POLITICS

Idealism, policy passion prompts hundreds to take political plunge

12/28/2014 02:04 EST | Updated 02/27/2015 05:59 EST
OTTAWA - With 10 months to go until the next scheduled election, federal political parties are busily building the teams of candidates who'll run for them in each of the country's 338 ridings.

So far, the Conservatives have nominated candidates in almost 60 per cent of the ridings; 18 per cent of them are women.

The Liberals have completed nominations in almost 55 per cent of the ridings, with women winning 35 per cent, while the NDP has nominated just under one third of its candidates, 41 per cent of whom are women.

Of the three main federal parties, the Liberals have been promoting their new candidates the most aggressively, eager to demonstrate that leader Justin Trudeau has assembled a strong, diverse team to augment his tiny caucus of 35 MPs. Reporters were offered their pick of new recruits to interview during a candidate boot camp in Ottawa last week.

With more incumbents and fewer holes to fill, the NDP have been slower to nominate candidates and more selective in promoting them.

And the Conservatives have been keeping their nomination process low key and low profile, offering only one individual in response to a request to interview some of the governing party's new recruits.

Here's a look at some of the candidates The Canadian Press talked to:

Liberals:

Nadine Medawar

Riding: Rosemont-La Petite Patrie (Quebec).

Age: 33.

Background: Author, composer, singer. At 22, co-founded of Hope Without Borders, an organization that supports small social projects in developing countries. Working on masters degree in conflict studies.

Motivation: "I've always been involved, I always was someone who wanted to participate in the positive development of our society, of our community and I've always done that in other ways, not in politics ... The timing felt right (to take the plunge)."

Patty Hajdu

Riding: Thunder Bay-Superior North (Ontario).

Age: 48.

Background: Worked for nine years in public health, in the area of substance and alcohol abuse prevention. Former chair of Thunder Bay's drug awareness committee, led development of the city's drug strategy. Now executive director of Shelter House for the homeless. Working on masters degree in public administration.

Motivation: Research shows that "the criminalization of young people ... for smoking marijuana creates far greater harm than the actual smoking of marijuana itself and that, in fact, legalization can prevent young people from accessing marijuana as readily.

... So, when I decided that I wanted to run, the Liberal party is the only party brave enough to talk about legalization ... I was impressed by the courage of this party to state what science actually says."

Wayne Long

Riding: Saint John-Rothesay (New Brunswick).

Age: 51.

Background: President and minority owner of the Saint John Sea Dogs, a Canadian Hockey League team. Previously president of Scotiaview Seafood Inc.

Motivation: Bringing the Sea Dogs to Saint John 10 years ago was "a shot in the arm ... for a city that needed a shot in the arm at that time." Now he wants to give the city another needed shot in the arm: a strong voice in Ottawa.

"I'm a community person, I'm an entrepreneur, I have a reputation for getting things done and I want to take that same style to Ottawa."

Andy Fillmore

Riding: Halifax.

Age: 48.

Background: City planner and urban designer. Vice-president of planning and development for the Waterfront Development Corp., a Nova Scotia Crown corporation. Holds a bachelor's degree in environmental design, a master's of urban and rural planning and a master's of design studies.

Motivation: "I'm a city planner by training and by passion ... we've had great success and that's had to do with working with provincial and municipal politicians, it's had to do with working with community groups and schools and institutions of every kind.

"... But one thing that is true of that whole journey over the last 10 years of these important urban projects that Halifax so desperately needed, as good as they were, they would have been better had we had a partner in Ottawa and we haven't."

Arif Virani

Riding: Parkdale-High Park (Toronto).

Age: 43.

Background: Ugandan Asian refugee, lawyer, human rights activist, founder of a Toronto legal aid clinic. Helped prosecute Rwandan genocide perpetrators for the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunal.

Motivation: "It's (about) doing right by newcomers who are not reaping the benefits that were provided to people of my generation 42 years ago when I arrived."

And it's about restoring respect for the Charter of Rights, which Virani believes the Conservative government ignores when drafting legislation.

"It's a document that entrenches our fundamental rights and our values and it's a document we should all be proud of."

Harjit Singh Sajjan

Riding: Vancouver South.

Age: 44.

Background: Former Vancouver police officer, military veteran who served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, first Sikh Canadian to command an army regiment. The U.S. army specifically asked that Sajjan deploy with them on one Afghan mission due to his expertise in what the military calls "situational awareness" — essentially his ability to predict the behaviour of the Taliban.

Motivation: In his experience, the key to dealing with gangs in Canada or extremists in Afghanistan is "prevention," starting with kids and attempting to set them on a more productive path. He wants to apply that experience to federal programs.

"If we focus on the younger generation, not just giving them an education but if you actually inspire them to succeed beyond themselves and beyond a pay cheque, then you can change most of the problems that we see in the world."

Jane Philpott

Riding: Markham-Stouffville (Greater Toronto Area).

Age: 54.

Background: Family doctor, chief of family medicine at Markham Stouffville Hospital, assistant professor at University of Toronto's department of family and community medicine. Spent nine years practising medicine and training health care workers in Niger. Periodically teaches medicine at Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia.

Motivation: "After a while in medicine, you realize that you kind of bump up against the edge of what you can do as a doctor because it takes more than medication and diagnostics to make people healthy; it takes a strong economy, it takes a great education, it takes a healthy environment, all of those kinds of things that a doctor can't fix.

"(It) made me eventually realize the only way I was really going to be able to impact change in those areas was through policy and politics is the best route to actually impact policy."

Rachel Bendayan

Riding: Outremont (Montreal).

Age: 34.

Background: Litigation lawyer, specializing in international arbitration. Teaches law at the Universite de Montreal, helps teach high school students about the importance of the Canadian and Quebec charters of rights.

Motivation: "I think you need to roll up your sleeves and work if you want to make a difference."

She is trying to wrest Outremont from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who polls suggest is the most popular federal leader in Quebec. She argues Quebec needs MPs who are in government.

"I think I was in elementary school the last time that Quebec MPs were really a significant part of the government. They have been in opposition for a long time so my constituents are looking for a strong Quebec voice within government."

New Democratic Party

Erin Weir

Riding: Regina-Lewvan.

Age: 33.

Background: Economist for the United Steelworkers union, president of the Progressive Economics Forum. Former senior economist at the International Trade Union Confederation in Brussels. Ran for leadership of the Saskatchewan NDP in 2013. Holds master's degrees in art history and public administration.

Motivation: "What's motivated my interest in electoral politics all along has been a concern about public policy. I just think the decisions Parliament makes have a huge impact on people's lives.

"There are a lot of issues that are very important to me. I'm certainly a strong believer in investing collectively in services and infrastructure ... (and to pay for those investments) I've been an advocate for many years of reversing corporate income tax cuts."

Janis Irwin

Riding: Edmonton-Griesbach.

Age: 30.

Background: Manager of senior high school social studies curriculum for the province of Alberta. Former teacher, vice-principal. Holds bachelor's and master's degrees in education. Currently pursuing PhD in secondary education.

Motivation: "The big thing is our new riding of Edmonton-Griesbach it's one of the poorest in the province and it includes a number inner city neighbourhoods and number of neighbourhoods where every day that I would be through I'd see people struggling.

"The fact of the matter is, I mean, we've had Conservative representation for nearly two decades ... I knew that our neighbourhoods deserved better."

Richard Cannings

Riding: South Okanangan-West Kootenay (British Columbia).

Age: 60.

Background: Biologist, zoologist, bird enthusiast. Formerly taught in UBC's zoology department. Now works for Bird Studies Canada and writes books on natural history. A regular contributor to CBC radio. Holds bachelor's and master's degrees in science.

Motivation: "I'm a biologist and an author, I've never really been involved in the political arena at all. But when I talked to people about that ... they were all very excited and urged me to get into that line of business because they felt that we need more people like biologists, scientists in the political arena.

"... In general, birders are very well informed about the impacts that our society is having on the environment and, from a personal point of view, I think we need to really take those impacts more into account than we have been."

Conservative

Tim Laidler

Riding: Port Moody-Coquitlam (B.C.)

Age: 29.

Background: Military veteran. Served in Afghanistan, protecting supply convoys from Kandahar airfield to forward operating bases. On return to Canada, suffering symptoms of "operational stress injury," got involved with Veterans Transition Network, a non-profit organization that helps vets readjust to civilian life. Helped win federal support to make it a national program. Holds a bachelor's degree in philosophy and political science, master's degree in counselling psychology.

Motivation: "I've grown up voting for the Conservatives because of their support for the military ... When I was looking for a job myself, I realized just how important (economic growth) is and the Conservatives have a track record and continue to put the focus on that."

Some veterans have accused the Conservative government of treating them shabbily and not doing enough to help those who suffer post-traumatic stress or to prevent a rash of suicides.

Laidler, who's been working with vets for the past five years, says there are legitimate concerns but the issue has become a political football and that's not conducive to finding solutions.

"The solutions we have out there for treating things like post-traumatic stress are where we need the innovation to come ... For an example, all the suicides ... The problem isn't that there's not enough resources going into it, it's that we don't know the answer."