Continuing on with the Politico's series of Candidate Interviews, we move to our next contestant: Bobbi Stewart of the NDP. I met Stewart at her campaign office on Wyndham (its that underpass strip past the post office where Cafe Aquarius used to be). She seemed a little nervous about her first sit-down interview of the campaign, but was perfectly pleasant as she showed me the brightly lit office area currently manned by her campaign manager/husband Cameron Adams, and my old Script Analysis Prof., Harry Lane.
One thing about Stewart I recognized before our interview is that she's definitely got NDP credentials. Her entire career has been spent in the social justice field as she's assisted new immigrants, at-risk youth, families and seniors. Stewart credits her upbringing in Niagara Falls, and days in her father's corner store, for her beliefs in the causes of social justice and the ideals of the NDP.
“I always tell people that this is where I believe I got my start in community development," she says. "Everybody would come into the store and tell my dad their stories. He would give them store credit, he’d deliver to seniors 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."
Stewart came to Guelph in the 70s as part of the first class taking a B.A. in Music at the University of Guelph. Although she enjoyed volunteering with local music festivals, it was in helping those less fortunate that Stewart found true fulfillment, and later she returned to school to get her Masters of Social Work. Between working for such organizations as The Centre for Employable Workers and Working for Work in Kitchener, St. Luke’s Place in Cambridge and the Victoria Order of Nurses in Guelph and Wellington County, and volunteering for groups like Guelph Youth Singers, Onward Willow, the Cancer Society, and the YM-YWCA, Stewart served as riding president of the Guelph NDP.
After the last election, Stewart was prepared to take some time off from politicking and take some time with her now expanded family: her new husband Adams, his two children and her three. So how did she end up getting pulled back in after she thought she was out, as they say. "I was asked," she whispers to me in a laugh.
“I had taking a little break to regroup and settle in with the children and I was having coffee with my dear friend David Josephy who was on the selection committee," she recalls. "I remember the exact day, it was December 2nd, 2009, and at the very end as we were just about to say goodbye and he said, ‘So, Bobbi, I would be remise if I didn’t ask you to seek the federal nomination.’"
Much to her surprise, Stewart discovered that it was a good time for her to make a run for office, a move she said she had always planned on making, just maybe down the road after she retired. But in the spirit of there's no time like the present, Stewart has put her name forward, and here we sit, amongst the orange and green glow of the NDP signs that are a quasi-wall paper on this temporary office space, talking about our individual university experiences learning from Harry Lane.
“What I’ve really enjoyed is that I’ve made an effort to get out to community events and learn,” Stewart says of the campaign so far. She says that she's gone to numerous talks, round tables and townhalls, since becoming the NDP candidate last year and that she's gotten some exposure and learned from the numerous people she's encountered. On going to the polls now, she says 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, because I don’t think we would have had this for another year.”
On the issues, Stewart says that the government should be spending less money on "building big jails and fighter jets" and more on people who need help. She would like to see Parliament to continue to develop and implement a poverty elimination strategy, as well as see more federal money go to affordable housing, while keeping the environment front and centre, as healthcare is the next big issue waiting to be tackled.
On the economy the NDP proposes a cutback in credit card interest to five per cent plus prime, a revision of the Canada Pension Plan, looking again at affordable, national daycare, and helping small business through accelerated capital cost allowances. “So rather than give the corporations big tax cuts, the tax cuts we propose will save $2 billion," says Stewart. "People ask, ‘So where’s the money going to come from?’ and that’s certainly one place.”
But before the NDP can deliver on their promises, they have to fight voter apathy and voter disinterest in what many perceive as an unnecessary election. Stewart says that she hears arguments against an election every day on the campaign trail: why can’t you leave it alone, the government’s fine, the economy’s fine, I don’t trust politicians. Even outside her own campaign office.
“I had a big conversation with a young fellow just outside here the other day, and it was neat because I got somewhere with him and cut down on the cynicism just a little bit,” she says.
Probe further though, and Stewart has no problem saying why she wanted to go to the polls now. “One of the problems, for me, is that I just can’t trust our prime minister," she explains. "There have been too many scandals, the prime minister is too quick to try and hide things and he said at the beginning after the Liberal scandal, the Gomery Inquiry, he wanted to change the face of government to make us more accountable and responsible. And unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to do that.”
Recognizing that one of the key issues of the election by the Conservatives is the notion of a potential coalition between the Liberals, NDP and Bloc Quebecios, Stewart says she's open to the possibility, and so is her party's boss Jack Layton. “If Harper gets a minority government, I think we will certainly need to look at a coalition, and I’m actually quite disappointed that Mr. Ignatieff played in to the media pressure to give them a definite answer about coalitions when he said no.
More than that, Stewart just wants to see a change in tone on Parliament Hill, ironically, one of the very issues that Harper ran, and won on, in the past. “We need to behave as respectful adults and not play the partisan games, and again I find it interesting because Mr. Harper will say that, but I believe that he and his part have behaved in a most polarizing way.”