Damian Konstantinakos was raised in a family where politics was the main topic of conversation.
“Mine was a politician household — not that we were all politicians, but political discussions were at the dinner table every night,” says Konstantinakos. “There were arguments — my father and I, specifically. My father challenged me and I challenged him from a very young age on our political beliefs.”
His father’s advice of always testing his own beliefs reverberated with Konstantinakos. He is a no-nonsense person with a firm conviction of what his values and political beliefs are.
“I have been a conservative my whole life,” says Konstantinakos. “I believe in the individual and the fact that individuals are best trusted to make their own decisions, with respect to how they spend their money, how they live their lives and really, that ideology has led to the most free and open society through the ages.”
Konstantinakos is the Conservative candidate for Ottawa Centre. He has always lived in the riding and was raised in a multinational family. His father immigrated to Canada from Greece in 1971; his mother is a Canadian whose family lived in Ottawa and ran a business on Somerset St for nearly a century.
Konstantinakos holds an engineering degree and an MBA. He comes from a business background and entered politics from a business perspective — as treasurer on the board of the Ottawa Conservative Association.
According to Konstantinakos, the association was always “building our coffers,” looking for candidates, spreading the word and recruiting more Conservatives.
“There are now more Conservative members in Ottawa Centre than at any other time in history — it’s an exciting time to be a Conservative,” says Konstantinakos.
In February, the nomination process opened for a Conservative representative for the riding, and Konstantinakos decided to run.
“You don’t have all the time in the world, and if you have something to offer, offer it. If there is something that you look at and say there is an opportunity to help people change anything — government, business — do it. You gain nothing by hesitating,” he says.
Although Konstantinakos has worked on campaigns before, he has never been the candidate. It is something he finds invigorating.
“You live off the energy, you go out, you meet people. It is humbling and it is exhilarating at the same time,” he says. “You will meet people who have seen you on the web, have seen you on TV, they read about you and they say, ‘You know, I am going to put my faith in you. I am going to give you my vote — you had better represent me, and I am going to hold you accountable.’”
Konstantinakos does not hide his enthusiasm for Ottawa Centre. He talks about the diversity of the nighbourhoods, the heritage buildings and architecture downtown and the cultural richness of the city.
“This is the Nation’s Capital. With that pride comes an obligation to really shine. As an MP I want to make sure that we are shining the jewel and that is Ottawa Centre,” he says.
Xtra sat down with the Ottawa Centre candidates from each of the major parties. Here’s what Konstantinakos had to say.
Xtra: Do you support the inclusion of gender identity and gender expression in Canada’s human rights code and hate speech laws? What would you do as an MP to ensure those categories are added to the law?
Konstantinakos: I look at that bill and to be honest with you, I have looked at what a number of number of law societies have said on this and there is sufficient protection in the existing act and that’s my view point on it. I am always open to the idea that there isn’t. I think that the priorities of Parliament are different, right now on other matters; the economy needs to be the focus… On this topic, I struggle to see what it will add and based on what I have read from what a number of legal societies have put out, there is significant and very strong protection in the existing law.
Xtra: If you had further information?
Konstantinakos: I would be open and I really want to see what the bill would look like and what the effect — I don’t believe in passing bills to make a show. I believe in passing bills that help people in general and I look at what my understanding this bill contains and what the legal societies have said, there is nothing new to be added here.
Xtra: Do you support the changes to Canada’s Access to Medicine Regime as outlined in C-393?
Konstantinakos: I think frustration, which is never a good excuse to do anything, would have driven me to support this bill at the time. The fact is, however, the comments made by Minister [Tony] Clement highlight the fact that this really would not have solved the problem and they are regrettably true. And I don’t say regrettably because Minister Clement said it; I say regrettably because the problem with Canadian generics — the price associated with them — as well as the fact that this would have impacted R&D [research and development] in Canada are true. I would have written a better bill, one, to include incentives to ensure that we continue drug R&D in Canada — to counter the first negative effect of the bill. And second, I would have put a process in place to monitor the sale of generics to Africa to make sure they were actually happening. I think we need a review process to see if we are solving the problem. I believe in cutting red tape always, and I believe in getting more generics to Africa, to third-world countries to combat HIV and other diseases. This bill did not solve this problem in my opinion and in the opinion of many others who have dug into this. But like I said, frustration, bad reason to do anything — if I would have voted for it — I probably would have, and I certainly would have looked to writing a better bill.
Xtra: How can a local MP support the Village committee, which is trying to get formal recognition for the gay community on Bank St?
Konstantinakos: It’s a good question because it is a municipal issue mostly. I remember what it was like before it was the gay area of Ottawa — it was horrible before, and they have done an enormous great deal to make this one of the great areas of the city to visit. I don’t live far from it, and I spend a lot of time in it. I think you need to bring in all residents when you look to rename an area in the city, and I would encourage all residents to get involved in it, keeping a civil tone, keeping a productive tone. But really, it is a municipal issue.
Xtra: Since you come from a business side, in your opinion would it hurt or not hurt businesses there?
Konstantinakos: I don’t think it would hurt it. What we need to do is make sure it doesn’t. What you need to do is — there are firms, specialists and consultants who specialize in this area — to bring in some and say, What is the best thing for the residents and businesses of the area? I certainly wouldn’t stop visiting it, shopping there, eating there, and I wouldn’t be adverse to opening a business there.
Xtra: Xtra has been following the rise in criminal charges for people who don’t disclose their HIV status before having sex. What would you do as an MP on the issue of HIV criminalization?
Konstantinakos: I wouldn’t categorize it as HIV criminalization. I wish I remember his quote, but Dan Savage certainly categorizes it very well, that there is a matter of safety here that we need to be sure of. I don’t object to the idea of somebody being charged if they have HIV, know they have it and have unsafe sex with somebody without informing them of it. I know that many, if not most of the gay community, agree with that view.
Xtra: Local police priorities have been in the news a lot recently, especially around sex-worker sweeps and charging poz folks. What should policing priorities be in Ottawa, and is there any way for an MP to influence police decision-making?
Konstantinakos: Our party is very focused on crime. If I were to look at urban crime, primarily, we’re the party that is going to stand up for local merchants; we’re looking to defend businesses first of all. And second, this is a personal view: I really want us to do something about the occurrence of people luring young women and young men into prostitution and then essentially enslaving them into it. I think that has to be something we focus on substantially. I don’t know whether it is pimps, but the fact is, luring someone into prostitution should be a much more serious offence than it is even now. I think if we go after that aspect of the sex trade industry much more we will see a general increase in safety. That is something I would like to see at a federal level, is focus on laws specific to that. I can’t think of a worse human being, who would lure a young woman or a young man — 13 or 14 years old — into a life of prostitution.
Xtra: Isn’t that more like human trafficking, though?
Konstantinakos: I think human trafficking is critical, absolutely, and our party is focused on that but even on a local level it occurs, and I would like to see us do even more.
Xtra: So do you think a MP could influence police decision-making?
Konstantinakos: I don’t think it is a decision-making aspect, but we do introduce federal laws; we have influence there and a lot of it is in the provincial and municipal space. But I would like us to do programs to help to go after specifically human traffickers, not just from the viewpoint of bringing in women from out of country, which is something that I am very concerned about as well, and I am very proud of the fact the federal government, the Conservative Party, is acting on it but in addition even at the local level. Local women being lured into prostitution is what I mean. I don’t know how much of that is in the federal jurisdiction, but again this is just a personal opinion.
Xtra: Don’t you think that you may target people who are in the sex trade because they want to be?
Konstantinakos: I fundamentally don’t believe that there is a long line of women or men wanting to get into prostitution if only it was legal. I think, again, you focus on the pimp, and again I won’t speak to what the local police are focusing on otherwise — it is a municipal and provincial priority more than anything else.
Xtra: In 2010, the federal government appealed an Ontario court decision striking three sex-work laws. What should the federal government’s role be in that case? Do you support Canada’s sex-work laws or would you prefer to see them abolished?
Konstantinakos: I have already reiterated what my priority would be. I don’t think an unregulated, legalized prostitution is good for anyone. Like I said, there is not a long line of women or men wanting to get into this. The legalization does not free women or men from the threat of abuse, from the threat of drug addiction and the people who coerce vulnerable individuals into this — legalization does not stop that problem, and we shouldn’t pretend that it does. The laws are still necessary. I will leave it to the legal experts to craft them appropriately, and like I said, my focus is on the trafficking and coercion aspect.
Xtra: Do you think the federal government should have a role in this case?
Konstantinakos: I don’t know who would if we weren’t. It’s a legal question I am interested in and I would certainly look into. As I understand, the federal government made the decision to appeal it, and I support that decision.
Xtra: A BC constitutional case on polygamy is underway right now. It’s likely to head to the Supreme Court of Canada. Should Canada’s polygamy law remain on the books, and what would you do about it if elected?
Konstantinakos: Yes it should remain on the books. Period. It should absolutely remain on the books. This is, again, another area where the threat of abuse and coercion still exists. The proof is there; we have seen it. This is an issue that does not impact a great number of people, but where it impacts, it is severe. I want to see us act to make sure that young people, especially, are taken out of potentially abusive relationships.