As a federal election looms, openly queer former Toronto city council candidate Michael Erickson is seeking the NDP nomination to run in Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff’s riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore.
If Erickson is chosen in a nomination meeting on Thursday, March 31, he’ll run in a Liberal stronghold. Liberals have won the seat in all but two normal elections since the riding was created in 1968. The NDP hasn’t polled above 15 percent there since 1988, when no Liberal was on the ballot.
Erickson says he plans to win voters with a focus on the bread-and-butter issues that the NDP have made central to the campaign.
“Neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives can be trusted to lead the country,” he says. “Poverty rates are growing. The Liberals committed to ending poverty by 2000, but instead it’s grown since then.”
On the Conservatives’ planned corporate tax cuts, Erickson says, “There’s an increasing tax burden on the common person. We know the people who benefit are shareholders, corporations and the rich.”
He also says he wants to push for better funding of post-secondary education, which he says is tied to the Conservatives’ tough-on-crime legislation and plans for prison expansion.
“We’re moving to a US prison system, where we need clients to keep that system in place,” he says. “I think that’s terrifying when we’re underfunding post-secondary education.”
Erickson says the NDP has the best record on queer issues of any of the opposition parties.
“There’s been a clawing back of resources that go to services for GLBT people, and the Liberals haven’t spoken to that,” he says. “If you look at the bills put forward in the house, it’s been the NDP speaking alone.”
Erickson says he joined the NDP in January.
“After running for city council I decided if I wanted to pursue public service at that level, I had to join a party, and the NDP was the only party I could join ethically,” he says.
“I hadn’t really thought that I would be a candidate any time soon, but this opportunity arose with the election, and there was no one lined up to deal with Ignatieff, and some people in the party approached me.”
Erickson, 36, doesn’t live in the riding but points out Ignatieff doesn’t either. He plans to raise his profile with old-fashioned door knocking and social media campaigning.
“I think when people meet me face to face there’s a connection there, but you can’t knock on every door in that time,” he says.
The fluently bilingual high school teacher grew up in Ottawa and moved to Toronto when he was 19. He earned a teaching degree from York University. Apart from his political aspirations, Erickson is a dedicated volunteer and activist, best known in the gay community for his four years on the board of the LGBT Youth Line and his work with the Toronto District School Board’s Converge Conference, which brings students together to examine sexuality, gender and culture. He’s also part of a team working to create a shelter for queer youth.
Erickson says he coaches a boys’ and girls’ hockey team at Harbord Collegiate, where he has worked as a teacher for 10 years.
“That’s pretty classically Canadian,” he says. “There’s nothing like drinking hot chocolate and watching hockey in the arena.”
Erickson says the contrasts between him and his chief rival are clear.
“[Ignatieff]’s been in the academy at Harvard, but I think he’s out of touch with the common experience in Canada,” he says. “As a high school teacher you don’t get to choose who you’re serving. Who he’s been serving is different than who I’ve been serving for the past decade.”
Erickson is on a slate of six out queer candidates the NDP has so far put forward for the upcoming election. Others include Vancouver East MP Libby Davies and candidates Diana Andrews (Etobicoke North), Randall Garrison (Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca), Victor Elkins (Vancouver Quadra) and Piotr Majkowski (Langley).