Walton: hare gaining on the tortoise

Green Party candidate Eric Walton.
Green Party candidate Eric Walton.
Journal File Photo

Eric Walton, the Green Party candidate for Kingston and the Islands, thinks Queen’s students have an important role to play in the Jan. 23 election.

“If I have any message to students, it’s to shake things up,” said Walton, who graduated from Queen’s with a BA in political studies in 1982. “Suddenly we [the Greens] could have a voice in every media scrum ... and [electing more Greens] will help the whole parliamentary system by increasing the range of views.”

After being born in Ottawa and spending his formative years in various locales across Europe, the Middle East and Asia, Walton came to Kingston in 1978 to study at the University, and he hasn’t looked back since.

The married father of two children has co-founded two businesses—Odyssey Travel, which he started while in his second year at Queen’s, and Logkit Inc.—and one multi-issue non-profit environmental group, the Kingston Environmental Action Project. Walton worked as the agency’s part-time director from 1985 until 1994, and he said the experience helped in a way to push him into politics.

“[The decision to step into the political arena] had a lot to do with the Conservative Common Sense Revolution [carried out by Ontario Premier Mike Harris in the 1990s],” Walton said.

Much of the environmental and social advocacy work he had done was obliterated by Harris’ government, he said, and “a lot of us despaired. It became clear to us that we had to get involved at a political level to prevent good work from being thrown out.”

So Walton found his way into a supporting role for the Green Party in Kingston.

“[The party] was so close to what I personally felt,” he said. “I had become very disillusioned by [Bob Rae’s] NDP majority government in Ontario, which basically became a Liberal government.

“There were so many changes I thought would happen, and so few were actually made, in any kind of structural way ... so the first thing [Harris’] Conservative government did was reverse all of it, even the good things.”

Walton said he was drawn to the Greens’ triple-barreled approach.

“They were triple-bottom line—financially responsible, socially progressive and environmentally aware,” he said, adding that his work in small businesses and social and environmental groups had pushed him in those directions himself.

Walton found himself running in the 2003 provincial election after the first selected candidate stepped down.

“I overcame large fears of public speaking and my private nature, and I really had a great time,” Walton said. So when the opportunity arose to run in the 2004 federal election, he jumped at the chance to take his—and his party’s—message to the nation.

When asked what issues he would raise first in the federal parliament on behalf of his riding, Walton’s answer was three-pronged and swift.

“First, this community has a very serious social housing crunch ... a real issue of shelter,” he said. “We need to address homelessness in Canada and get it off the books completely. It can be done, but it needs a new focus and energy.”

On the environmental front, Walton said he’s concerned about pollution in “toxic hot spots” like Belle Island Bay, and the “continuous preservation” of historical sites like Fort Henry.

And in the area of finances, Walton said he would employ “ethical lobbying” to attract new services and industries to Kingston. He said he prefers to champion new ideas, such as a “centre of excellence for 3D planning” to improve the delivery of Canadian foreign aid, rather than grabbing contracts through political manoeuvring.

Walton said he was surprised the issues of Canada’s conduct in Haiti and recent signing of a deep integration bill with the U.S. and Mexico weren’t raised during the campaign.

“The issues that were not spoken of were the most important,” he said.

Despite his underdog status against a long-serving Liberal candidate, Walton said he is optimistic.

“Peter Milliken doesn’t feel he’s threatened, [but] the fable of the tortoise and the hare could apply here,” he said. “Queen’s students have a really interesting opportunity to send a message about proportional representation by electing a Green. ... There are enough students that they could [do so], because our base in the Kingston community is already there.”

For more information: kingstongreens.ca

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