Karina Gould's balancing act in her fight for the Liberals and her hometown

Having just put her infant son down for a nap, Karina Gould arrived at the farmer’s market in Burlington, Ont., on Saturday afternoon to meet with constituents. 

“I’ve never stopped door-knocking,” said Gould, who was elected the member of parliament for Burlington for the Liberals in 2015 at the age of 28. Her bright red Converse sneakers made it easy to spot her in the crowd as she gravitated toward a mixed basket of peaches and plums.

In 2017, the rookie politician became the youngest female cabinet minister in Canadian history when she was tapped to replace Maryam Monsef as Minister of Democratic Institutions.

She took over the beleaguered file and was handed a mandate that included defending the Canadian electoral process from cyber threats.

WATCH BELOW: Karina Gould takes over troubled democratic reform portfolio (Jan. 10, 2017)

That mandate did not include electoral reform, a key Liberal campaign promise from 2015 that the government abandoned after an extensive consultation process due to what the government described as a lack of consensus on the issue. One of her first tasks was to answer for the government’s reversal including a grilling by opposition MPs.

With the official election campaign getting off the ground, things have been ramping up for Gould and her team of volunteers as they defend the riding that Gould won in 2015, by just 3.5 per cent over the previous Conservative MP Mike Wallace, who had served for nearly a decade.

Burlington was hit by the red wave during the last election, which took nearly all of the ridings in the crucial Greater Toronto Area away from the Conservatives.

Gould, who has had to manage her duties as an MP for Burlington and her duties to Canadians as minister, is tasked with convincing her community to stay with her. During the last election, Gould constantly had to answer for her youth, but this time she has to convince voters of her government’s record and trustworthiness.

WATCH (Aug. 16, 2019): Your leader has betrayed your trust’, says Andrew Scheer

“If Liberals come out and vote, we’ll win again,” Gould said. “But if they stay home, then the Conservatives will. Because the Conservative vote is pretty solid in this community, no matter what.”

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau bails on long-held promise to change Canada’s voting system (Feb. 1, 2017)

At the market, one of her campaign volunteers led her past stalls of corn and jars of honey to one selling figurines made of metal cutlery — spoons and knives fashioned into tulips and spiders rested on the tables. The owner, Harold, offered to make Gould a cricket out of a fork. 

“Crickets are supposed to be luck, right?” Harold said, using a pair of pliers to bend the prongs upwards for the antennae. “A buddy of mine does a lot of gambling, way too much. He came by here and I made a cricket for him. But after that, he told me he lost 600 bucks!”

Harold handed Gould the finished cricket, insisting it’s a gift. She asked if she can at least give him a toonie for it.

“No no, give it to her. She has an autism booth, and my grandson has autism,” he said, pointing to a woman sitting at a table selling stuffed toys and jewelry, the proceeds of which go towards autism advocacy. 

Gould placed the metal insect in her tote bag with the McGill University logo, her alma mater where she earned a degree in Latin American studies and political science.

Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions and Burlington MP, at the local farmer's market. (Rachel Browne/Global News)

Karina Gould, Minister of Democratic Institutions and Burlington MP, at the local farmer's market. (Rachel Browne/Global News)

Rachel

She approached the tables and dropped her change into the donation box. Gould asked the woman whether she had been affected by changes to the provincial autism program under Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s government. The woman said no, because she had fundraised for years to pay for schooling for her son. 

“But there are still a lot of other moms out there who are struggling,” she told Gould.

WATCH (July 19, 2019): Ontario government promises needs based autism program

“I hear a lot about autism,” Gould said in the car on the way to knock on doors in a nearby neighbourhood. “I don’t hear a lot of federal issues. I hear almost exclusively provincial issues at the door. People are so concerned with the cuts.”

For months, the Liberals have pointed to cuts made by the Ford government as a warning for what could happen under a federal Conservative government. Scheer has pushed back against those characterizations, saying that the Conservative plan will help ease financial burdens faced by Canadians.

READ MORE: Several tech giants sign onto Canadian declaration on electoral integrity

Another top issue Gould said she’s been hearing about is climate change.

It’s one of the biggest differences between what she’s seeing on the campaign trail now compared to the last election in 2015, near the end of an economic slowdown.

“There were a lot of people who had been laid off or were having trouble finding work,” Gould said. “It’s not perfect for anyone, but I don’t hear that at all anymore.

“Economically, we are doing really well in this region. People are feeling pretty good and confident about where we are.”

But the opposing candidates see things differently.

“Burlington is home to families and seniors. These two groups disproportionately share the burden of excessive taxation and spending that has been the hallmark of the Trudeau government. They have twice promised, and twice failed to balance the budget,” Conservative candidate Jane Michael told Global News in an email through her campaign manager.

“Residents of Burlington must ask themselves whether they want to continue down the path we are already on, or vote for an affordable future. Life will only become more unaffordable under Justin Trudeau.”

Michael is a restaurant owner and the former chair of the Halton Catholic School Board who previously sought, but did not attain, the nomination to run as the Ontario provincial Progressive Conservative candidate.

Jane Michael, the Conservative Party candidate for Burlington, Ont. (Jane Michael/Facebook)

Jane Michael, the Conservative Party candidate for Burlington, Ont. (Jane Michael/Facebook)

In 2018, Michael, still the school board trustee, was disciplined for breaching the board’s code of conduct, according to local media reports, but the specifics of the offence were not disclosed. Michael said that she would “love to comment on that,” but the Board rules prohibit her from doing so.

“Overwhelmingly, the main issue we hear is affordability. Whether it is the price of gas, groceries, rent, or a home, Burlingtonians are feeling the pinch at the end of the month,” Michael said in the email.

She said that while voters are concerned about the environment, the Liberal carbon tax “makes life more expensive for Canadian families and small businesses and makes virtually no contribution to the global fight against climate change.”

Lenaee Dupuis, the NDP candidate for Burlington who has worked in the medical device sector, told Global News over the phone that while the riding is “fairly affluent,” there are issues with housing affordability.

“We are wanting to make life affordable for everyday people. We are working towards the middle class and not helping the wealthy,” Dupuis said.

READ MORE: Twitter bans political ads during pre-campaign period ahead of federal vote

Green Party candidate Gareth Williams, who served as chair of the City of Burlington’s Sustainable Development Committee, told Global News in an email that residents tell him they are “simply disillusioned” with the Liberals.

“Whether lacklustre, contradictory action on climate change including sticking with the insufficient Harper-era carbon targets or using tax dollars to buy a boondoggle pipeline, the continuing scandal surrounding SNC-Lavalin and discarding their promise to balance the budget by 2019, the Liberals have shown themselves to be more interested in holding on to power than the needs of Canadians,” he said.

“It’s time for something different.”

WATCH BELOW: Conservative leader says Liberal’s fuel surcharge is ‘just another tax’

Gould’s team member drove up to a row of houses. Gould sat in the passenger seat, eating a burger with cheese off a paper plate from the campaign office.

“Conservative politicians are very good at making Liberals feel bad, feeling despair. That’s their way to win elections, to make Liberals feel that they don’t have a chance at winning,” Gould said.

Karina Gould's campaign headquarters in Burlington, Ont. (Rachel Browne/Global News)

Karina Gould's campaign headquarters in Burlington, Ont. (Rachel Browne/Global News)

Rachel Browne / Global News

Though she’s feeling confident going into the election, she isn’t taking her position for granted. And over the last four years, she says she has been surprised at how resilient she can be in the face of adversity. 

Gould’s mother, Gesa Kohn-Gould, passed away from colon cancer on New Year’s Eve in 2017, two months before Gould gave birth to her first child, Oliver. Kohn-Gould, who was 61 at the time of her death, worked as a veterinarian in Burlington.

“That was during the busiest times that I had as a minister,” Gould said. She was preparing to launch the debates commission and introduce Bill C-76, the Elections Modernization Act.  

“I kind of marvel at the fact that I just kept going,” she said. “In many ways, my work enabled me to get through some of the really difficult things because in this job, you don’t get an opportunity to stop.” 

“Often when I’m out in the community, people know me because I’m an MP and if they were a client they’d know my mom,” Gould said, pulling up to the first house. “I think that’s actually helped through the grieving process. I don’t have to put her away. She gets to be part of my every day.”

Most doors went unanswered, but a man jogging by told Gould she was doing a good job and that she had his vote.

WATCH BELOW: Minister Gould feeds her son during Question Period (June 21, 2018)

A house at the end of the block had a Canadian flag out front. One of Gould’s teammates had already spoken with the man who lives there, but he wanted to meet Gould. “Hello!” she said as she walked toward the doorway where he was standing.

“Your leader’s having challenges, causing lots of heartburn,” he said, referring to Justin Trudeau.

Gould was ready for this. “How so? The economy is doing well, unemployment is at an all-time low.”

“No, no, I know. But there’s some stuff that’s been happening with SNC and all that,” he replied, closing the door to keep the bugs out. 

Though a scathing report by the federal ethics commissioner in August found that Trudeau broke the law with his political involvement in the SNC-Lavalin affair, recent polling suggests that the matter isn’t bothering voters too much. 

READ MORE: Liberals, Tories essentially tied after damning SNC-Lavalin ethics report, Ipsos poll finds

The man said he was a long-time Liberal supporter, but told Gould that it was sad to see how the SNC-Lavalin affair played out, and his wife was having doubts about voting for the party.

“Well, she should call me,” Gould replied. “At the end of the day, nothing illegal, nothing criminal, no money changed hands.”

“Listen. I get it, I get it,” he said, adding that he used to work in senior management at a bank. “I understand the rationale. I truly believe that. I’ve run companies.”

Eventually the conversation switched to the riding, which Gould says she brings up all the time at Parliament and at the cabinet table.

“I don’t just get to be the minister, right? The prime minister chooses the cabinet and he chooses who’s in and who’s out,” Gould said. “I serve at the pleasure of the people of Burlington, and I serve at the pleasure of the prime minister.”

He nodded slowly. “I get it. You’re juggling all the time.”

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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