Churchill-Keewatinook Aski Green Party of Canada candidate Ralph McLean might not fit most people’s idea of what a representative of a party known mainly for its environmental policies would be.
“I worked for the last 12 years out in Alberta – oil and gas,” McLean told the Nickel Belt News in an interview in late September. “Most people think the Green Party people are a bunch of hippies. Look at me. Do I look like a hippie to you?”
Born and raised in The Pas, McLean is the son of a Rocky Cree woman from South Indian Lake and grew up working for his parents’ road construction business.
“I’m used to working 12 hours a day, seven days a week, 84 hours a week, fatally ill,” he says. “There was no such thing as coffee breaks or lunch breaks growing up. It was like, get up in the morning, go to work and then when you’re done you eat supper and you collapse five minutes later.”
McLean thinks that work ethic is what the people of the riding need from their representative in Ottawa.
“We can’t afford to have somebody represent us that’s not answering their phone, not answering their mail, not opening their office, not being seen in the community,” he said. “A hundred years ago – I’m a historian – you used to send a letter to your MP or MLA and it would say, ‘Dear Mr. So-and-so, these are the issues that are currently affecting us in the riding,’ and a week or two later you got a letter back in the mail and it said, ‘Thank you Mr. Smith for your concerns. I’ve addressed these to the cabinet minister in charge,’ and at the bottom it was signed, ‘Your obedient servant’ and we’ve gotten away from that. People have forgotten that government is supposed to work for you, not the other way around.”
This isn’t McLean’s first election campaign. It’s not even his first of this year.
“I actually ran with the Greens in 2015 out in Edmonton but I knew that if I was going to make any gains, I had to come back to Northern Manitoba where I’m originally from to run here,” McLean says. “The federal election was already Plan A for me and then they called the early provincial election so that was Plan B and that became the first one.”
While knocking on more than 3,000 voters’ doors in the provincial campaign, McLean said he heard a lot of concerns and saw a lot of evidence of politicians neglecting Northern Manitoba.
“People told me … I was the first person that had ever door knocked on their door in 30 years since Harry Harapiak was the MLA in the mid ’80s and that’s 30 years of neglect.”
McLean thinks poverty, the need for infrastructure investment and health care are among the biggest issues facing the residents of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski.
“We have, I think, one of the highest poverty rates in all of Canada in this riding. Seventy per cent of the population is living at or near the poverty line and things have just got to change and the time for talking and doing nothing has got to end. Capital infrastructure. We’re about $4.6 billion short there. We need six times more money in the north for capital infrastructure projects than they do in the south. Our entire medical system is so direly on the brink of collapse it’s not even funny. The medical professionals at the hospitals are trying so hard to tell people but they have no equipment. Everything is, ‘Well, you gotta go see a specialist in Winnipeg,’ and I’m really worried about that. There’s an extreme doctor shortage.”
His combination of professional experience and the Green Party’s difference from the other political parties are what McLean thinks would make him a good Member of Parliament.
“I was employed in a supervisory management role on multi-billion dollar capital infrastructure projects where my job basically was fix chaos and so I think I’m well suited for the job of MP in this riding because there is a shocking amount of problems here.”
McLean said if he were elected MP he would consider himself an employee of the riding’s residents.
“Regardless of your belief in the local candidate for each party, just remember that their votes are whipped so they don’t actually have a voice in Parliament. They have to take their direction from the leader whereas Green votes aren’t whipped and I can speak to every single concern for our riding on a case-by-case basis so if the NDP bring up something I can actually vote for or against it. If the Liberals bring up something, I can vote for or against it. If the Conservatives bring up something, I can vote for or against it. Ideally what we need in this election is a minority government with the Greens holding the balance of power and holding that other larger party to task to ensure that they actually start doing things because we can’t afford another four years of neglect in the north.”