By Jason Menard
Liberal or local? For constituents in the London North Centre federal riding, that’s a question they may soon have to answer.
With Joe Fontana’s expected announcement that he will vacate his duly-elected seat in Parliament in favour of making a challenge for the mayor’s office, rumours have started floating regarding who would be a replacement candidate in the required by-election. And one name that’s been bandied about? Gerard Kennedy.
You know, Gerard Kennedy, born in La Pas, Manitoba and former Member of Provincial Parliament of Parkdale-High Park, in Toronto, who resigned his seat and his position as Minister of Education in his bid to lead the federal Liberals. In addition, Kennedy also lived in Edmonton and studied in Peterborough.
All of which makes him qualified to represent the good people of London North Centre how? As well travelled as Mr. Kennedy may be in this great land of ours, there is a noticeable lack of residency in the Forest City on his resume. The question is, should that matter?
This isn’t a new aspect of party politics. In fact, parties have long made it a habit of parachuting star candidates into warm ridings in order to get them official representation in the House of Commons – even if it means that a dedicated member of the community has to take one for the team and put aside their political aspirations, at least for the time being.
But whose team are we talking about? Does the Liberal Party – or any party for that sake – matter more than the representation of the people in the riding? Aren’t elected representatives supposed to be just that? The representatives of the people in a specific region or district? So how well represented will the people of London North Centre be if their potential MP has never spent any meaningful time in the riding?
That’s a question the voters have to ask. And they have to balance it with their political leanings. It’s a hard choice to reconcile and it represents the worst of party politics. If you are a tied-in-the-wool Liberal, do you put the needs of your party over your personal aspirations? Does voting in a representative, who by the very fact that they’re not of your riding – or even within the general vicinity of the area — diminish the sound of your voice in parliament? More importantly, does this type of activity not undermine the entire concept of representative government?
Admittedly, how one votes is a debate that is undertaken with each and every election. Do you vote for the person who appears to be most representative of your views and hopes for your riding, or do you choose the person who is a member of the party whose national view you favour? Do you vote for the local candidate with deep roots in the riding, even if you are skeptical about their party affiliation? Or do you roll the dice and support a candidate whose tethers to the riding are as thin as a spider’s web?
It all depends on how much value you place on individual representation. We have long been conditioned to look at the big picture, as opposed to focusing on the individual players. Coverage of elections and politics in general is greatly focused on Ottawa, as opposed to the impact that our Members of Parliament are having in their own ridings. Even election platforms, where local issues should be at the fore, are largely decided by national politicking and strategies.
So, should Kennedy be parachuted in with much fanfare and bluster, the voters in the London North Centre riding may have to decide where their sensibilities lie. Does the appeal of being the quote-unquote home riding of a potential future Prime Minister outweigh the fact that your representative may not even know who or what he’s representing.
Everyone can learn and a candidate can be well-versed on local concerns by his or her support staff, fellow regional MPs, and even a potential mayor. And there’s no questioning Kennedy’s intelligence, capability, and dedication to his cause. As well, this country has been built by those who have come from other places to settle throughout Canada, who eventually grow roots in their community and eventually become a natural part of the landscape. Can that same community entrenchment happen in a matter of months?
The old adage states that home is where the heart is and the constituents of London North Centre may soon have to decide whether they’re willing to accept someone for whom home is merely where the opportunity lies.
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