By Charlie Senack
Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden says he’s ready to make “good trouble” after winning his second provincial election on June 2 with more than half the vote.
Harden received 30,311 ballots cast under his name, according to Elections Ontario, totalling 54.3 per cent of the vote. Liberal candidate Katie Gibbs came in second place with 12,596 votes. Progressive Conservative candidate Scott Healey came in third place and received 8,773 votes; and Green Party candidate Shelby Bertrand came in fourth place with 2,718 votes. A total of 55,781 valid ballots were cast in Ottawa Centre and 266 votes were “rejected as to marking,” unmarked by voters or declined by voters.
Bringing four years of experience into the role, Harden said he plans to tone down partisanship and focus more on key issues which his riding cares about.
“I’m coming from a place of deep gratitude and appreciation for the confidence the residents of Ottawa Centre have shown not just me, but our whole MPP office team,” Harden told Kitchissippi Times. “There is a whole group of people here working hard and trying to put the interest of people in Ottawa Centre first. It’s nice to know that in the context of lower voter turnout, we have actually increased the vote for the Ontario NDP in Ottawa Centre in 2022 from 2018.”
In 2018, Harden beat Liberal incumbent Yasir Naqvi with 29,675 votes, totalling a little over 46 per cent.
But while Harden picked up support locally, the NDP lost seven seats at Queens Park, falling to 31 from the 38 they had going into the election. Longtime Ontario NDP leader Andrea Horwath resigned shortly after.
Harden thanked Horwath for her 14 years of serving the party, but said a new direction is needed.
“I think we need a change not only in who the leader is, but how we do leadership. In this party we spend millions of dollars on consultants for focus groups, on polls, for ads,” said Harden.
“If we had a leadership model that took the millions of dollars that NDP members give to us in the form of donations, and we put that right into our communities and showed up when people were in crisis or protesting…that’s going to get us a lot further than going the consultant model,” he added.
There was discussion whether or not Harden would run for the leadership role, but after talking it over with his family and many community members, he decided the time just wasn’t right.
“What I’ve learned about being the leader of a political party, especially leader of the Official Opposition or Premier, is that it’s a full-time job based out of Toronto,” said Harden. “I already have a full-time job here in Ottawa and shuttle between the two cities. Our kids are of an age where it’s a big sacrifice for our kids not to have their dad back on weekends, to not be able to see them. I’ve got a really good relationship with my kids who are still young so it’s not the right time for me.”
Harden said he feels leadership doesn’t need to come from the top and is looking to better the party through his new critic role.
Harden previously served as Critic, Accessibility and Persons with Disabilities, and will now be Critic, Transit and Active Transportation. He plans to kick his new role into gear by cycling from Ottawa to Toronto from Aug. 4-7.
“My first day of work is August 8, so I will be biking to Toronto, stopping on the way in various places to talk with people in Eastern Ontario about what their priorities are for active transportation,” said Harden. “That’s not just cycling; it could be using a power chair, a scooter, being a pedestrian—asking ourselves what can we do to make our communities more accessible for public transportation?”
On a more local level, Harden said he believes Ottawa has a large role to play in teaching the province about the rise of hate crimes, noting experience from surviving the so-called “freedom” trucker convoy which took over many downtown Ottawa streets for weeks.
He’s also focused on the municipal election coming up this fall, and is hoping to see more left-leaning councillors in office. Harden is supporting Catherine McKenney for mayor and is a champion for free public transit, which has become a focal point of the campaign.
Harden is also passionate about pouring more funding into healthcare, and is concerned about the many emergency rooms across Ontario closing due to low staffing levels caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. He also wants to look at the state of the province’s education system and do more to deal with the opioid crisis.
“Housing, healthcare, education, climate change, the opioid crisis: it feels like we are living in the moment of many overlapping crises,” said Harden. “That’s what I kept hearing back from people. That’s why I’ve put the focus on kindness, hard work — but still making good trouble. People in this community have great expectations for their elective representatives and they expect us to have the bravery to raise the questions we need to push our politics forward.”