Editor's note: With a byelection set for Feb. 25 in the York-Simcoe riding, BradfordToday has been profiling the candidates. The riding includes Bradford West Gwillimbury in southern Simcoe County as well as extensive shoreline along Lake Simcoe and Cook's Bay. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the byelection in January following the retirement of Peter Van Loan last September. Van Loan held the MP position for 14 years.
Jessa McLean was asked why she decided to go back to school to earn a degree in political science. Was it for academic advancement? Or because she planned to run for political office?
“It was neither,” McLean said. “I was working in the financial sector. I had a job that paid the bills, but it just didn’t inspire me.”
She wanted to study political science to find new tools that would help her become a more effective advocate for human rights and fair wages.
McLean, a resident of Georgina, has been involved in the “Fight for $15 (minimum wage) & Fairness,” working for workers’ rights and for social housing.
She may not have planned to go into politics, but when MP for York-Simcoe Peter Van Loan resigned partway through his term in office, and the federal government called a byelection in the riding, she decided to seek the nomination for NDP candidate – and was acclaimed.
“The byelection presented a unique opportunity,” McLean said. “I think York-Simcoe is due for some change.”
She suggested voters are frustrated with governments that don’t work for them – and with the decision to hold a byelection just six months before the next federal election.
“Elections are expensive. When voters elected Mr. Van Loan, we expected him to serve the full term,” McLean said, adding there is a kind of election burnout. “We just finished a municipal election, the provincial election was in June, and there’s a federal election in October.”
That said, “this is an opportunity for change,” McLean noted. “Win or lose, we do this again in October.”
She has been out campaigning across the riding, on both sides of Cook Bay, listening to what constituents are saying at the door and the issues that resonate.
“I think people are feeling the system isn’t working for them,” McLean said. “Fifty per cent of us here in the riding are precariously housed… Over 50 per cent of us are paying over 30 per cent (of income) on our shelter. That’s renters and homeowners. We struggle with our wages to keep up.”
Under the recently elected provincial Progressive Conservative government of Doug Ford, she said, “inequality just keeps rising,” and the province has become more unaffordable.
The environment is also an issue – not the “carbon tax,” which she calls a “manufactured issue, just getting people riled up. That’s something we hear in the news, but not at the door,” but the erosion of environmental protections.
Just as the Ford government’s Bill 66 threatened those protections, she said, “Conservatives on the federal level are doing the same thing – talking about cutting red tape,” and opening environmentally sensitive areas to development and exploitation.
York-Simcoe has only once elected an NDP candidate, and that was on the provincial level. In 1990, when Bob Rae’s NDP government swept to power in Ontario, Barrie Lawyer Paul Wessenger was elected as MPP.
McLean is hoping there is new opportunity in 2019.
“We keep going between Liberals and Conservatives, again and again, and people are tired of it,” she said. “We’re trying to break that cycle because it’s not working.”
As she goes door to door, she talks to residents about their concerns and the issues – wages, affordability, environment, housing.
“Issue by issue, we almost all agree,” McLean said. “We’re going to resonate with people, people who haven’t voted before. People who have just checked out” because they haven’t felt represented by government.
Her goal, in this byelection, is to re-engage voters “and get the message out.”
For more information, visit her Facebook page or call 1-888-881-4637.