By Allison Jones
One of Ontario’s newest elected representatives has a wealth of political experience, is a kickboxing champion on the side, and gets a lot of her best thinking done on her riding lawn mower.
Meet Bobbi Ann Brady, the first independent in decades to win a seat in the legislature.
“I’m already formulating my goals and ambitions for our riding and the things that I want to set up, the roundtables and the issues that I first want to bring forward,” said the newest member of provincial parliament for Haldimand-Norfolk.
“So those things are already in my mind, and my grass is about a foot tall. So tonight as I’m riding around on my riding lawn mower, I am sure that those thoughts will continue.”
Amid a sea of 83 blue seats on Ontario’s new electoral map that were won by the Progressive Conservatives, there are swaths of NDP orange in the north and downtown Toronto, a smidge of red Liberal seats mostly in Ottawa and Toronto pockets, and a Green spot representing the re-elected party leader.
But one riding stands out. It might be brown or grey, depending on the map, but either way, it’s an anomaly.
Brady’s win as an independent in Thursday’s election ended the Progressive Conservative hold on the riding of Haldimand-Norfolk and its predecessors since 1995. That year was also the last time voters anywhere in the province sent an independent representative to the legislature.
Brady actually worked for the riding’s former Tory representative, Toby Barrett, for 23 years as an executive and legislative assistant and he backed her campaign.
Barrett had not intended to run again in 2022, but he and Brady — who was the local PC riding association president — were not happy that the party decided against a nomination meeting in order to appoint Haldimand County Mayor Ken Hewitt as the candidate.
Barrett told a local media outlet he was disappointed that one of his “archrivals” would be running in his riding. The story in community outlet The Sachem cited Barrett as pointing to disagreements over COVID-19 communications and the handling of First Nations protests.
Brady said she and Barrett couldn’t condone Hewitt’s appointment since he had previously tried to seek a federal Liberal nomination.
So her independent campaign was born, and it became about respecting the grassroots and listening to constituents, she said.
“I think Haldimand-Norfolk has done a great job in sending that message that, ‘Hey, you know what? You expected us to go to the ballot box and just check off the PC candidate’s name and we didn’t do that,'” she said.
“You can’t continually disrespect us, our vote and our money and continue to be rewarded.”
Brady said she pulled support not only from disaffected Progressive Conservative voters, but also from Liberal and NDP camps. Those people then went door to door, called their friends, relatives and neighbours, and helped her win, Brady said.
“We won this campaign on old-fashioned values and old-fashioned campaigning, where people just went out and talked about Bobbi Ann Brady, and it worked,” she said.
Election rules meant she couldn’t spend money on campaigning until the writ period officially began. She ordered materials as soon as the election was on, but her signs and campaign literature didn’t arrive until halfway through, she said.
“Other candidates were already out there campaigning well ahead of me, they are already spending money putting up signs soon as the writ was dropped,” she said.
“So we were two and a half weeks disadvantaged. And yet, we made it happen.”
Brady said she is working toward her black belt in karate and got into kickboxing about seven or eight years ago, winning at nationals and travelling to a world competition in Florida.
She is a hockey player too, participating in boys leagues until she was 18 years old, then playing women’s hockey. It was at the arena that someone suggested she try kickboxing and she loved it.
She is excited to get to work at the legislature and raise issues such as local highway infrastructure and a controversial proposed development, but for now, she needs to let the historic win sink in.
“You go, go, go for 28 days straight and you don’t sleep much and you think about what it looks like on the other side,” she said. “But once you get to the end of that and you’re on the other side, it’s a whole new ball of wax.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2022.
Feature image – Independent MPP Bobbi Ann Brady, as shown in this recent handout image, will represent residents of Haldimand-Norfolk at Queens park after winning the riding in the 2022 Ontario provincial election. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Rose-Le Studios, Simcoe