on the Job
Ontarios Sole NDP Federal
Member of Parliament Calls His Home Walkerville
Story and Photo Elaine Weeks
reprinted from May 2001, Issue
Joe Comartin surprised almost
everyone except himself and his loyal supporters during the last
Federal election when he trounced Liberal incumbent Rick Limoges.
Only 18 months earlier, Limoges
had beaten Comartin by a very narrow margin for the seat vacated
by the sudden death of Shaughnessy Cohen. Three years earlier,
Comartin had lost to Cohen when they had both vied for the same
Now that Comartin has finally
earned his stripes, what can he really do as the lone NDP member
in a Liberal Federal government?
"Instead of being a typical backbencher
without a voice," suggests Comartin, "my status as the only NDP
minister is actually an advantage."
And, as the NDP environment critic,
Comartin receives a fair amount of attention as well. Thanks to
many years as an environmental activist, Comartin is prepared
for his new role.
"Global warming will be the governments
main environmental concern over the next few years," says Comartin,
"as it has become quite clear that despite Canadas small
population base, we are a big part of the problem. If something
isnt done now, we are looking at enormous areas of the planet
devastated by flooding and/or desertification."
According to Comartin, Canada
is seeking alternatives to fossil fuels, major contributors to
the warming of the planet. "Since we already have the grid in
place for supplying electricity across the country, wind, solar
and geo-thermal power can be fed into it," says Comartin. "There
are currently two geothermal plants in the foothills of the Rocky
Mountains. The Prairie Provinces and areas of Ontario farmland
are ideal for the generation of wind power because of their open
flatness. In addition, the tides on the East Coast have good potential
as an energy source."
Convincing oil companies that
they should suddenly switch gears from making billions of dollars
from non-renewable fuel sources for nearly a century to producing
renewable power will be no picnic. Comartin realizes that large
tax incentives will be part of the plan to convince these companies
to go green.
The other major issue that Comartin
is pushing the government to address is the recent shift from
the family farm to mass production. This has created a whole host
of serious problems. The recent Walkerton water disaster, where
many people became ill and several died due to animal waste entering
the water system from a mega pig farm is a tragic example.
Farm subsidy cutbacks by the
government over the last several years (while farmers in the U.S.
enjoy significant government support), and unfair compensation
for their crops means that many Canadian farmers have been forced
out of the international market and have been bought out by agri-corporations.
In order for the remaining farm family operations to survive in
Canada, Comartin thinks over three billion dollars in subsidies
Before winning his seat, Comartin,
a lawyer since 1973, was director of the CAWs legal services
plan and was involved in building dozens of low-income housing
units and a child-care centre at the Labour Community Service
Centre on Central Avenue.
Married in 1969 to Maureen Granger,
a former schoolteacher who is now with Infant and Family Respite,
the couple has three grown children. Residents of the 800 block
of Windermere in Olde Walkerville for over 26 years, the Comartins
like the small town feel of the area. They would move only if
they found another house in Walkerville that had a bigger yard.
They wouldnt mind a new road either.
"When they rebuilt King Edward
(which I was against), our block was used by heavy construction
equipment for fifteen months," recalls Comartin. "It ruined the
street but I havent convinced the City to get it fixed."
Raised on the family farm with
his seven siblings in Belle River by his mother Loretto (his Francophone
father Emery, died when he was one), Comartin nearly became a
"I was the designated one in
the family but at 16 I discovered girls, and thought I would have
a hard time obeying my vows. I wanted to serve people so at that
point, I decided to become a lawyer. I got a taste for politics
while serving on student council at Brennan."
Comartin, who is bilingual, won
a trip to France during last years Hospice Gala and finally
took the trip this April. Besides a welcome vacation, he looked
forward to tracing his familys ancestral roots in Caumartin,
a winery in the south.
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