By Ted Simpson –
In the June provincial election, we saw a massive shift take place in Ontario’s political climate. Many communities have seen a change in their representation at the provincial level. Here in Kitchissippi, one of those changes has brought us a new MPP, and his name is Joel Harden.
Joel first credits his success to his team of volunteers, who have been building up his campaign from the grass roots since late 2017. In the end, over 1,200 people had volunteered on Joel’s campaign, to knock on doors, make phone calls, distribute lawn signs and collect data. That’s more volunteers than any other NDP campaign in the province of Ontario.
“I think what’s special about what we did, is we showed people that it’s possible to succeed in politics without a high price tag,” says Joel. “We were up against an incumbent who was well respected and well resourced, I think what we were able to do was raise expectations, the slogan was, ‘demand more from politics’, and I think that’s what we tapped into.”
Now that the election is over and done with, we are going to be seeing a lot of Joel over the next four years. So let’s get to know him a little better.
1) His previous job title was “Professor” at Carleton University
Joel has spent the past three years teaching in the department of law and legal studies at Carleton. Before that, he has taught at Nipissing in the sociology department and spent five years teaching at York University while he completed his Ph.D in political science.
He also spent years working at the Canadian Labour Congress, a job that had him on the road very often, and took him to all areas of the country. After the birth of his second child, Joel found the need to be close to home, and ended up in the teaching position at Carleton.
2) His political career started at Queen’s Park over 20 years ago.
Joel Harden spoke at Queen’s Park for the first time in 1995, not as a politician, but as a protestor.
In the mid 90’s, the Ontario government made cuts to social service, reducing rates by over 20 per cent. This policy had a direct effect on Joel’s family at the time. “We were working poor, we were on social assistance, my brother my mom and me,” says Joel. “I remember mom up at night looking at bills and crying her eyes out.”
So he took action in the only way a punk kid with green hair and red Doc Martens knew how: “I jumped on the subway, I went down to the legislature, I went into the gallery and the moment the session opened I just started yelling at Mike Harris,” says Joel.
He was detained for an hour and let go to find the media waiting for him. “They were asking me all these questions about why I had done it, and I just said, I’m sick of governments that beat up on the poor.”
“I went there the first time out of anger and frustration, and now I’m going back with a certain level of anger and frustration, but also with maturity and some more tools in my tool kit and a willingness to fight for change.”
3) Family, friends, fitness, music and art drive Joel’s life.
“What I personally do to stay sane is try and soak in as much beauty and art as I can,” says Joel. “I love music, I hack at music myself, but my brother is a real musician, both my parents are piano teachers.”
He considers himself a huge cyclist, he’s competed in mountain biking and road racing events around the city. He did all of his campaigning on a Dutch bakfiets bicycle.
He even shows up three days a week at 7 a.m. to meet his Spartan kick-boxing trainer. “He shows no mercy and it’s been great,” says Joel. “I bring my son with me and we hit the heavy bag and do 140 pushups. It’s just unbridled pain, but very cathartic.”
4) The way to his heart is through a cookie.
“I enjoy absorbing the energy of other people, and often the medium for that is art and music and various ways in which to procure a tasty chocolate chip cookie,” says Joel.
“I am a known cookie monster, I like to know where to get great cookies all over this riding and we have so many great bakeries.”
5) Joel wants to hear from you.
“The area of Kitchissippi is a special, special place,” says Joel. “What people need to know about me is that if you are a community builder, if you are a heart-forward volunteer and you need access to resources, you need to give me a call so I can help you get access to those resources. I will figure out a way, with you, to make it happen.”
To reinforce his approach to collaboration between public and government, Joel has committed to monthly town halls on key issues. The first issue will be cannabis, with a change in Ontario’s government, the province’s approach to legal cannabis will be up for debate again.
Joel says the goal of these sessions is to bring together people who are more knowledgeable on these issues than him, so he can learn from them what makes the most sense for Ontario.
“We could easily fill up a year with topical events that will help me understand what the community wants and empower local people to take some space to make democracy a constant exercise,” says Joel.
Get to know the people in your neighbourhood and read some of our other “Five Things” profiles right here.