A skilled mediator
|A VOICE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE. This is the first-time run for NDP candidate Nicholas Simons, a mediator for the Sechelt Band.(Image by Xtra West files)||
story by Diane Claveau /
Jun 24 2004
"I’ve been interested in politics since Halloween was almost cancelled during The October Crisis.” Nicholas Simons lived in Westmount, Montreal in the early 1970s. He was six years old when the separatists kidnapped politicians and he liked Halloween. “I remember my parents explaining to me that there were people that didn’t get along with each other.” Simons had an early political awakening.
The trauma of nearly losing Halloween at such a young age “formed my idea that mediation is probably a better response to any issue. It might be boring and it might not be flashy, but it’s what makes communities healthier.” Now 39, Simons says his mediation skills are one of his strengths. The past six years he has negotiated agreements with both the federal and provincial governments as director of health and social services for the Sechelt Band on the Sunshine Coast.
The riding of West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast includes Powell River, Whistler and West Vancouver. “It’s a big riding,” he sighs, and this is Simons’ first run for political office. “West Vancouver has never been a hotbed for the NDP, but I thought it was important to make sure that my voice and the voices of my friends and colleagues and peers, were at least heard. My goal is to give them an alternative to the traditional big parties.”
He decided to take responsibility, “instead of being cynical on the sidelines—to actually get involved. I was glad to know that I could make a difference even if it was just to get the message of the NDP across and be a voice for social justice.” Simons is humbled that his constituency saw something in him they could be comfortable with.
With a Master’s degree in criminology from Simon Fraser University, Simons is acquainted with the outdated bawdyhouse laws used to charge people in a raid against Calgary’s gay bathhouse in 2002. “I think we need to take a very good look at laws that marginalize people, laws that make people less safe, laws that promote unhealthy activities. Legislation should not create worse conditions for people. I have a problem telling people who are engaged in consensual activity what they can and can’t do.”
A federal NDP government would legalize gay marriage, he assures. “The federal government is responsible for writing legislation and they can’t always rely on their big brother to back them up every time they want something decided. What churches want to do is entirely up to the churches. As far as I’m concerned it’s a human rights issue.”
He believes that people don’t vote because they can’t relate to those they see in politics. “I don’t believe it’s apathy—it’s cynicism, it’s disenfranchisement.” Simons believes that if the non-voters see people who are similar to them running for political office, perhaps they would be more likely to get involved. “People are ready for some substance over style—not that I’m without style, as a gay man,” he adds quickly.
“I did have a chance to talk to Svend [Robinson] a couple of times. I have a lot of respect for him. I know that so many of the battles that he fought have made my path smoother. He’s cleared the path in so many ways. Not just being the first openly gay candidate but just in the area of pursuing issues that are important to everybody. I have a huge admiration for what he’s done.”
Simons’ focus is on youth. “I’m representing people who don’t have a voice and I hope I can undo some of the cynicism that’s been bred in young people by the fact that two major parties don’t really listen.” The youth vote is important to him. “Working with young people I’ve seen the frustration in their belief that they don’t get heard.”
He said he worries about high suicide rates, which, he says, are “a direct result of a society that’s not accepting. And it’s still hard for kids to come out—not as hard as it was for me or for people older than me,” he qualifies. “I was lucky to have so many people go before me.”
The voting age should be lower and kids should have a right to determine who’s representing them, he believes. “They should be given credit for understanding that they’re part of this world.”
Simons doesn’t buy into the myth that society can protect youth by censoring gay materials, such as shipments bound for Little Sister’s. “As a social worker I know where children are oppressed, I know where children are at risk—and it’s not from a bookstore! Most often it’s from poverty, from lack of access to education,” he continues, “from lack of support for families.
He believes the current government will use that as “a hot button issue” that was raised in order to deflect attention “from the issues that the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party really don’t have a clue how to deal with.”
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