Thursday, July 31, 2008

Frank Valeriote: Building Bridges

It’s Thursday morning, the day before Stephen Harper announced the date for the by-election in Guelph, and Frank Valeriote has the appearance of a man ready to get campaigning. The first time Liberal candidate faces a long and winding road down the campaign trail. Even though Guelph is currently coloured red on the electoral map, Valeriote himself says that he’s not taking anything for granted. “I make no assumptions,” he says. “I’m working for every single vote that I get,”

In the spirit of not taking anything for granted, Valeriote says that there is no single issue that he favours above others, comparing it to being asked which child he loves more. Naturally, it’s hard to have any conversation with a Liberal candidate without bringing up the centrepiece of the party’s platform: the Green Shift. “Personally, I think Mr. [Stéphane] Dion hit the bullseye in such a way that he’s left no more room on the target for any of the other parties to shoot at,” he says, calling the plan bold, visionary and comprehensive.

The Green Shift has not come without its share of controversy, but according to Valeriote people are beginning to understand that they’re not going to be paying more, but paying differently. “A large majority of people say we have to do something and they recognize that it can’t be done without some sacrifice.” Valeriote believes that Guelph can be the epicentre of growth here in Canada and that a lot of research being done at the University of Guelph offers prime research and development opportunities in the creation of a greener economy.

It all fits into Valeriote’s vision to improve the future and help the people of Guelph. On the economy itself, Valeriote says that government needs to be more intentional with its efforts and offer more support local industry. Of course the Green Shift will help in this regard, as Valeriote explains, tax credits and incentives will drive research and innovation which will translate into jobs and increased investment.

In terms of social issues, Valeriote wants to see a re-investment in early childhood learning and says that part of Dion’s plan for Canada is a commitment to cut by 30 per cent the number of people living below the poverty line within five years. Valeriote’s also in favour of expanding programs to help new immigrants. He remembers his grandparents’ own difficulty settling in Guelph and wants to make it easier for the large number of immigrants coming into the city to become a part of the community.

You can tell the issue’s personal to Valeriote, who’s lived in Guelph for 53 years, the last 26 of which as co-founder and senior partner of the Smith/Valeriote law firm on Silvercreek. “It’s not what you say but what you do,” explains Valeriote, who adds that his skills as a lawyer and an advocate make him a powerful candidate. “If you look at my record you’ll see that I’m a doer not a sayer.”

His only previous elected position is as a member of the Catholic School Board. It’s here that Valeriote says he cut his teeth and earned a reputation as a conciliator and bridge-builder. He served on the Board during the tumultuous Mike Harris years, which saw much strife between teachers and school boards. “I entered into teacher negotiations saying ‘this is going to be a win-win,’” Valeriote remembers. “And it was made very clear that when you announce at the beginning of your negotiations what your goals are – that everybody will leave this table with something – then you work towards it.”

Mostly though, Valeriote is anxious to tackle problems and look for solutions rather than participate in partisan arguments and joining a polarized parliament. He had some harsh words for Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty saying that he was “taken aback” by the minister’s comments about Ontario as “the last place” anyone should want to invest in. “I cannot, embrace someone who’s dismissive in their approach to every issue that’s brought before them. It’s discouraging that what was promised: openness, transparency and honesty, has been anything but.”

Valeriote’s up against some pretty high profile competition this election, but he’s confident that he’ll stand out from the crowd. “I think the people of Guelph will look for substance over profile and they’ll see substance when they look at me.”

Stay tuned next week for another candidate profile. And for daily election coverage go to my blog:

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