By Leah Ching, Staff Writer
The riding of Thunder Bay-Superior North showed up to the polls in numbers, electing liberal candidate Patty Hajdu as their chosen federal representative with a whopping 45% of the vote. A mother of two and an alum of Lakehead University, Ms. Hajdu is Thunder Bay-Superior North’s newly elected representative in the House of Commons, and part of the liberal majority which swept through the country last month with Justin Trudeau at its helm. In addition to her big win in Thunder Bay, Ms. Hajdu was appointed the Minister of Status of Women in the Federal Cabinet, headed by Mr. Trudeau.
Before her election, Ms. Hajdu was known throughout Thunder Bay for her work as the Executive Director of Shelter House, Thunder Bay’s largest homeless shelter, serving over 700 meals daily with an annual budget of over $2.4 million.
With a passion for advancing “the social determinants of health” (such as having a good job, a good education, access to adequate healthcare, and living in a safe, healthy, and sustainable environment), Patty Hajdu’s other work included chairing the Drug Awareness Committee of the Thunder Bay District Health Unit and authoring the city’s Drug Strategy (aiming to municipally reduce harms associated with substance use).
During the election process, many students had the opportunity to meet Patty as she attended events like LUSU’s Federal Election Campaign launch, “Pints and Politics,” and the federal election candidate debate organized by LUSU. Earlier this year, Ms. Hajdu wrote a letter to the editor welcoming students to Lakehead as they celebrated its 50th anniversary. In her letter, she fondly remembered her time at Lakehead and spoke about education being foundational in her life to her ability to give back to the community.
Ms. Hajdu sat down with The Argus to discuss her new position in the House of Commons, and as Minister of the Status of Women in the Federal Cabinet. In addition, we looked back on the long campaign season that’s bought Ms. Hajdu to her current position and spoke about her team of campaigners.
Looking back on this election long campaign season, Ms. Hajdu described it all as a “whirlwind,” saying that “I think everyone can breathe a sigh of relief now that campaign season is over. There’s a real air of hope and optimism for the year that hasn’t been felt in the Canadian political realm for some time now.”
We also spoke about the fact that her campaign director, Matt Pascuzzo, a Lakehead Student, played a pivotal role in her campaign, and is now moving to Ottawa to work as her Executive Assistant.
Ms. Hajdu offered some inspiring words looking back on the role of youth leadership in her campaign. “When you give youth an opportunity to lead in an equal fashion, really great things can happen. Because they lead from a different perspective, things can happen differently. In our case, there really was a young team mixed in with older people, and everybody said it was a really fun experience. That was important to me.”
This election will undoubtedly be a memorable one for Patty Hajdu as well as many others. Justin Trudeau’s election brought with it an air of optimism into the Canadian political landscape, as citizens are eager to see what develops during this coming term.
For the first time, Canadian cabinet has gender parity, “a cabinet that looks just like Canada,” according to Prime Minister Trudeau. Patty Hajdu, appointed Canada’s Minister of Status of Women is the 18th to assume this position, and offered the following insights.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to promote the equality of women and girls in Canada in many ways.” Ms. Hajdu said that there are a number of different goals of this work, but a major goal is “striving toward economic equality for girls and women.” Two more main goals outlined Hajdu were: “ensuring that women have opportunity for leadership roles,” and “combatting violence against women.”
“It’s an honour to be asked,” she said. “When the prime minister asks you to do something like that it’s definitely an honour, and it’s definitely significant work.”
“It strengthens leadership and it strengthens decision-making when you have women at the table.” Mr. Trudeau made it very clear early on, even before the campaign that women would be recruited as candidates actively, and that would be supported to succeed. That’s what happened, and he carried that commitment through all the way to the cabinet.”
About her election, she said, “the mood is very joyous in Ottawa, and everywhere I go. People are congratulating me everywhere I go. Not just because I won, but because people are seeing the opportunity to have our needs as women, and as Northerners reflected in a real way, in decisions made on behalf of the country.”
Finally, we talked about Ms. Hajdu’s background that she brings to her newly elected positions. Speaking about the social determinants of health, a focal point of Patty’s study, she said “What it means is things like access to affordable and safe housing, making sure that people can access education, making sure that people have safe neighborhoods and clean drinking water available to them. Being healthy means being able to raise healthy families… We really focused on these aspects of the Real Change plan, as they’re the determinants of healthy communities.”
Finally, Ms. Hajdu stressed that “it’s about good fiscal health too, and looking at this issue socially, it’s difficult. There’s a tremendous amount of suffering involved in living in poverty. It’s a win-win for us when we start looking at those foundational pieces that help people survive and thrive.”