Candidates representing six political parties in federal election ate breakfast with HOPE House community members on Wednesday.
It offered a rare opportunity for some marginalized people to speak directly with the candidates vying to represent Guelph in Ottawa after the Oct. 21 election.
Six candidates each sat and ate breakfast with HOPE House community members, speaking informally about issues affecting them — ranging from substance dependancy and mental health conditions, to issues of old age security and Indigenous issues.
The point of the event is to offer an equalization between candidates and the the people they may eventually serve in the role of member of parliament, said Bang Ly, ongoing support manager at HOPE House, not to speak down to them or debate.
“I want them to sit and have breakfast with our community and hear directly from them,” said Ly. “What better way to empower people than to literally put them in front of a human who will be making those changes for you and what better way to equalize people than just having breakfast together?”
All the local candidates attended Wednesday’s breakfast: incumbent Lloyd Longfield of the Liberals, Ashish Sachan for the Conservatives, Aisha Jahangir of the NDP, Green Party of Canada candidate Steve Dyck and Mark Paralovos for the PPC.
Juanita Burnett is expected to represent the Communist Party of Canada and also attended the event on Wednesday.
A lot of people in Guelph’s marginalized community want to see positive change, said Donny Hay, a recovering addict and advocate for mental health and addictions.
“They want somebody to step up,” said Hay, who was speaking to candidates at the event about his hope for a medical detox in Guelph with an integrated 30-day treatment program in the same facility.
“The candidates are great — they are all listening,” said Hay. “We are all on the same page when it comes to addiction and mental health, and that is a great sign.”
He hopes the opportunity for marginalized people to speak directly to candidates will lead to that positive change.
“Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Because then maybe something will get done,” said Hay.
A HOPE House community member named Tony spoke to a few of the candidates. He said affordable housing was on the top of his mind.
“There are so many people who have addictions and mental health issues, it makes getting housing even harder,” said Tony.
Some candidates were more inclined to talk about their policies, he said, while others spent more time listening.
Candidates needed to find a balance between talking and listening, he said.
“They have to hear the input and give some of it back, right?” said Tony.
In addition to the informal breakfast chatter, members of the Canadian Federation of University Women Guelph were on hand to talk people through the process of voting.
People at the breakfast were invited to participate in a practice vote based on issues identified as being top of mind during a previous canvassing of the community.
“If they have never voted before or it’s been a long time, if they are unsure if they can vote based on their living status — we have subject matter experts here to walk them through the process,” said Ly.