Thursday, August 28, 2008

That Election Feeling...

I’ve lived through a couple of Federal elections in Guelph, but never in my life have I encountered the paradox of this by-election. On the one hand there’s a great deal of excitement, and on the other there’s the standard by-election response of apathy. After all, how much can one seat change the government?

Well, it seems from the chatter that what this by-election will reap, not just here in Guelph but in the two ridings in Quebec also going to the polls, is an indication as to whether Canadians want to roll the dice on a general election this fall. Either that or we’re going to do this in staggered bits as in the recently announced September 22 by-election in Don Valley West.

Now, the wonderful thing about the by-election has been the cavalcade of special guests that have passed through out humble abode upon the Speed River both before and after the writ was dropped. Under ordinary circumstances of a general election, we in the Royal City must usually count ourselves fortunate if a party leader does a drive-by while swinging through our region. In 2006, then Prime Minister Paul Martin talked to University of Guelph poli-sci students before pulling up to Molly Blooms for a pint with then MP Brenda Chamberlain and the unwashed masses.

In this by-election though all the major party leaders have popped in at one time or another, some of them put heavy emphasis on that “another” category. Take our old friend Jack Layton, par example. He returned to Guelph this past weekend for a canvassing blitz/barbecue, preceded by a press conference in John Galt Park. Unless I’m mistaken, Layton’s been here on average about once a week since the start of the by-election on July 25.

Not to be outdone, Green Party leader Elizabeth May has come in second with most number of leader visits, and from what I’ve been told by a well-placed source in the Green’s national office, she’ll be here two or three more times in the weeks to come. This will include a weekend long stopover the weekend before the election, the originally scheduled date of the party’s national policy review which was put on hold when the by-elections were called.

This brings us to the leaders of the top two parties and apparently for Stephen Harper visiting Guelph is a lot like seeing The Godfather Part III – once is enough. Harper made a campaign-style swing through southern Ontario last week, with a stop in Kitchener where he rallied with Guelph Conservative candidate Gloria Kovach. There’s historical precedent that states that a sitting Prime Minister does not stump in a riding holding a by-election, so I guess it could be said that the PM exercised a loophole in that tradition and campaigned in the next town over instead.

Stéphane Dion, meanwhile, seems to be more focused on a national campaign as he tests the tenor and desire of Canadians’ willingness to go to the polls a year early, although he did return to Guelph last Friday for some old fashioned canvassing. His Guelph candidate, Frank Valeriote, seems to be doing fine though running a seemingly bizarre kind-of grassroots campaign, for a member of the Official Opposition Party, I mean. since the writ was dropped, the Royal City’s only been visited by Scott Brison at Valeriote’s campaign office and a number of high-profile members at the Ontario Young Liberals’ Summer Fling at the U of G a few weeks ago.

And as of last Monday, the final slate of candidates is officially listed as follows: Libertarian Party of Canada - Philip Bender; New Democratic Party - Tom King;Marijuana Party - Kornelis Klevering; Conservative Party of Canada - Gloria Kovach;Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada - Karen Levenson; Green Party of Canada - Mike Nagy; Independent - John Turmel and Liberal Party of Canada - Frank Valeriote.

For more by-election coverage, visit my blog at

Friday, August 22, 2008

Life on the Campaign Trail

Author's Note: I wrote this piece as the August 21 "Guelph Beat" column in case I wasn't able to interview Gloria Kovach in time for deadline. That did eventually happen so the article posted here on August 21st is the one that ran in Echo Weekly.

I has originally hoped that this week I’d be bringing you my candidate profile of Gloria Kovach, but there’s been some scheduling trouble between my camp and hers in finding a time to talk. (And by “my camp” I mean me. I am my camp.) So since I’m without, I thought I’d talk a little about the campaign. Now on average I go to about two or three events per week, as well as meeting a candidate in person to interview them for this column. A hectic schedule to be sure, but by-elections don’t happen everyday.


The name of the event was “Summer Fling” and it was a gathering of Ontario’s Young Liberals. Mostly university students and recent university grads, many events are a part of the Fling, but most importantly, it brings in a lot of high-profile party members to talk to the young people, a fact very important given that this year’s festivities were being held in Guelph.


It’s not often that campaign events happen in my part of town, but today’s special. My destination is the Blood Donor Clinic on Silvercreek where Green candidate Mike Nagy and his party leader Elizabeth May have come to give back. Look on the bulletin board of milestone donors and you’ll see Nagy’s picture. He says that he’s given blood regularly since ’86, although he had to take a break while he was doing a lot of career-related travelling. For May, it was the first time she’d given blood since her hip surgery last Fall.


It’s been nearly a week since a candidate for the Animal Alliance Environment Voters Party of Canada joined the race. Campaigning on the issue of animal abuse and their protection, the day brings me to another “below the radar” issue: the re-classification of Natural Health Products. Bill C-51 will propose an amendment to the Food & Drugs Act that will categorize NHPs as therapeutic products and thus filing them into the same category as pharmaceutical drugs and medical devices.

Balderdash, says NDP candidate Tom King, who received some help spreading that message from Trinity-Spadina MP Olivia Chow. The duo called for a Bill that would install NHPs in a third category with its own stipulations and regulations. The press conference was held in front of the Stone Store in downtown Guelph, a shop that sells many of the products that could end up banned or held indefinitely for approval should Bill C-51 become law.


As I plug away at another Echo column, I sit and wait for the Kovach campaign to get back to me. So if anyone from the Conservative camp is reading this, have your people call my people. And again, by “my people,” I mean me,

For more information on any of these events, or on other by-election stuff going down, please visit my blog at

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Gloria Kovach: Ready to Win

Gloria Kovach is no stranger to tough races or Federal politics. The stalwart city councillor has represented the people in her ward for 18 year now, as well as representing the interests of Canadian urbanites nationwide for a times as President of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Now her desire to take things to the next level and be elected as the city’s first Conservative Member of Parliament since 1993.

“Certainly I’ve had a lot of exposure in representing cities and communities across Canada at the national and international level,” says Kovach during our phone interview last week. “I’m dedicated to building a better and stronger Canada and I think that my experience in Guelph, both as an elected official and in my other capacities, will help me fully represent Guelph’s interests in Ottawa.”

Aside from her high profile work on behalf of Guelph and other Canadians, Kovach highlights working in Uganda with women’s and children’s groups, dealing with emergency planning and waste management issues in the Czech Republic, and working with people in El Salvador, Columbia, and Vietnam as examples of her qualifications. Back home on council though, she’s most proud of her work in creating the youth council as a way to bring the needs and concerns of young people to the floor. “Also being a nurse and working directly with the people in a healthcare field, understanding the challenges they face, their needs, and just directly working with people on the ground is good experience,” she says.

As for making the shift to Federal politics now, Kovach says she was asked to consider running eight or nine years, but like a lot of women with young families, she didn’t like the idea of being away from home and doing all that travelling. “I’m a roll up your sleeves kind of person,” she explains. “It’s a huge dedication. For me it was important for my children to be grown before I entered into the Federal field.” She adds that, “This is the best time for me and given my experience this is the time for me to run federally.”

Kovach says that those years working and living Guelph has given her an appreciation for the diversity of the city as well as its needs as outlined by the people. Getting out and meeting the people has been key to her campaign, says Kovach. “Our focus is still getting out with the people of Guelph and door-knocking and seeing what issues are most important to them. So I’ve continued to do that and I’ve continued to go out to events and really connect with the people of Guelph.”

The big issue and challenge that people are concerned about, Kovach says, is taxation, and whether the Liberals proposed Green Shift plan will have negative impact on their pocket book. “People are concerned generally about how they’re going to be able to afford to continue to live in their homes, or perhaps purchase a home, or how their children are actually going to be able to afford to live with the increased cost of living,” she says. “They’re concerned with the overall picture, they don’t necessarily differentiate between federal, provincial and municipal.”

Kovach says that she’s concerned about the Liberals assurance that the Carbon Tax, as outlined in the Green Shift, will be revenue neutral saying that, “If you look at the Gun Registry, that cost us billions of dollars and that was supposed to be neutral as well.” She believes that under the plan, families will have to struggle, and writes off the plan as simply “a way for rich people to not have to reduce their green house gases and be able to buy their way out.”

Obviously, there’s a lot of hope amongst the Conservatives to make a breakthrough in Guelph, which could hopefully lead to an increase in the Tories fortunes throughout Ontario. Apropos, a number of highly-profile members have come to the Royal City to offer support; from Defense Minister Peter MacKay to Environment Minister John Baird to the Prime Minister himself. “There’s been a lot of support coming in from my colleagues and I’m very appreciative to them,” says Kovach. “[They] are very understanding of meeting with everyday Canadians and finding out what their issues are and what they’d like to see.”

To follow the campaign and get news and commentary on the by-election, please visit my blog at

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mike Nagy: Green with anticipation

Everything about Mike Nagy is saying “chill” today. The Green Party candidate has just come from John Galt Day festivities, including a couple of hours of canoe-related activities in the river. His t-shirt says “Be Cool” and he kicks back in his campaign office with his feet up. Is the perpetual also-ran getting complacent? Not actually, Nagy’s finally waging the campaign he’s always wanted to.

“Since we’ve been on hold for two years, its given us time to plan,” says Nagy, who hasn’t been able to plan more than a few months ahead for the last few years out of his desire to throw himself into this campaign full time. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons from the other campaigns and that means we’ve become very organized and disciplined. And with that, it’s attracted some very skilled people.”

But Nagy’s third go on the ballot was never an assured thing. Green support has been growing steadily in Guelph over the last decade on both federal and provincial levels. But it was Ben Polley’s third place victory, garnering 20 per cent of the vote, in last October’s Provincial election that finally swayed Nagy in favour of running. That combined with the prospect of a by-election rather than fighting a national campaign locally, got him excited with the real prospect of a Party breakthrough. “With this election the enthusiasm is high because they can taste a win and they know that one [Green MP] can lead to five or ten”

Unfortunately, that victory will have to come without the help of the Greens’ biggest base of support: students, many of won’t be able to vote on September 8th due to Elections Canada rules regarding by-elections. Nagy says he’s disappointed, but regardless of the fact that its summer vacation, the Greens reached their goal in total number of volunteers. Now they’re focused on doubling that number, according to Nagy, who adds that even his main campaign staff, from campaign manager down, are volunteers.

Much of the growing support for Green is attributed to increased concern generally about the environment. Nagy explains that a lot of this has to do with the fact that people are coming to see the correlation between the environment and a host of other issues; from the economy to international relations. “Green’s believe in their vote,” he adds. “It’s not something that they take for granted or randomly do. A lot people go through the colour spectrum, land on the green, and that’s where they’re going to stay for a very long time.”

That’s something Nagy can understand first hand. During his youth and years in university he was a staunch Liberal. He had friends and family working in the party and even got Christmas cards from Pierre Trudeau. Nagy says that it’s always been his dream to go the House of Commons as an MP, but his dream has since been amended to get there under the Green banner. “I might have taken the easier route and gone through one of the three major parties, but none of them spoke to me,” he adds.

Victory isn’t a foregone conclusion though, and Nagy knows that this is going to be a hard fought race for all candidates and their parties, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking towards the future. The Green candidate says that, if elected, he wants to be an honest broker in Parliament and help break the partisan deadlock. “The Green Party does not have all the answers, but we have a lot of new answers,” explains Nagy. “A lot of the other parties have answers and we want to work with them to. But right now, a lot of good answers are stalled. They’re locked up in vacuums and vaults. It’s about who yells loudest in Question Period.”

Nagy says that he knows some people see his idealism as naïve, but that attitude has spurned him to prove that he can do more. It’s what’s led him here: the cusp of a potential Green seat in government – the first in North America. “This is the hard path, but it’s a rewarding path. I’ve made so many friends in many different communities out of this over the last couple of years, friends that I’ll have for the rest of my life. People have humbled me with their commitment and their love and support. If I win, I’ll do everything to not let them down.”

Come back next week for the final candidate profile and head over to my blog at for daily election coverage.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

A King Ready to Serve the People

Tom King is standing outside his home, getting his picture taken by a Macleans photographer. Caught between a busy campaigning schedule and a healthy lunch of a sandwich and fruit, I sat with King at his kitchen table to talk shop. “I’m happy that we finally have a by-election at last,” he says between bites. And after a year a half of solid, “unofficial” campaigning, who could blame him.

This is King’s first go at elected office; the latest in a long line of odd jobs and careers that started with working as a stock boy at J.C. Penny at the age of 17 and went on to include selling shoes, working on a tramp steamer, being an ambulance driver, a photojournalist, a bank teller, even a door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman. “I know what the ‘McJobs’ of the world are like, I’ve done them,” he explains. “I [also] know what being poor is like and that there’s no romance in being poor.”

Lately, King is best known as renowned author, radio host and community activist. He’s a member of the Order of Canada, a Massey Lecturer and a University of Guelph professor. He says that he’s been a “political animal” for most his life and that running for office now represents a change from doing “nightshift politics” to doing the “dayshift.” “You’re never sure how much a change you’ve actually make and the question I’ve always had is ‘Are there other areas I can get engaged in where I can be more effective?’”

One of the places where King is already effective is his role as a satirist. He says that having humour is an important character trait when dealing with politics. That and a “decent brain” along with a willingness to back anyone with a good idea, King says, makes him a good candidate. “I’ve gotten to an age where I’m reasonably fearless,” he adds. “I want to do it because I think it should be done well.”

When King was asked by an Ottawa reporter about why he wanted to run, he said, “It was high time we elected someone to Parliament that’s trying to be funny,” adding that “the poor guy looked at me and said, ‘That’s a joke, right?’” Great lines like that are characteristic of King’s wit, but it represents what he’s serious about: changing the tone in Parliament specifically and the people’s views of politics generally.

“We live in an era where politics has a dirty name, something that’s to be practiced in the shadows,” he says. “One of the things I believe in is that politicians cannot make the kinds of changes we need to make until you get the community energized and up and looking at politics as a community activity and making it fun again. […] We can’t lead you anywhere unless you want to go.”

And leadership hasn’t been a problem with King’s campaign. It’s been a source of some humour at just how often NDP leader Jack Layton rolls into the Royal City in order to support his party’s nominee. King says he’s been thrilled by that support and the backing of other prominent members of the party. “[Layton] went door-to-door with me last night, and that’s fairly unusual for a national leader, but he makes the time to do that. I think it says to the electorate that I have the respect of the NDP and the NDP caucus.”

As for his stand on the issues, King says that they’re not hard to figure out because he’s been articulating them for years. “The good thing is that if you want to know what I think about on any of these issues, you can go down and get a book of mine and look it up,” he explains “You don’t have to guess, you don’t have to believe my promises or what I say in speeches, I’ve actually put that into print and I’ve done that for years.”

But King says above all, he hears the call for a change in direction from the average citizen on the street. “I talk with people, sometimes desperate people, who all they want is a fair share of the wealth of the nation. So in some ways, I’ve listened to the voices that I’m going to hear as an MP.” As for his own voice, King says he’s had over 20 years on the national stage to hone it and he’s ready to use to represent Guelph. “I think I have that voice and the willingness to use that voice.”

Stay tuned next week for another candidate profile. And for ongoing developments and commentary of the by-election, check out my by-election blog at