life and times
hiram who
birth of the auto
border cities
sports heritage

Joe’s on the Job

Ontario’s Sole NDP Federal Member of Parliament Calls His Home Walkerville

Story and Photo Elaine Weeks

reprinted from May 2001, Issue #15

Three’s a charm.

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 seat.

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 government’s main environmental concern over the next few years," says Comartin, "as it has become quite clear that despite Canada’s small population base, we are a big part of the problem. If something isn’t 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 is necessary.

The Chosen One

Before winning his seat, Comartin, a lawyer since 1973, was director of the CAW’s 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 Comartin’s 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 wouldn’t 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 haven’t 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 priest.

"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 year’s Hospice Gala and finally took the trip this April. Besides a welcome vacation, he looked forward to tracing his family’s ancestral roots in Caumartin, a winery in the south.

back to top



©1999-2015— Walkerville Publishing — All Rights Reserved