Jean-Marc Bélanger, the New Democratic Party candidate in Beauséjour, says his work as a professor of social work motivated him to run in the October 21st federal election.
During an interview last week, Bélanger said that his teaching helped him identify how social policies, such as the drastic cuts that former Ontario Premier Mike Harris made to welfare in 1995, directly affected the clients that social workers serve.
Bélanger added that, as a result, he always tried to get his students interested in politics.
“In trying to motivate students that way, it also dawned on me during this federal campaign to say ‘well, maybe I have the opportunity now for the first time in my life to present myself as a candidate,” he said. “We need a change. We have to make choices towards that change and this was my choice, now is the time to be active, to do it and to come into politics.”
NDP principles and values
Bélanger said he chose to run for the NDP because he agrees with the principles and values in its party platform.
“I’m talking about social justice,” he added. “I’m talking about acceptance of everybody, diversity, equality, equity. All of these basic principles that put us into trying to work towards a society that’s helping each other as opposed to competing against each other for who’s going to have a larger piece of the cake,” he said.
“These values are also very much in line with the social work profession and a lot of other helping professions as well,” he said. “They’re values that our community needs to cherish and develop.”
Bélanger points, for example, to sections of the NDP platform entitled “Taking better care of each other” and “Making life more affordable for everyday people.”
Among other things, they promise to extend drug and dental coverage to everyone; remove barriers for people living with disabilities; improve mental health and addictions services; end homelessness within a decade, partly by investing in more social housing; launch a pilot project for a basic income to end poverty; develop a universal childcare program; strengthen public pensions; raise employment insurance benefits and ensure that more workers qualify for EI; and, develop a free post-secondary education system.
NDP and the Greens
When asked how the NDP differs from the Green Party, Bélanger acknowledges the similarities in their positions on fighting climate change and protecting air, land and water, but maintains that the NDP platform is just as strong on the environment as the Green one is.
Bélanger also points to the NDP’s historic partnership with organized labour as a basic difference.
“The labour movement has been at the root of NDP platforms and programs since the beginning,” he says referring to the party’s founding in 1961 in partnership with the Canadian Labour Congress.
“Usually, who do you see on the picket lines with workers on strike or lockout?” he asks. “It’s mostly NDP members and supporters who are there.”
Bélanger refers to three recent controversies that he argues also show differences between the two parties.
“The Greens don’t have a clear position on national unity,” he says in an apparent reference to a CBC report that Green candidate and former NDP member of Parliament Pierre Nantel declared in a radio interview that he favours independence for Quebec as soon as possible.
In August, the NDP expelled Nantel from its caucus after learning he was planning to join the Greens.
According to the CBC, a Green party statement said that the party does not exclude candidates who support Quebec sovereignty and Green leader Elizabeth May claimed later there’s a difference between a sovereignist and a separatist.
Bélanger says the Greens don’t have a clear position on a woman’s right to choose a legal and safe abortion after Elizabeth May told the CBC that even though she is personally pro-choice, her party would not prevent Green MPs from trying to reopen the abortion debate.
The CBC reported that within hours, the Greens issued a statement saying there is “zero chance” that a Green MP would reopen this issue.
Bélanger also refers to Elizabeth May’s statement last July that she would support a minority Conservative government if it were willing to take serious action on climate change.
“So that raises doubts about the sincerity of their social platform,” he says, adding that the NDP is serious about its commitment to work on behalf of ordinary people.
“The NDP is not trying to finish in third place,” he says. “We’re battling to form the next government.”
For a CBC analysis of the various positions taken by the NDP and the Greens over supporting a minority government, click here.
Bélanger, who lives in Grande-Digue, has taught social work at several universities including Université de Moncton, Wilfrid Laurier, Laurentian and Algoma where he is currently on leave during a non-teaching term.
He also served in the 1970s as a social worker in Campbellton and in the 1980s in the mental health unit of the Georges Dumont Hospital in Moncton.
From 2011-2015, he was co-ordinator of the Francophone Health Network of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Since the mid-1990s, Bélanger has conducted extensive research in connection with an Ontario prevention program designed to help improve outcomes for children in poor neighbourhoods. He has published a wide range of academic studies on child development and social problems such as homelessness and poverty.
He says he’s running in Beauséjour as a candidate for social democracy.
“The social democracy idea,” he adds, “is to work with people, to work together so that we can move as a society in such a way that our aspirations for ourselves and for our children can be met.”
To read Jean-Marc Bélanger’s candidate biography, click here.
To read the full NDP platform, click here.