By Joe Grogan, retired
In this presentation, we will share the results of an interview with an OPSEU/SEFPO Executive Board Member Kingsley Kwok from Region 5. He is a respiratory therapist who works at Scarborough General Hospital. He ran as an NDP candidate for the riding of Scarborough-Rouge Park in the September federal election. Although he did not win the riding, he made important contributions to the people in his riding and learned a great deal. The interview follows.
An important learning experience
Joe Grogan (JG): Why did you choose to run in the election?
Kwok: The main reason I ran is related to health and safety issues. Working in Emergency Medicine and Intensive Care, every single day I saw the effects of the COVID crisis on people. For me, I have worked through the 3 earlier waves of COVID and now we are in the 4th wave. The needless tragic deaths and the effects on workers really affected me. I have seen workers who have lost their jobs because they had to phone in sick. I have seen women, men, pregnant women, young people and entire families affected by COVID. Seeing people die affected me. I felt compelled to get involved and so I did.
JG: Why the NDP?
Kwok: To run for the NDP is a logical decision for me. Neither the Liberals nor Conservatives represent the interests of the working class. Besides, I have run in earlier elections. Many people who choose to run for the Liberals or Conservatives are interested in their own personal careers. Some of these are pure opportunists. To run for the NDP is a decision based on helping people and the community. I run and fight for the 99 per cent, not the one per cent who rule and control our society.
JG: What are the most important issues where you live?
Kwok: The terrible deaths in long-term care homes; workplace health and safety issues, the growth of Islamophobia in Canada; the verbal abuse and threats that minorities endure; the excessive and impossible prices for housing; environmental issues due to climate change that produces floods in our area; the erosion of soils; the misuse of the park in our area and the weak enforcement of regulations established to protect the natural beauty of our environment. These and other issues are very important.
JG: What did you learn from the 2021 experience?
Kwok: Lots of people complain and say that change is necessary. However, they do not act on their concerns out of fear and uncertainty. In this election, fewer people actually voted, yet our percentage in the riding increased.
JG: Is Canada too dependent on the USA? Why or why not?
Kwok: We are too dependent on America, especially in the manufacturing sector, for instance, the auto industry. Even the hospitality industry is affected by U.S. economic decisions. For example, when they initiated border changes, right away this affected our hospitality industry and, at the same time, retailing, which depends on tourism traffic, lost millions. The effects mushroom through our entire society and country.
JG: Should Canada have stronger links with Latin America?
Kwok: Absolutely, because this would be a counter-weight to Uncle Sam. The people and governments of Latin America like Canada. Some people down there love us! At the same time, we know that some Canadian multinational corporations operating in, for instance, Guatemala are not good corporate citizens, polluting the environment and disrespecting people.
The people of Latin America have suffered economic exploitation by foreign and national companies and other governments for years if not centuries. Countries there face many of the same problems we do, such as drought, environmental destruction, scarcity of water resources and other negative changes. There is at present a natural and positive relationship with Latin America, and our immigration policies are far more positive, especially with respect to refugees, than our giant neighbour.
JG: What relationship should we have with China?
Kwok: Recent experiences aside, earlier we have had good relations with China. The Chinese are much more experienced in international relations than us. China is an emerging superpower affecting the world. We are right to be concerned about human rights issues there, for example, Hong Kong and minorities elsewhere in the country. We need more people here to take up studies in international relations, because now we are Eurocentric in our approaches. We have to have relations with China – that is a reality, but not at any cost. In addition, by having relations with China, India, Africa and Europe, we will be less dependent on America.
JG: What stress did your family feel during the election?
Kwok: They did feel some stress, but they knew that, like my union activity, there will always be people in need. That is why I chose to run. We are committed people and realize certain realities. My union activity prepared us for the pressure. My spouse is a real partner. My son missed our chances to play sports, but understood!
JG: How can the NDP use its influence in Parliament to make Trudeau accountable?
Kwok: Trudeau has to work with us and the Bloc to survive. We need to remember and work for those left behind due to COVID. Corporations have gained millions, if not billions, of dollars from COVID. Three issues are very important for us right now: A national universal child care program plus income support to take the pressure off families and especially women; measures to protect the environment; and the continuation of pandemic emergency measures.
COVID: will be with us for a longer period than people expect. More people are now aware that Trudeau is entirely ego-centred and opportunistic. His actions betray his real priorities.
JG: How can the NDP gain more support from people?
Kwok: We have to do a better job educating people as to what the NDP stands for. This is not just a job for Jagmeet and elected members. We have to engage our friends and neighbours in conversations based on history and facts. People want change but are concerned about costs. We all must address that fear. Many workers think that they are part of the ultra-rich because they possess certain economic benefits. They have been indoctrinated for decades by the same old propaganda that instils fear and ignorance. We have to address the myths created by the opposition parties and their friends in the media with facts and our own behaviour. We have to show people that we can be trusted. Also, we are competent, but like others, can make mistakes, for example, Bob Rae and the Social Contract in 1993.
JG: Why do people support the Liberals and Conservatives?
Kwok: Old habits die slowly. Many people follow previous history built on ignorance and lack of knowledge about the NDP. Many people don’t talk anymore: Conversations are based on the weather, the Leafs and the Jays, and not on more important matters like our jobs, our quality of life, the contradictions due to climate change and other subjects.
The social networks that people are part of do not encourage serious examination of issues affecting all of us. The beasts we know are less dangerous, they think, than those we do not. All members of the NDP have to engage in serious talk and make “good trouble”. This is not only Jagmeet’s job; it is our shared responsibility.
Besides this, we have to address the reality that many people identify with ideology of the “super-rich”, not realizing that their objectives are not ours. We are workers and have different real needs.
JG: When and how will the labour movement encourage its members to actively support the NDP?
Kwok: The labour movement has to do a better job in explaining to its members how specific programs of the NDP will help workers and their families. For example Pharmacare, health and safety changes, a national program for non-profit home care, justice for Indigenous peoples, especially access to fresh water and proper, safe housing, climate change, and taxes on the super-rich and corporations to fund the needed changes for workers and our families.
When the Conservatives say they will cut taxes that means cuts to the social safety net, which is not in our interests or the interests of the entire society, and will lead to more chaos. When the Liberals tout their plan of “working for the middle class,” what exactly does that mean? It means a continuation of the status quo as it affects workers.
All of us want a better life, but not on the basis of exploitation of others. We need to explain how Tommy Douglas, Stephen Lewis and other NDP leaders influenced politics to produce positive change for workers. There is an ongoing need for the labour movement to do political education, not just at election time.
JG: Should Canada have a universal national child care program?
Kwok: Absolutely, because all families with growing children would benefit, including adult men and women. COVID has particularly affected women, because when COVID struck, many women lost their jobs. This meant looking for other work from at a home, while at the same time trying to look after their children. This put tremendous pressure on all members of the family. If some of their children were in school and schools “restructured,” parents then became virtual system teachers and had to learn all the requirements and methods of curricula.
A universal national child care program supported by income would allow women to go back into a changed workforce, attend educational upgrading when needed, and not have to worry about their children who would be looked after by qualified, caring and well-paid child care workers whose salaries would be covered by the proposed tax changes on the super-rich and corporations. Men would benefit, too, because such a program would enhance more equity in households and improve interpersonal relations. Domestic violence would decrease because stress in the family would be much lower.
JG: Is our political system corrupt as it related to the election?
Kwok: We have a liberal democratic system. Elections Canada did its job by and large, even though there were some problems with the hours polling station were open. Some people do see the system as being rigged for the status quo. This is why proportional representation might be an improvement. Others do believe that the system favours the well-off and, to a certain extent, this may be true. Only 59 per cent of eligible voters actually voted. This might be explained by the feeling that nothing will change, so why vote?
JG: What mistakes did the NDP make?
Kwok: The NDP needs to better explain how we will properly and responsibly fund all of the programs we intend to promote and implement, plus a timeline for them. This needs to be done before the election starts and reinforced throughout the process. We had a good program and a competent, well-liked leader. We need to show in our program how Jagmeet is not Trudeau, who is from the upper class, and O’Toole who comes to the show from a military background. Their life experience will be, and was, reflected in their priorities. We need to explain better the differences.
JG: How do we overcome racism and attacks on minorities, including on Jagmeet?
Kwok: This was not a big problem this time in this election as it was in previous federal elections, especially in Quebec, with the then feelings associated with Muslims. Jagmeet was seen as a decent, caring, compassionate and competent human being. He was quite popular. We need to build on that for the future.
JG: How do we build the NDP in Quebec?
Kwok: Perhaps we need to explain our priorities with respect to the environment and climate change better. We should not dodge and be quiet on questions regarding Quebec’s Bill 21, which many of us see as being discriminatory against minorities. By being expedient, people will trust us less, not more, and not only in Quebec, but elsewhere. Even if the legislation is provincial, we need to explain where we stand and why.
JG: How do we reach out to the members of the Green Party?
Kwok: There are some problems with Green Party policies in regard to how it sees the labour movement. On the other hand, there are many people, especially young people, who have a genuine commitment to protecting the environment and fighting climate change. Many of these people might be comfortable within the NDP if we could emphasize with them that our environmental commitment is part of the NDP’s priorities and line up with their concerns.
The knowledge gained in this election and the experience and views expressed here can help us to plan for a better future for all of us and for Canada. Can we put these views and perspectives to work?