Niagara Falls resident Brian Barker, a teacher and president of the Niagara area Elementary Teacher’s Federation of Ontario, will represent the NDP in the upcoming federal election.
Barker ran his first campaign representing the Niagara Falls, Fort Erie and Niagara-on-the-Lake riding in 2019, coming in third, behind Conservative incumbent Tony Baldinelli and Liberal representative Andrea Kaiser.
Barker says he has been preparing to run in this election, and although he didn’t expect it to be so soon, or during a pandemic, instead of focusing on the reason for the timing of the call by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, he is intent on offering an alternative.
His campaign has so far depended on Zoom meetings, and he’s double-vaccinated, but he’s still concerned about the Delta variant, and a fourth wave.
He says he didn’t hear a clear explanation for the decision to go to the voters “on the cusp of a fourth wave,” that people had their voices heard in 2019, electing a minority government, and he disagrees that this term of government has been dysfunctional.
“I will say we’re in this election now and we’ll focus on the things that are important to Canadians,” says Barker.
The father of two children, 12 and nine, he says he’s seen parents “at their breaking point” from the pandemic, talked to teachers who are considering leaving a profession they love, and kids struggling both mentally and academically because of school shut-downs.
He points to the effectiveness of the NDP during a difficult time, forcing the minority government to increase the amount of CERB payments and extend them, and saving jobs through an expanded wage subsidy for businesses.
Barker says he gets his politics from those he has respected: Jack Layton, the head of the NDP federal party until his death in 2011; the late Peter Kormos, a former Welland NDP MPP; and MPP Wayne Gates, who represents the Niagara Falls riding. These are people he sees as “doers,” politicians who ran to help others, not because they sought positions of power.
They represent a party that fights for the people in their community, and “that’s a tradition I want to carry on,” he says.
The NDP, he says, sees this election as “an opportunity to talk about their vision of a better Canada for more Canadians,” especially in areas of health care, long-term care, and the importance of universal pharmacare so everyone has access to any medication they need.
They will also continue to fight for more fair taxation, “that doesn’t make money off the backs of our most vulnerable taxpayers,” and for action against climate change, that is not only responsible for forest fires raging in B.C. but is important locally because of what it can do to the agriculturalindustry.
“Let’s start having the conversations we need to have,” including bringing “green jobs” to Niagara, he says.
Running in 2019 was a positive experience for Barker, “putting myself out there as a relative unknown compared to Andrea (Kaiser, the Liberal representative) and Tony (Baldinelli, now the Conservative MP representing the riding). “It was a great opportunity.”
Since then, Wayne Gates “has taken me under his wings. He has shown me what someone in public service should strive to be.”
He plans to run a safe campaign that, while it may look a little different because of the pandemic, “connects with as many people as possible.” He will focus on listening to people, finding out what they want, and figuring out how to give it to them, he says.
“I want to listen to the people in our community, see what they need, and use the tools in our tool box to deliver for them. I’m in this to fight tooth and nail for things that will benefit everybody.”
He thinks of his children trying to buy a house one day, trying to find good jobs, living in a country still suffering from climate change, and he fears the issues the next generation will have to live with.
“That’s what’s driving me to do this.”
While it seems vaccination mandates may be driving this election, he says NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh is in agreement with most of what the Liberals have announced, that vaccinations should be mandatory for federal workers, and the need for vaccination passports, but Singh wanted the process speeded up, and in place by Labour Day.
Barker says his fear is that “people will vote against what they don’t want,” possibly choosing to vote Liberal to ensure the Conservatives don’t gain ground, “but I would hope people will vote for what they believe in. I believe in our platform, that it addresses all the needs of all citizens.”