn Bar­ber, a di­plo­mat whose roles have in­cluded high com­mis­sioner to Mozam­bique, is run­ning for the On­tario NDP nom­i­na­tion in Ottawa Cen­tre.

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