Out lesbian Diana Andrews will carry the banner for the NDP in the Ford Country riding of Etobicoke North in the federal election May 2.
The elementary school French teacher and union representative has deep ties to the riding, having grown up in a social housing project in the Jamestown neighbourhood near Albion Rd and Finch Ave.
She faces a tough battle in a riding where the NDP has never landed more than 15 percent of the vote or placed better than third. It is considered a Liberal Party stronghold; the riding has elected Liberals all but once since its creation in 1979 and has been represented by university professor Kirsty Duncan since 2008.
At the municipal level, the riding is home to both Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford. But Andrews laughs at the idea that Etobicoke North can be characterized as conservative.
“There is clearly a big void in terms of the swing vote and voters who are disenfranchised,” she says. “It is highly a new-Canadian haven. More than 50 percent of the riding is racialized members and new Canadians.”
Acknowledging that some racialized voters in the riding strongly affiliate with the Liberals, Andrews says she will appeal to groups with traditionally low voter turnout.
“The Caribbean community is rich for the taking,” she says.
Her work as a teacher makes her uniquely situated to appeal to those groups’ concerns as they relate to family issues, education and safety, she says.
“I’ve dealt with youth on a one-on-one basis,” she says. “Our black youth are disproportionately suspended.”
Andrews says the number one issue is “sustainable good jobs that you can raise a family on, pay your bills on, that you don’t have to supplement with other jobs.
“The NDP has always been for sustainable inclusive employment that is local, preferably. That speaks to families in the middle class and those struggling in poverty,” she says. “We feel that we can not only lessen the burden of those living in poverty, but also open up opportunities to those… needing education, those who have been in conflict with the law, those who have different abilities, those who have been discriminated against because of their ethnicity, accent, culture, sexuality, but also because of systemic barriers to equal advancement.”
Going into the campaign, Andrews says she’s already begun door-to-door canvassing, mainstreeting and visits to community centres. Her fluency in French and facility with Italian has helped her reach out to the riding’s Haitian and Italian communities, she says.
The first-time campaigner has been involved with the NDP for “several years” but needed to be coaxed into taking a run at office.
“One of the questions I had was managing gayness,” she says. “What I mean is that… it’s a very hot, loaded topic to be an out gay person in politics. Being not familiar with it, not wanting to be that vulnerable to media, and not having a wealth of resources going into this or personal funds that could soften the blow. And not being in a committed relationship, being biracial, coming from poverty, all of these are potential targets to me.
“I’ve been out for 20 years, but three, four discriminations against you can be a lot to handle. I decided I will deal with it if it comes to me. I will not deny it. I will move on to the issues at hand,” she says.