Forty-nine rookie MPs will be seeking to make their mark when the minority Parliament resumes this fall, while two familiar faces defeated in 2019 — Liberals Randy Boissonnault and John Aldag — will return to the House of Commons after successful political comebacks.
And while many observers have claimed the summer federal election changed little, those new faces will ensure this Parliament is not a carbon copy of the last.
There will be more women in the House — 103 — than at any other time in Canadian history. Twenty-two of the new MPs elected in September are women.
Women will hold 30 per cent of the seats in the Commons, up from 29 per cent after the 2019 election. There were 100 female MPs at the time of dissolution.
The 2021 federal election also saw the election of a record number of candidates — eight — from the LGBTQ and two-spirit community. Of those MPs, three are first-timers.
Melissa Lantsman, the incoming Conservative MP for the Ontario riding of Thornhill, spoke out after the 2019 election to say her party’s outdated approach to LGBTQ issues had hurt its electoral fortunes.
The 37-year-old former political strategist is now set to become the second openly gay Conservative MP.
“I know that there are still a lot of hearts and minds to win on a lot of different issues and I think that it’s important to be that force within the movement rather than outside of it,” she said.
Lantsman’s parents are from Odessa, Ukraine, formerly part of the Soviet Union. She said they came to Thornhill in 1975 and “created the life that they dreamed of from one that they ran away from.”
For Lantsman, that meant growing up as a trilingual Toronto Blue Jays fanatic. She speaks Russian, English and French.
“Thornhill is a great, safe place to grow up. You can truly do whatever you want to do,” she said. “They put me in French immersion, which was a calculated move on their part to try to fit in as new immigrants to Canada.”
Asked if she now feels pressure to be the fresh, progressive face of the party, Lantsman said that Conservatives still have a lot of work to do.
“I think that the more faces that are young, that are urban, that hold values of freedom of religion and equality, I think that’s a better Conservative Party,” she said.
Canada’s first openly two-spirit MP
The new crop of MPs will need to wait a little longer before formally taking their seats in the House of Commons. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday that Parliament will return on Nov. 22.
Blake Desjarlais, the incoming NDP MP for the riding of Edmonton Griesbach, said he didn’t always see politics as a place where a person like him would be welcome.
“I always knew that as a place that didn’t see us, didn’t care for Indigenous people, didn’t want Indigenous people,” he said.
Since the election, the 27-year-old Métis has been candid about the pain he faced on his road to the House of Commons.
He told CBC News last month that his late birth mother, Brenda — a victim of the Sixties Scoop who supported herself as a sex worker in Edmonton — fell into the grip of substance abuse. She asked her sister Grace, a woman she barely knew, for help.
Desjarlais said Grace adopted him and brought him to the Fishing Lake Métis Settlement, giving him the cultural “inheritance” his mother never knew.
Desjarlais said that while there were moments when he felt abandoned and unloved, he remembers being moved while visiting Brenda’s tiny apartment after she passed away. He was a teenager at the time.
“[She] had all these little knick-knacks of mine from when I was a kid,” he said. “You know, popsicle art and this little craft for my school that I never thought twice about. She kept every single one of them, and so neatly.”
Desjarlais said Brenda deserves to be “seen in esteem and proud of what she’s done, which was to save an Indigenous child’s life.”
Desjarlais is set to become the first openly two-spirit MP in Canadian history. The term is used to describe Indigenous people who identify as having both a masculine and feminine spirit. Desjarlais said it’s about reclaiming a pre-colonization tradition in Indigenous societies that did not believe in an either-or approach to gender.
“Two-spirit people are people who often operate within or between worlds,” he said. “There’s a Cree word for this — tastawiyiniwak — the ‘in-between people.’ The people who are in-between. And these people are often great leaders in our ancient societies.”
Before being elected, Desjarlais served as director of public affairs and national operations with the Métis Settlements General Council. He said he was inspired to run for office in part because of “some of the great deficits in dialogue amongst our members of Parliament” on Indigenous issues.
MPs of colour in the new Parliament
Desjarlais said he is eager to get to work on pushing anti-poverty initiatives and being a voice for young people facing the “terrible collapsing fear” that they will never own a home or live the lives they once imagined for themselves.
Desjarlais is not the only new Indigenous MP. New Democrat Lori Idlout, who is Inuk, won in Nunavut, and Conservative Adam Chambers, who is Métis, won the Ontario riding of Simcoe North.
Twelve MPs of Indigenous origins will participate in the 44th Parliament.
At least nine Black Canadians were also elected to the House this fall, including several newcomers.
Leslyn Lewis, who ran for the Conservative leadership last year, rolled to victory in the rural Ontario riding of Haldimand-Norfolk, while former Ontario Liberal cabinet minister Michael Coteau won in the Toronto riding of Don Valley East
Arielle Kayabaga, the incoming Liberal MP for the Ontario riding of London West, left behind a seat on the London city council to make the jump to Parliament.
She said a mid-pandemic housing crisis in her city convinced her there is “a lot of work to do” and she ran in part because of the Liberals’ promised national housing strategy.
“We had to, at the city, create emergency shelters for people, to build spaces for people who are living rough and experiencing homelessness to be able to have a home to stay in while we were all quarantining and safe in our homes,” she said.
“It was a lot of work around housing that pushed me to want to get to a place where we can advocate for more money and we can advocate for more support to create more homes and more housing.”
From refugee to MP
As someone who grew up in social housing herself, Kayabaga, 30, said she wants to make sure young Canadians get the same opportunities she had.
She came to Canada as an 11-year-old refugee with her mother and siblings after her family fled Burundi during that country’s civil war. She said her family struggled to access health care and legal supports because of language barriers.
“When we came here, it was really difficult for us to navigate the system because we were francophones and we had to learn English,” she said.
She got a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton in 2013 and briefly worked on Parliament Hill. Kayabaga completed her undergraduate degree while raising a son, who is now 12.
“It was not easy to have a child in your first year of university and push through,” she said. “I’m happy that I got the support that I got from my family, my community, and that’s really what I want to offer people. The same support I’ve received in my life, to have a chance at life, is what I want to offer people as well.”
She said the Liberal government’s national child care plan, which promises fees of $10 per day within five years, was another reason she was excited to run for the party.
“I’ve been on the other side and I know what it feels like to need better in your country, to need better in your community,” she said.
Kayabaga is enrolled in a graduate program in political management at Carleton and told CBC she plans to complete it on a part-time basis by 2024.
Ontario’s first Green MP
Kitchener Centre’s Mike Morrice is another new MP expected to generate attention in the new Parliament. He made history as the first federal Green Party candidate ever elected in Ontario.
Morrice got his first taste of political activism as a 10-year-old in the town of Dollard-Des-Ormeaux on the West Island of Montreal, shortly after hearing that the local council was thinking of cracking down on street hockey.
He said he and his brothers decided to petition households in the area to keep the games going.
“You can imagine these kids going door-to-door, speaking with our neighbours about a petition to push back on council to not take away our ability to play street hockey,” he said with a laugh. “It was pretty well received.”
Morrice, now 37, moved with his family to Ontario as a 12-year-old and stayed in the Waterloo Region after studying business and computer electronics at Wilfrid Laurier University. It was there, he said, that he started to feel an “existential crisis” around climate change.
“Towards the end of my time in undergrad, it was this mix of frustration with the lack of action from our political leaders, along with my sense of optimism that our community could do something to have a positive impact,” he said.
After graduating in 2008, he co-founded Sustainable Waterloo Region, a nonprofit that helps companies in the area set targets to reduce their climate impact. Five years later, he co-founded a similar venture now known as Green Economy Canada.
‘It is pretty surreal still’
Morrice said he ran for the seat in 2019 because he felt federal public policy wasn’t meeting the moment or going fast enough to address climate change and the high cost of housing. He said he wore through three pairs of shoes, finishing about 5,800 votes short of Liberal incumbent Raj Saini.
He’d later announce that he had been diagnosed with stage 1 testicular cancer; his surgery took place just a week after election day in 2019.
“I’m happily cancer-free today, feeling quite lucky that it was caught early,” he told CBC News.
He said the positive response he received from neighbours in the last election inspired him to try again. The local riding campaign in 2021 ended up being quite different from the one just two years prior.
Saini abandoned his bid for re-election in the face of allegations that he’d made unwanted sexual advances and inappropriate comments to staffers. Though Saini denies behaving inappropriately, his move came too late for Liberals to find a new candidate or remove Saini’s name from the ballot.
Kitchener Centre suddenly became a riding to watch, with the leaders of the Greens, Conservatives and NDP all visiting the riding in the closing weeks of the campaign. In the end, Morrice won by more than 5,300 votes.
“It is pretty surreal still,” he said.
While other parties might have offered Morrice an easier path to the Commons, he said the Greens want MPs to be community representatives, not party spokespeople.
“Greens are the only party that does not have a whipped vote, meaning that their MPs are in a position to always put their communities first, party second,” he said.
“And that meant that every door that I knocked on for the last three years, every conversation in a backyard, I was genuinely listening to the concerns of my neighbours.”