When it comes to knowing the ins and outs political engagement, few people have had the experience of Leslee White-Eye, particularly as her role models it were found within her own family.
“I was raised in a home with a political councillor who was elected at Chippewas of the Thames First Nation for 38 years,” Leslee said. “He served as a local, elected councillor, so I’ve lived around a table that talked about the issues, lots of long conversations about community development. So, I know the importance of people being civically engaged in their communities to make change.”
Leslee eagerly admits to following both her mom and dad’s model of working actively in the community.
So much so, in 2015 she became the first woman elected to serve as chief of the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation.
But although only a select few will be a chief, she explains many people become involved in civic engagement through giving of their personal time in an effort to “make big differences” in their communities.
"I was new to the country, didn’t have many connections, and yet she was very receptive."
Cynthia Hove had some involvement in politics back in her home country of Zimbabwe, but upon coming to Canada she found what she describes as, “a completely different terrain” when navigating the political landscape.
Having only been in the country since last February, “I’m only a year old now,” she jokes, Cynthia said she learned things were very different from what she was used to.
“It is very different from back home. It’s open, there is a lot of freedom in terms of who you choose to support and people voicing their opinions openly,” she said. “I think that’s important for when you are just getting here, and you want to make a decision on who to stand with.”
“When Kate showed an interest, I was very supportive of standing behind her.”
Joni Baechler has been a city councillor, she’s been mayor of the City of London, and even after stepping away from politics in 2014, her passion for it remained deeply entrenched.
She has stayed of out of spotlight much of the past four years, but Joni remains committed to the ideas of increased community engagement and the growing inclusion of women in the political process.
“Politics is important because it defines the constructs of how we live,” she said. “I’ve been a big proponent for more women in politics, and the importance of having more women in politics, so when Kate showed an interest, I was very supportive of standing behind her.” Kate, in this case, is Kate Graham, the Ontario Liberal candidate for London North Centre.
Joni has seen Kate’s qualifications first hand, not only knowing her as an individual, but also through the work she did for years at the City of London. Kate also worked for Joni, along with former city councillor Susan Eagle, in the city councillors’ office.
When Joni combines her passion for seeing more women in politics with Kate’s own interests and qualifications, it seemed logical to do what she could to support her.
“Kate is a remarkable woman, not only from an integrity perspective. She’s smart, she has the ability to take difficult projects and work through the issues and manage those projects through to fruition,” the former mayor said. “We’ve seen that again and again in her time at city hall. She’s very task oriented, she’s intelligent, has good communication skills and she’s forward thinking when it comes to building cities and communities, and of course our country.”
“Can I help you be a part of this; how can I be there for you?”
Maybe it was growing up in Burundi, a country torn apart by civil war, or maybe it was just always in the back of her mind, but politics has always mattered to Arielle Kayabaga.
As a young girl, perhaps just five years old, everything around Arielle was politicized, from school to her friends, and so she was keen aware of its importance to everyday life.
When she came to London in 2002 at age 11 (her family had immigrated first to Montreal), she never pictured herself as “a Canadian politician,” but she gained a taste for the idea by first running for her school’s student council, but then by joining the Young Liberals and later volunteering in MPP Deb Matthews office when she was just 15.
“Canada wasn’t my home, but I had every intention of making it so. I’ve been involved in politics ever since,” said Arielle, who left London briefly for Ottawa and Carleton University where she studied political science, with a minor in African studies, before returning.
Arielle first came across Kate Graham — the Liberal Party candidate for London North Centre in the upcoming provincial election — while taking the Women in Civic Leadership course at King’s University College.
“ I like that she’s young and cares about progressive values”
As a third-year Western University student, Daniel Bleiwas sees first-hand how many people his age are disconnected from the political process. In some cases, they feel their voice isn’t being heard or the issues of the day seem irrelevant to their lives. The 20-year-old business student is quick to say that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I think there are a lot of important issues; there are important issues I care about — the minimum wage, the environment — and I like supporting candidates who work on stuff like that,” he said. “I think a lot of young people think their vote doesn’t matter or that what’s going on doesn’t affect them, which isn’t the case at all. We’re going to be living in Ontario for a long time, so these things will likely affect us the most.”
Daniel started getting involved in politics two years ago, motivated in large part by the 2015 election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. However, his path to the Ontario Liberal Party stems from growing up in a Toronto suburb with conservative-leaning parents whose issues didn’t reflect his own beliefs.
His interest in politics grew upon moving to the Forest City, particularly after he began volunteering at the London North Centre constituency office of MPP Deb Matthews. That connection led to an invite to the candidate nomination meeting for Kate Graham, who is picking up the Liberal banner for the riding in this summer’s provincial election.
Kate quickly made an impression on that early December morning. In fact, he was so moved he decided to volunteer for the campaign.