Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Candidates Part 1

This week’s Guelph Beat begins the first of two parts that will look at the four major party candidates. In sequential order of when each of the candidates returned my request for an interview, we’ll begin this week by talking to the Green Party’s John Lawson and the NDP’s Bobbi Stewart.

John Lawson Chooses the Right Direction

The day I met John Lawson at his campaign headquarters on Woolwich St., was the same morning the consortium of broadcasters announced that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May would not be a part of the leaders debate this election cycle. From Lawson’s point of view, the banning of May and the immediate outrage from Canadians coast to coast to coast it provoked, is part of a larger discontent with the current political tone. “It’s not just partisan,” Lawson explains, “It’s coming from a broad spectrum that the democracy we treasure here in Canada is about voices coming to the table and having a chance to speak and sadly we’re not seeing that represented in Ottawa.”

Lawson, a pastor at Dublin Street United Church, has big shoes to fill as the local Green candidate. Mike Nagy, who ran in the last two elections, took the Greens to their best showing ever with 21 per cent of the vote in 2008. “I think I’ve been part of a Green movement for a long time, but finding a political expression for that is new for me,” says Lawson. The candidate has a deep concern for the environment, although he notes that his is not a “one issue party.” In fact, Lawson says, solutions to both environmental and economic concerns can be found in the same place: more Green jobs.

“There are real jobs for young people,” he explains. “As I’ve been talking to people who are reading Echo, the reality is that some of them are really quite hopeless in finding work that feels like they’re really contributing. They’ve got ideas, they’ve got energy and they’re told to go work at the mall.”

As for that change in tone on Parliament Hill, Lawson hopes people will vote with their heart in this election. “There’s a great sense of the politics of fear right now with strategic voting, ‘We don’t like Harper, we’ll do anything to get rid of him,’” he says. “At some point we’re hoping, and we’re hoping that this is the election that will do that, to be able to say, ‘We need you to vote your heart. We need a breakthrough to put a Green member in Parliament to signal that the same-old, same-old is not going to be there any longer.’”

Bobbi Stewart has Corner Store Values

NDP Candidate Bobbi Stewart was born and raised in Niagara Falls, where her father had a small grocery story. It was the kind of corner store where the man behind your counter knew your name, knew your story, and gave you the kind of personal service you just can’t get from the bigger chain stores. It was here, says Stewart, where she learned the values as a person, and the values she wants to stand up for as a New Democratic Party Member of Parliament.

“I always tell people that this is where I believe I got my start in community development,” she says of her father’s store. “Everybody would come into the store and tell my dad their stories, he would give them store credit, he would deliver to seniors, and all sorts of great things. There was a Dominion store up the street, but people liked coming to this small store and get that kind of service.”

As for her own background, Stewart was a graduate of the University of Guelph with a BA in Music, and though she volunteered with local music festivals, it was in other volunteer opportunities that Stewart found her true calling. She’s worked with at-risk youth, seniors, families, and new immigrants, and like Lawson, Stewart sees engagement, or lack thereof, as a key issue in this campaign. “I had a big conversation with a young fellow just outside here the other day,” she remembers, “And it was neat because I got somewhere with him and cut down on the cynicism just a little bit.”

But mostly, Stewart wants to focus on the economic inequality and social justice. She referred specifically to the Poverty Elimination Strategy brought before Parliament by Sault Ste. Marie MP (and New Democrat) Tony Martin, as well as affordable housing and the environment as her priorities. “If you look at Guelph, we have an amazing plethora of social justice groups,” Stewart says. “One of the things I think we need to talk more about is how we can people in poverty. I know that it’s a provincial and municipal issue as well.”

As for going to the polls after being ready to run for nearly a year, along with the constant threat of election, Stewart says that for her it was now or never. “It’s been a steady gear up and frankly it would have been a bit of a let down if we hadn’t go now.”

You can listen to the full interviews at

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