Seamus O’Regan addresses party controversies, unity and door-to-door support ahead of October’s pivotal federal election
Seamus O’Regan knows the fight ahead of him. He’s not naive to the shifts in the at times turbulent political landscape. Much has happened in four years. 2015 marked the dawn of the red wave in Newfoundland and Labrador. Voters were hungry for change, tired of perceived empty promises by Harper’s Conservatives.
Bloom is off the rose
Under the charismatic, young and hungry Justin Trudeau, the Liberals swept all seven electoral districts in Newfoundland and Labrador, with O’Regan, the then untested television personality turned promising political prospect, unseating incumbent Ryan Cleary in the hotly contested riding of St. John’s South-Mount Pearl.
Four years later and Trudeau may not be, in the eyes of many, the anointed prince promised. The bloom is off the rose, as they say.
Controversies, including the recent ‘blackface-gate’, have had the Liberals jockeying for footing ahead of the pivotal October 21 federal election.
“I always say to people, we’re not perfect, (Justin Trudeau) is not perfect, but we are a bunch of hard workers attempting to do the right thing and represent our province well and people of our ridings well,” O’Regan tells The Herald from the campaign trail.
“You’re judged by your results. And I think we’ve gotten an awful lot done and we acknowledge that we’ve got a lot more work to do. That’s why we’re running for re-election. We’re running because we feel like we’re just getting going. And we really do want to get more done. And we recognize that there needs to be more done.”
Acknowledging the elephant in the room in the form of Trudeau’s newly surfaced, decades old photos wearing blackface, and O’Regan and the party’s stance on the matter is clear. While the actions are regrettable across the board, confidence in leadership remains unshaken.
“When the news broke everybody’s kind of spinning a bit out of control and it’s like, oh my gosh what’s going on?” O’Regan recalls. “And look those pictures are shocking. We were all kind of taken aback by it.”
Instead of unravelling in the ensuing media-storm, O’Regan took to his constituents, the very people who own his fate come October.
“I immediately grabbed a volunteer and we went out and I started hitting doors and asking people’s opinions and it was virtually unanimous. It was really quite powerful. I think we’re a very forgiving bunch. And I think a lot of people could immediately just hearken back to their own past. People were very clearly saying the past is the past.
“Let’s judge the man on the present. I mean given his advocacy for multiculturalism and diversity, his battles against Islamophobia and homophobia and his very public stance on that, there are very few non-partisan people who believe that this guy is a racist. And I think that his actions over the past four years as Prime Minister have built him a lot of credibility in this area.
“People were emphatic that this was not going to affect their decision. And in fact some people told me if they had any doubts about their vote they now knew where they were voting … And look, I wish it hadn’t happened but it has actually caused a lot of people to reflect on how far we’ve come as a society and also how far we have to go. And that’s a pretty healthy conversation to have.”
Going door to door, buzz words like rate mitigation, cost of living and health care creep up time and again on the campaign trail. And while the sitting government points to progress made in the last four years, there is still much to do given the opportunity.
“I think going to people’s doors is the best exercise because you’re hearing directly from people what their concerns are. And because it’s their home they feel very much empowered because you’re on their property. You’re at their doorstep and it’s an acknowledgment that you work for them,” O’Regan explains.
“I always say it’s that time of year now and every four years I have to come by and I have to ask for my job back. This is a very public performance review. I love my job, I love doing what I do. I feel very fortunate to have this job and I want it back. The most important thing I can tell them is that I work hard for them and that I enjoy working hard for them. And that’s what fuels me.”
A unified party
Backed by a unified party, the ever-present support of volunteers and positive feedback from constituents, O’Regan relishes the road back to Ottawa and tackling what challenges may await him if the will of the people favours him at the polls.
“I worked for Brian Tobin for two years as his policy adviser back in the ’90s and he always said you run like you’re 20 points behind. You got to stay on your game and you’ve got to win back every vote. And that’s the attitude that all of us have. I love getting out there. I love talking to people. I love the communities and the cities that I represent.
“When I go to the doors now and people say I voted for you (in 2015) when we were a third place party, a distant third place party and I’m going to vote again, there’s no higher praise that I could ever ask for. And it really rocks you very deeply because these are people who took a leap of faith four years ago … I haven’t been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but if they’re willing to have me back then that’s as much as you could possibly ask for.”