Canada’s Conservative Party Candidate Addresses Homelessness

Bryan Brulotte and Leigh Bursey

Interview with Bryan Brulotte, a Contender in the Race to Lead Canada’s Opposition Party

Canadian politics is a tricky business. Unlike our American counterparts who seemingly exist in a two-party system, our Westminster Parliamentary stage play is much more fractured. The lines of division between ideologies should be more apparent due to this. However, this often means each party must ride the centre rails and appeal to voters from different political persuasions. This could not be more evident now as our federal government exists within a minority parliamentary framework that would require the support of parties other than your own.

That said, no matter how centrist our government often appears to be, our national opposition party (the Conservative Party of Canada) has not always illustrated a history of progressive social values. In fact, the hard-right wing leg of the Conservative Party has often been associated with some less than positive policy. Last October, some of those outdated policy planks were put to the test of public scrutiny, and they came up short. Conservative Party of Canada leader Andrew Scheer was unsuccessful in his bid to become Canada’s next Prime Minister. And his leadership was under review from that moment on.

The intense media scrutiny, and inner-party turmoil would factor into his resignation. I feel that this fact is relevant to the readers of Invisible People for two distinct reasons. One being that as leader of Canada’s official opposition party, Andrew famously voted against the National Housing Strategy and has been critical of the legislated strategy which also includes a focus on homelessness prevention. And two, now that his days leading the charge against the sitting governing party are numbered, a whole slew of capable candidates will be vying to replace him.

How they choose to separate themselves from their less-than-popular outgoing leader is going to be key. Will the would-be potential contenders appeal to their existing support base? Or hope to expand it by rebranding what it means to be a modern conservative in Canada?

I recently got the rare opportunity to sit down and speak with the first contender out of the gates on the very day he launched his national leadership campaign. Bryan Brulotte is the first contestant in this race. But he is also a virtual unknown on the national stage of political theatre. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though. If anything, this could play to his advantage if his goal is to rebrand the party from the ground up.

Although the average consumer of Canadian politics might not know much about Bryan, there is a lot here for progressives to be excited about. For starters, he is pro-choice, pro LGBTQ2S, a believer in climate change, and a proud member of the Canadian Armed Forces. This not only illustrates that he believes in service before self, but also that his moderate views provide a landing strip for those of us who might not believe in a socially regressive political party forming government.

Being that Bryan is a Canadian war veteran and also running to fill some pretty big shoes (that have a history of not being plugged into the struggles of Canada’s precariously housed, underhoused, and homeless), I decided to take this opportunity to speak to him directly about his views and opinions on poverty in Canada.

How can he position himself differently by demonstrating an awareness and sincerity regarding our most vulnerable populations?

When sitting with Bryan, I asked him particularly about recent phrasing used during the Parliamentary “throne speech” that indicated a renewed focus by the sitting Liberal government specific to veteran homelessness. Striking a chord with him personally, this inspired a more free-flowing conversation about homelessness in Canada, and his comments were thoughtful.

“Homelessness in Canada, when we talk about what we see on city streets, is very much linked to mental health. When we look at it on an aggregate basis, the larger population of homeless in this country are men as opposed to women. The nature of what needs to be done, I think, is one of trying to solve the larger mental health issue, but also to reintegrate individuals into society and into employment opportunities. I believe this is a virtuous circle. And what I mean by that is that as their mental health improves, they’re being integrated. As they’re being integrated, they’re mental health improves.”

“It is not just one side of the coin. It is both sides of the coin. When we look at and examine homelessness, it is not just the cold face of intervention and support services that are required, but there is also the mid-term to long-term attempts that could better solve the issue. Our goal should be more than to examine the current issues, but to attempt to solve them. And that is where we get into the larger mental health issues, employment, and sustainability.”

Throughout much of this conversation, Bryan reverted to traditional conservative talking points about employment as means to an end.

This did not surprise me. And while I believe the issue to be larger than any remedial job can fix alone, I can also appreciate the merits of his arguments. When encouraging him to flesh it out a bit more, he continued that “with employment comes a sense of dignity and skill development, inclusion and togetherness. Often without employment, people tend to wander, and they drift. Often those in need don’t have something to latch on to in efforts to improve their mental health and sense of purpose.”

When confronted with questions about how his outgoing leader voted against the National Housing Strategy, Bryan was quick to share his opinions. He did not shy away from the discussion, all while keeping a respectful tone about his predecessor and expanding on how he would do things differently.

“I would be supportive of progressive initiatives that tackle tough issues. I will give you an example. The veteran’s housing initiative in Calgary. I met with a gentleman in Calgary who is raising money for a veteran homeless community made up of tiny homes. It is a series of homes that are positioned in such a fashion that a community is created. This is SUPER COOL! And it is understood that this is not a long-term home, but instead a bridge in between that emergency requirement that you have, and that light at the end of the tunnel where you can establish yourself on the other end and you can grow as a person. This provides an opportunity to re-establish one’s mental health, re-establish and develop skills, and re-establish community and family relationships.”

As our sit-down interview continued, what did impress me about Bryan was that while he admitted that his grasp on certain nuances within the broader housing and homelessness sector was limited, he seemed eager to learn more.

While certain old adages popped up from time-to-time as we discussed his party and his platform, truthfully there were also numerous kernels of truth and progressively compassionate opinions spilling out of him, too. Bryan talked passionately about reforming our national prison systems and stepping away from just penalizing everyone for crimes that often bog down our court system.

“We don’t want to put people into a social setting where they will just become hardened or more damaged,” he explained in reference to how our current system creates a space for revictimization and often does not provide the positive skills enhancement opportunities necessary for a fulfilling life after serving time in prison. “We want to give people hope, dignity, and opportunities,” Bryan explained, as he discussed his views on social enterprise.

Bryan indicated that he would be open to continuing the work being done with the National Housing Strategy and national homelessness strategies including research, effective policy, advisory networks, and giving provinces and municipalities the necessary tools to combat these issues.

“Many of the more tactical approaches to dealing with homelessness are not done at a national level, but we can set a tone that is compassionate. I want to be the leader of a government that demonstrates empathy and compassion within the budget constraints that we adhere to.”

When I asked him if he really believed that was truly possible, he seemed confident that it was. This is a far cry from the absence of thought to these issues that I often hear from many in party politics, but only time will tell.


Leigh Bursey

Leigh Bursey

        

Leigh Bursey is a 35 year old resident of Mount Pearl, Newfoundland, Canada. Born in St. John's, Newfoundland, Leigh spent over twenty years in Ontario, where he was a three term former municipal councillor. Leigh is an International Best-Selling Author, an award-winning singer/songwriter and recording artist, actor, painter, and community organizer/policy advocate. Leigh is the co-founder of the Brockville Streetfriends and current lead for the Mount Pearl Streetfriends outreach networks. He is an International Chartered Housing Professional, a shelter worker, and a former provincial Housing Officer. Leigh is a board member for the Canadian Housing Renewal Association and the National Alliance to End Rural and Remote Homelessness, and the LivEx Scholars With Lived Experience through Making The Shift. Leigh is a newlywed and a first-time homeowner. Leigh has lived experience with homelessness.

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