The values that guide me today, and will continue to guide me as federal leader, are the progressive, social democratic values rooted in my experiences growing up.
Like so many, my parents immigrated to Canada in order to build a better life. They lived in Scarborough, where I was born in 1979, before moving to Newfoundland & Labrador, so that my dad could study to become a doctor. I was seven when he finished school and our family packed up and moved to the working class town of Windsor, Ontario.
My parents worked hard and are very proud Canadians, grateful for the opportunities that this country has provided to them and to all of their children.
I have many fond memories of my childhood in Windsor, spending time with my friends, cycling through the streets. But it was not always easy.
Like many others who stand out, I was picked on because I had a funny sounding name, brown skin, and long hair. I faced a lot bullying at school and often felt like I didn't belong. I had to learn to stand up for myself, something that has prompted a life-long interest in martial arts.
I also realized I wasn’t alone.
I saw kids around me—kids no less capable, no less worthy of respect and dignity—who were not in a position to follow their dreams, simply because their families couldn’t afford it. That struck me as incredibly unfair.
My friends had a lot of potential, but they were not given the tools or the opportunities to reach their potential. Their hopes were dashed and their self-esteem diminished. I’ve felt this too. It's something that eats away at you. Nobody should be made to feel like they don’t matter.
That’s why I believe we need to build an inclusive Canada where everyone can realize their dreams. This is what drove me in law and ultimately drew me into public life. It’s also what draws me to be leader of the NDP.
Often, self-esteem is anchored in our collective identity. It was during my childhood in Windsor that I began to understand the importance of language to culture. My parents told me that in their childhood their language was not respected, which caused them a sense of shame.
As a child, I discovered that the Québécois have faced similar pressures in relation to their language and identity. I quickly understood the parallels. It deeply affected me. I did not understand how in Canada the French language was not properly respected. That's when I committed to learning French. Since my election as MPP, it’s been a privilege to serve as a delegate to the global Assemblée Parlementaire de la Francophonie.
The biggest influence in my life is my mother. As a kid, she taught me that we are all connected. That we are all one. She explained to me that if one person is suffering, then we are ALL suffering. She showed me that it’s not enough to take care of oneself, but that we must take care of all of those around us. If we lift up the people around us, we all rise.
This conviction is what led to my activism. First, fighting tuition fee increases at university. And later, as a lawyer, supporting community organizations fighting on the frontlines. After graduating from Osgoode Law School and being called to the Bar in 2006 I began work as a criminal defence lawyer in the Greater Toronto Area.
But the groups I worked with—fighting against poverty, against tuition fees, and for immigrants and refugees—felt unsupported. They didn’t have an ally they could turn to in government. These community organizations needed a partner and they encouraged me to make the jump into electoral politics.
And I have used this platform to defend people’s rights. Like my work on the discriminatory practice of carding or street checks. Activists raised the issue of Police stopping people simply because of the colour of their skin. We listened to their concerns. We raised the issue in the Ontario legislature. And we passed a motion to end carding in Ontario.
I’ve been similarly focused on affordability and good jobs for Canadians including leading successful fights for a province-wide reduction in auto insurance rates and against the precarious employment created by the negative practices of temp job agencies.
The only reason I could champion these issues was because I chose to run with the NDP.
Picking the party to run for was easy. I had no roots in any party. But, I was an activist. I wanted to fight against injustice. It was obvious that only the NDP had the courage to fight injustice.
Only the NDP has the courage to fight injustice because at the core of every New Democrat there is an intense drive to fight inequality.
The defining feature of the NDP - of every New Democrat - is that we are not only offended by inequality, we put everything we have into fighting it.
But in the Brampton riding where I ran, winning under the NDP banner was not going to be easy. No New Democrat had ever been elected in the history of the entire Peel region at any level of government. People kept telling us that it couldn’t be done. But I believed it was possible.
And you know, someone else believed it too-someone who believed in all of us. At a rally, Jack Layton took me aside, and actually hit me with that line—he said to me: “don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”
And in October 2011, we showed them that it can be done. It has been my privilege to serve as MPP for Bramalea-Gore-Malton ever since, and for the past two years as Deputy Leader of the Ontario NDP.
I have campaigned for the NDP across this great country. I feel the awesome potential of our movement and our party in my bones. They said the NDP would never sweep Québec and we did. They said we’d never form government in Alberta and we have. They say we’ll never form government at the federal level, and we will.
With Love & Courage,