My only visit to London was on my way to Detroit a decade ago. I took a quick glimpse of the city and left. I saw beautiful noticeable architecture and promised that I would be back in a short while.
For political junkies like me, the city has been a fixture of political characters that continue to place it on the Canadian political map. Current London mayor and one time Minister of Labour Joe Fontana, (one time) Ontario Premier David Peterson, International Cooperation Minister Julian Fantino, Deputy Premier Deb Matthews and Marion Boyd -- the first non-lawyer female Attorney General of Ontario -- often come to mind.
With the resignation of one time (controversial) Energy Minister, Chris Bentley, from public office -- his former riding of London West and the upcoming by-election that needs to be called soon is expected to give Ontarians a glimpse of what a future provincial election will be like. This riding is expected to be so close that no one can surely predict who the eventual winner is going to be from the three traditional parties.
The Ontario NDP has a lively competition among four approved candidates for its nomination. The party is smelling a potential victory in the riding as its leader has made regular trip to drum up support. However, among the four that have announced and filled their nomination paper, one candidate stands out the most.
His name is Mohamed Salih. He was born in Sudan and has been a public servant in policing for a number of years. He also brings in diversity in a party that has only managed to elect one black MPP in the past, for a brief term in 1990.
Salih is only 27 but has an interesting biography under his belt. He speaks several languages and been a member of the Canadian Armed Forces and has spent some time travelling the country as a member of the Canadian Forces Military Services. That alone removes him from the traditional candidates of the NDP that are from the union and activism sectors.
He has also been a social activist working with at risk youth in his neighborhoods. In his spare time, he has been a valued volunteer with the Military Police Fund for Blind Children, and the United Way. When most of his colleagues and friends have moved to bigger cities for opportunities -- he decided to stay in his city becoming one of its greatest ambassadors.
In a riding that is full of adolescent youth from a nearby university and colleges, he is also able to connect to a segment of the population that only Jack Layton was able to capture two years ago for the federal NDP. To those who might accuse him of being too young, the Ontario NDP's most successful elder statesman Stephen Lewis was around the same age (26) when he entered Queens Park in 1963 and eventually becoming its leader after seven years.
In Canada, by-elections have always been a referendum on a current government and the riding of London West will be no exception. The Ontario Liberals seem weak in a riding that used to be considered a safe riding for them.
The Progressive Conservatives have chosen a decent candidate that reflects the diversity of the riding. However, will the NDP embrace the status quo or choose a candidate that reflects the modern day Canada in diversity and substance.
The late Jack Layton embraced the later and was rewarded accordingly. What will the Ontario NDP do? It will be wise to follow in the footsteps of the most successful NDP -- the most beloved Jack Layton.