By Charlie Senack
Ottawa Centre has a new elected official at Parliament Hill, but its political stripes have remained the same. Liberal candidate Yasir Naqvi won 45 per cent of the vote in the recent federal election, replacing outgoing Liberal MP Catherine McKenna in the House of Commons.
Naqvi is no stranger to Ottawa Centre politics: he served as riding’s member of provincial parliament (MPP) from 2007 until he was defeated in 2018. At Queen’s Park, he served in a number of roles including Attorney General of Ontario, Government House Leader, Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services and Minister of Labour, among others.
Naqvi decided to enter the political arena again when opportunity came knocking. Just months before the election, McKenna announced she would not seek a third term after representing Ottawa Centre federally for six years and serving in various cabinet positions.
Getting 33,825 votes on Sept. 20, Naqvi won the spot with 12 percentage points over NDP candidate Angella MacEwen who came in second place with 24,552 votes (or 33 per cent). Conservative candidate Carol Clemenhagen came in third place with 11,650 votes (just under 16 per cent); Green Party candidate Angela Keller-Herzog came in fourth place with 2,115 votes (just under three per cent); and Regina Watteel from the People’s Party of Canada came in fifth place with 1,605 votes (two per cent). There were also candidates from the Animal Protection Party, Communist Party, and an Independent on the ballot, who each received less than one percent of the vote, according to Elections Canada.
COVID-19 was the main focus of this election cycle. Despite the vaccination rates, cases of the virus are climbing again — a trend experts warned would happen this fall. Many provinces, including Ontario, have implemented mandatory vaccine policies for certain settings, such as indoor dining, gyms, concerts and large gatherings. Naqvi said these are measures the Liberal party supports, adding that work needs to begin now on rebuilding a stronger Canada with even higher vaccination rates.
“Our primary goal at this stage has to be to bring an end to this pandemic,” Naqvi told Kitchissippi Times just days after winning his seat. “We cannot sufficiently move forward until this pandemic is under control. There is a fourth wave going on and huge concern, even though our vaccine numbers are among the highest in the world.”
Naqvi said plans for action include creating incentives for unvaccinated people to receive their shots and ensuring Canada has adequate supply as those under 12 are able to get vaccinated and as third booster shots make a rollout.
When it comes to community issues, Naqvi said he will spend the first few months getting his feet wet and having meetings with community members to see what issues are top of mind.
Important work will also need to be done in relation to the new location for the Civic Hospital, a project which has seen much controversy, given its takeover of natural green space and the loss of some historic trees. NDP candidate MacEwen called for a public inquiry into the new location’s selection process. While Naqvi didn’t directly address the situation, he said it would require many conversations.
He’s also looking to build more affordable housing in the ward and create a local climate action plan.
“I want to reach out to all the community parties, starting with our elected officials, so we can start aligning our services,” Naqvi said. “I also want to reach out to many community and social service providers, and, of course, our local community associations, which are crucial.”
Now at the House of Commons, Naqvi said this political adventure feels much the same, but also different. Over the past three years, he’s enjoyed being a full-time dad again, picking his children up from school and putting them to bed at night. With Parliament Hill located in his riding, the Pakistani-Canadian hopes to find a work-life balance.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity and the fact that I can bike to work, or maybe even run to work. The fact I don’t need to get on a plane is really great,” said Naqvi, who has two children ages five and nine.
“I will still be able to drop my kids off at school and pick them up at the end of the day,” he added. “I can put them to bed and make them dinner. The most fulfilling part of the past three years not being in office was being a full-time parent, and I’m determined to find that balance.”