Alexander Brown wants to get things done.
The 43-year-old ESL teacher from Oshawa is running for the NDP in the northern Toronto riding of Willowdale in hopes of unseating Liberal incumbent David Zimmer to become the area’s first gay MP.
It will be an uphill battle for Brown, as the NDP has never held the riding and hasn’t crested above nine percent there since 1995.
But Brown has a simple strategy for getting his message out to voters: meet them and listen.
Alexander Brown has a history of activism in Hamilton.(Rob Salerno)
“The lesson I learned from community groups, no matter what level of government – there’s a lot of people who like to sit around and talk about the problem, and then they never do anything,” Brown says. “You end up getting a lot of people dropping off and not being interested anymore because they say they never do anything. You have to listen, you have to consult with them, and you have to get something done.”
Brown says he was raised in a strongly NDP household, but he became interested in politics only when he was living in Hamilton, from 2003 onward. He chaired a neighbourhood association, became involved with Environment Hamilton, and sat on a Ministry of the Environment public liaison committee that dealt with efforts to reduce emissions from the steel mills.
He attracted the attention of the NDP by volunteering on the successful election campaigns of Wayne Marston and Paul Miller in the federal and provincial campaigns for Hamilton East–Stoney Creek.
He moved to the Yonge and Lawrence area of Toronto two years ago with his partner, who owns a hair salon in Markham. Last year, he campaigned unsuccessfully for the nearby Willowdale seat on the Toronto District School Board.
As the election came on the horizon, the NDP asked him to run in the same riding. Brown says he was reluctant at first.
“I wasn’t going to run in the provincial election after I did the municipal one,” he says. “I wanted to focus on municipal issues and run again in four years time, but I was approached by the riding association and thought about it. I didn’t just jump into it. They kind of convinced me that they wanted me to run there, so I said, Sure.”
With his background in teaching, Brown says he is particularly concerned that schools provide a safe space for queer students.
“The NDP’s and my own personal opinion is we need to prevent discrimination of all groups. In schools it’s most important. Kids need to be aware of these issues younger and be involved in them,” he says.
While Brown says that he supports allowing students to form gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools and that he would prefer to see religion taken out of public schools, he refuses to back defunding the Catholic school boards.
“The issue of the Catholic school board is very contentious. You’ll see a lot of people fighting that based on the constitutional mandate,” he says. “Personally, I’m not giving an opinion.”
Brown says any moves to control what the school board does or teaches needs to come after extensive consultations.
“I don’t want the government coming in and saying, We’re just going to do this, without informing people and getting them involved in that process. If you don’t do that, you end up removing all the transparency. You end up removing all the democratic values,” he says.
When asked about his priorities for the queer community as a legislator, Brown says he would work to pass the NDP’s proposed amendment to the Human Rights Code that would add gender expression and gender identity to the list of proscribed causes for discrimination. He also concedes that amending the act may not in itself be enough to protect trans people from discrimination.
“If we’re going to be an inclusive society, which we say we are, then this is something that needs to happen, just so we can say that trans Ontarians are afforded the same rights from discrimination. So they can’t be kicked out of their residence or prevented from getting a job,” he says. “It may not change the situation and these things will still happen, so maybe it’s a matter of education, which then becomes a different issue.”