After an unplanned four year hiatus, Jack Harris says he’s ready to return to Ottawa, picking up where he left off representing the people of St. John’s East
Jack Harris looks like life’s been treating him well. In fact, he looks so rested and at ease it almost makes one wonder why the successful lawyer would even want back into the political racket in the first place. He laughs at the question good-naturedly The simple answer is this: “The reason why I’m running this time is because so many people asked me to, and because I feel I still have something to offer,” he shares.
‘Not ready to retire’
But there’s something else too, and Harris opens up about one of the realities of elected office. “Remember, I didn’t retire in 2015. I was defeated in an election, which is an honourable way to go if you decide to hang up your hat. But I wasn’t ready to retire then, and I’m not ready to retire now, either,” he says.
Harris admits freely he was surprised by the Liberal sweep of Atlantic Canada in 2015 when he lost in St. John’s East to then Liberal newbie Nick Whalen, who took 48 per cent of the vote. While Harris is quick to point out, “this is no rematch” many have dubbed this race the one to watch in 2019.
“There is a lot of work to be done both for Newfoundland and Labrador but also for the cause that got me into politics in the first place which was the search for a more just and fairer society and also to make whatever contribution I could make in that realm.”
There’s little question Harris knows his stuff. From the history of the party he’s so proud to support, to what he feels has been their crowning achievement – ‘‘creating a better world by making things fairer for ordinary people from old age pensions to Medicare,” – but there’s still opportunities.
“Should you not have your hearing corrected because you can’t afford it? Should you have bad teeth because you can’t afford to go to a dentist? These are fundamental human issues that we see as problems, so when you look at the vision of a better country – and a better world – these are some of the things that New Democrats, at core, are all about.”
Harris can well quote the NDP platform that his party’s leader Jagmeet Singh has been touting. Singh, who was in Newfoundland in September, has connections to this province of ours. While the federal NDP leader was born in Scarborough, Ont., he moved here with his family when he was one year old, spending time living in both St. John’s and Grand Falls-Windsor.
‘No orange wave’
While Harris proudly blows his party’s horn when it comes to everything from the environment to their plan to reduce the cost of cell phone plans in this country, he’s also not banking on any sort of so-called ‘orange wave’ this time around.
What there is instead is a heightened sense of disappointment in politicians overall, he says. “It’s a little bit of a hangover, or a fall, I suppose from the people’s discouragement with politics.”
The models of democracy in view these days just isn’t inspiring anyone, he says. Take our current Prime Minister as an example, he continues.
“One of the things about the red wave was that it was a positive thing. Mr. Trudeau was going to do politics differently. It was going to be an open and transparent government.”
The plight of the planet, and the fears facing the youth of today is top of mind for Harris, too. “The concerns over climate change, this is substantial. Other generations were concerned about the bomb and whether or not the planet was going to be blown up. (Climate change concerns) are not that far from that in the sense of the concern for what will happen to their futures in the world.” And, what has this government done, he asks, palms up in a disappointed shrug.
Always fair in assessments, however, Harris also points out what the Trudeau government has done right, including some of the progressive steps made to help families with small children. But overall?
“People are just disappointed with the way (the Liberal) government has operated … and the back-room shenanigans. Some things are so trivial in one sense that they’re not worth mentioning, however, it seems like politics as usual, so people are disillusioned with that and are disappointed.”
And that, in a nutshell, is why he’s back in the game.
‘‘I’m basically offering myself as a voice for the people of St. John’s East in Ottawa. I’m a known quantity, and people are familiar with my track record and my work as a member of the House. We had a strong, strong representation in Ottawa for those two terms I was there and people know what I have done and so I’m seeking to continue to do that work.”
We ask if his family is on board with his return to politics. He smiles, admitting that he’s heard it all from his inner circle. “Why don’t you retire? Someone said. Well, has it ever occurred to you that I actually like this? Yeah, I do. I do enjoy it, and you know what? I feel this is what I want to do. I’m doing it because I want to do it. I’m doing it because people have asked me to do it and I’ve been encouraged by that. My wife is quite happy to see me happy. She thinks I’m happier when I’m engaged like this.”
Harris is eager to get back to the doors where his reception has been enthusiastic, he says. Even those who admit not voting for him the last go ’round say they are happy to see him back in the running. It’s encouraging and invigorating, he says. But, at the end of the day, high-fives and warm words won’t cut it. It’s X marks the spot when it comes to politics, he says.
“Voters have a choice. You get to decide who you want to send to Ottawa to represent you in Parliament. And that’s how it should be.”