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 don't look back. I don't regard whether this riding is Liberal or any other party. I look forward. I make no assumptions,” he says. “I’m working for every single vote that I get. And I've told my team that."
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. "I think that's why it got such a negative, almost juvenile reaction from Mr. Harper."
"For two years, when [Dion] talks about a greener, more prosperous and fairer country, he's saying that they're all intertwined," he continues. Not only does the Green Shift offer money back to the individual taxpayer, points out Valeriote, but it's an incentive for industry to invest in Green technology; jobs and reduced emissions. "We have to do something about these issues, we choose to ignore them thinking that they'll somehow go away. And we know that the longer you have a repair in your house, the more its going to cost and the worse its going to get."
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. Yes you're going to have some resistors, some climate change deniers or people that accept it but frankly don't care. But the vast majority of people in Guelph know that something must be done." Valeriote believes that Guelph can be the epicentre of growth (in areas of environmental and bio technologies) 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. (Thanks to the Green Shift, along with another previously announce Liberal initiative called the Advanced Manufacturing Prosperity Fund.)
Valeriote says that he's talked to people at the U of G, and that they're eager to commercialize their ideas and innovations and turn them into jobs in Guelph. Reversely, local industry is eager to embrace them too, as Valeriote lists off several local companies that have closed their doors and laid off staff.
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.
More specifically with the economy - "We have to be far more intentional, and by 'we' I mean the government. They have to partner with local industry. I'm getting this from a lot of people, they feel that we're just adrift. There's this feeling of no direction. I'm of the belief that government should do more than just retrain workers because there are some people that just can't be retrained. I believe that [government] should support existing industry and help them to diversify."
The environment - Again, Valeriote says that there's no leadership through this government. "And we have to harmonize the response across Canada so that no one province is isolated or excused from their responsibility about doing something about Green House gases." Of Dion's July 10th visit to Guelph Valeriote says, "There were a lot of skeptics in that crowd - a lot of them Liberal, let's not kid ourselves - and when they walked out they said to me 'This guy knows what he's talking about. He's open, he's honest, he's inclusive and this is a good idea.'"
"Make no mistake, I'm on board," he adds subtly refering to accusations that he was less than enthusiastic about the Green Shift, "When a plan can tackle all those issues, and the fact is we have to do something."
In terms of social issues, Valeriote wants to see a reinvestment in early childhood learning and says that part of Dion’s plan for Canada is a commitment to cut the number of people living below the poverty line (3.5 million) by 30 per cent within five years. [First, Valeriote mentioned how the Liberals worked for years to create hundreds of new daycare spaces only to see that swept aside when the Conservatives came to power. "We've lost up to 300 spaces in Guelph," he says, "and people have told me that the loss of spaces has not been replaced adequately with that $100 monthly payment. That doesn't do anything for childcare."] 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. [Valeriote says that his grandparents were "practically isolated" for years on Alice St. and that since we're inviting people to come here, we should also be doing more to help immigrants settle here. He cites programs in Toronto and Waterloo that helps new arrivals to Canada navigate the system as good examples of local solutions that could be taken to a national level.]
Also on early learning - Valeriote points out that children in early learning get off to a better start in school while helping them psychologically adjust and releasing parents to explore school, training or works opportunities. He goes on to say that even Chiefs of Police say that spending on social programs is a better investment than increasing minimum sentences. "For every dollar you spend in early learning, you save two dollars later," adds Valeriote.
On poverty - Valeriote says we see it everyday, and the Green Shift will help put more money in the pockets of Canada's lower income earners in the form of tax cuts and credits.
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. [Included under the braod heading "advocate" is the vast number of organizations that Valeriote has served as a part of, for a full list see Valeriote's website here. "People will tell you [I'm] a fellow that roles his sleeves up, and gets the job done," Valeriote adds about himself. "Grass doesn't grow under my feet- I move. I have an idea, or I embrace someone else's, and we go with it."] "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. Similarly, when I was on the Catholic Board I liasoned with the public board and the Minister of Education recited Guelph in reports as having the two boards with the best relationship in all of Ontario.”
[Coincidentally, one of the people that Valeriote worked with was Liz Sandals, current MPP of Guelph.]
Mostly though, Valeriote is anxious to tackle problems and look for solutions rather than participate in partisan arguments and joining a polarized parliament. "We have to demand more from our parliamentarians," he says. "More respect, putting the partisanship away and working for solutions. We have to attack problems, not people. And that's what this current governement is doing." 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 says what will make him different is the fact that he likes to tackle problems head on and work through differences, whatever they are, in order to find solutions. "I like to break those barriers down and people see that and people want that. They want to be engaged, they want to be included and that's what I work towards as a bridge-builder."
Valeriote’s up against some pretty high profile competition this election, but he’s confident that he’ll stand out from the crowd. “I have a long history in Guelph with greater community involvement than the other candidates. I think the people of Guelph will look for substance over profile and they’ll see substance when they look at me. When I knock on the door people say to me, 'Frank, you've done a lot in this community, and you've done a lot of good in this community.'”
Additionally, Valeriote wanted to make me aware of a couple of points he'd forgotten to mention during the main interview:
1) While working with the group Women in Crisis, he helped start up a sub-committee called the Committee Against Family Violence. He and the members of this committee helped change the police response to domestic abuse allegations, by pushing for police to change their protocol and remove the offender from the home. They also pushed for anger management programs for offenders rather than "just giving them a slap on the wrist," according to Valeriote.
2) Valeriote also forgot to show me some of the environmentally friendly changes he`s made to home, including the installation of a new boiler.
Next week, I'll run my Director's Cut Tom King interview, with the rest of the candidates being profiled over the subsequent Thursdays in Echo and on this blog, until I either run out of candidates or the election is over.