Don Johnston Liberal Party — Kootenay-Columbia needs 'Real Change'
There are only a few more sleeps left on the calendar for voters and candidates in Canada’s 42nd General Election.
Monday (October 19) Canadian head to the polls to to elect members to the House of Commons.
One of the new ridings in this election is Kootenay-Columbia, where challenging candidates — Bill Green of the Green Party, Liberal candidate Don Johnston and Wayne Stetski of the NDP — are trying to unseat incumbent David Wilks of the ruling Conservative Party.
To help voters in the Kootenay-Columbia riding make their decision, The Nelson Daily reporter Tim Schafer has interviewed the candidates to ask them their thoughts on the upcoming election.
Today, Schafer speaks with Don Johnston of the Liberal Party.
A dedicated father, community activist, and non-profit executive who grew up in Nelson, Don Johnston has spent a lifetime addressing the issues which his community faces.
From youth apathy to strengthening environmental protections, Johnston has the proven experience and ambition to represent the Kootenay-Columbia riding in Ottawa.
As the chief executive officer of Columbia Basin Trust, Johnston oversaw various initiatives aimed at protecting the social, economic and environmental viability of the Kootenay Columbia region. As a result, Johnston’s leadership ensures future generations — including his daughter’s — will inherit a local environment that offers opportunities for them and their children.
Johnston is the former president and CEO of Canada World Youth — an organization which creates partnerships between young Canadians and community development projects around the world — and served on the advisory committee boards for the Vancouver Sun Children’s Fund and the YMCA Vancouver International Programs.
Johnston’s community work has created numerous opportunities for youth, leading to more inclusion in the democratic process.
Johnston earned his Masters of Arts in Leadership and Training from Royal Roads University and has specialized training in managing non-profit organizations.
Johnston currently resides with his wife Jeanette, and their dog, Kayos, in Nelson. Their daughter, Danielle, is living and working in Toronto.
“I love looking out my window at Kootenay Lake and the mountains every morning,” Johnston said. “I love meeting people in every corner of the Kootenay-Columbia, and I cheer for the Canucks.”
— Source: Liberal Party
What do you see as the major issue federally in this election that you can address?
Obviously people are really concerned about economic stability, and the ability to live in this paradise we’re all lucky enough to call home.
So creating the conditions for small business to be able to thrive is important. But the stagnant economy is a symptom of a government that doesn’t understand Canada’s needs. These concerns all get magnified in a rural area like the West Kootenay. So the major issue is change.
We need a government that can work with the provinces, with First Nations, with the international community, with all sectors of the economy, with the middle class and with those who are trying to get there. It’s a different way of looking at issues, a different set of principals and it has different results.
That’s real change.
Locally, that leads to a rural region that works together on infrastructure programs, environmental priorities and youth employment, and an MP who understands those issues and can work across sectors within the entire riding can raise the profile of the Kootenay.
What do you see as some of the major issues locally that can be addressed?
Politicians in small town areas will always tell you that they will work to improve youth employment, diversify an economy or ensure good health care, but I know from previous work that we can have an impact.
We all understand that the economy affects the environment and that here the environment is our economy. The two aren’t exclusive. Encouraging sustainable forest practices should not impact endangered species. Growth in tourism and skiing doesn’t have to be done at the expense of other important principals we share.
So for me step one for the Kootenay-Columbia is to select an MP who can raise the concerns that challenge rural areas. An MP who fundamentally believes his first responsibility is to his constituents and whose party supports more open and transparent government, with fewer restrictions on its members, can introduce the programs and policies that do affect us.
With the West Kootenay region being a small, forgotten factor on the federal stage, how can you get more government grants and jobs flowing into our region?
When I accepted the Liberal candidacy I said that if Justin Trudeau comes here he’ll be returning to a region he knows very well, but if Stephen Harper drops in it means someone showed him a map.
Close to 80 per cent of Canadians live in urban communities and rural issues are not highly visible on the national agenda. My entire career has been about community action and I joined this Liberal team because Trudeau’s leadership style immediately helps me raise our profile.
The Liberal infrastructure program is about more than just doubling investments on deteriorating roads and sewers. Economists will tell you these investment have direct spinoffs into good job creation.
That program would be supported with a $500 million annual increase for the Labour Market Development Agreement to support regional job retention.
Employer’s EI premiums will also be waived for one year whenever they hire an 18 to 24-year-old. We will expand pre-apprenticeship training and create a three-year, $300 million youth employment strategy aimed at creating 40,000 jobs each year. My role as an MP is to make sure we see the benefits right here.
The Liberal platform gives control to municipalities and regions so the infrastructure needs identified by Kootenayites will determine where the money will go and where the jobs will go.
If elected, how do you see one person making a difference if you are not a member of the governing party?
One person doesn’t make a difference but your MP doesn’t need to be a part of the ‘winning’ caucus to have an impact in your riding.
At the Columbia Basin Trust we developed initiatives to address economic, environmental and social needs, and an MP should foster and facilitate those same partnerships. With Canada World Youth we brought people together to build collective approaches for sustainable communities, and work with the YMCA International Programs brought us into some disaster areas where you had to work with diverse groups for immediate results.
In this riding I would work to be a catalyst for technological advancement and innovation to develop new industries. Technology is going to be a key factor here. We’re a lifestyle area and we already have a lot of people that live in Nelson and other places that work elsewhere. We need to start to look beyond the resource-based economy in terms of long-term stability.
As your MP I will have the attention of a party that understands and supports local needs, and I’ve pledged to hold accountability meetings in every major community every year. I will be working to bring people together throughout the riding regardless of what Canada decides on Oct. 19. I think that can make a difference.
What prompted you to want to step into the political arena?
I’m from here. I’m a Kootenay guy. I grew up in Nelson and went to L.V. Rogers and Notre Dame University before branching off to work nationally and internationally.
My entire career has involved working with organizations that play important roles to create stronger communities and a more equitable sharing of resources and opportunities.
I truly believe we all need to take personal initiative to create the conditions for a change in government. Over the last 10 years, as I would return to Canada or be talking to others around the world, I became increasingly aware of a deterioration in our reputation, our successes and our belief in the future of the country.
So I joined the team that has made us proud to be Canadians and I hope to help bring that back to the Kootenay-Columbia because this is where I live.