Ken Bolton is an angry kind of New Democrat.
It’s not a hateful anger. It’s more of a reasonable outrage kind of thing.
He’s a fist in the air, help the little guy and keep the bullies in their place kind of New Democrat.
Passion is his game, and when the longtime NDP staffer gets going, he knows how to work a crowd better than his political rivals.
At the recent debate on Arts issues, his jabs at Conservative candidate Darrell Pasloski drew both laughs and cheers from the crowd.
“I’m going to try hard to be polite,” Bolton said after Pasloski dropped some Conservative talking points.
And during his acceptance speech at the NDP meeting in September, he raised a barn burner with his fiery indictment of oil and natural gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Even in an interview over coffee at Baked Cafe, he can easily forget he isn’t in front of a podium.
“We need somebody who’s going to stand up to the Americans and, in particular, the Alaskans on the Porcupine caribou herd,” he said.
“I know Larry (Bagnell) has been down to Washington a few times and I know Premier Fentie has spent 20 seconds of quality time shaking George Bush’s hand. But we need somebody who’s going to say, ‘No, No, No!’ You can stand on that side of the border and scream, ‘Drill, baby, drill’ all you want, but we’re talking about a living resource that is a central part of the lifestyle of a people.”
His passion reveals a common thread in Bolton’s thinking — that inequality in financial, political or even ecological terms is a source of injustice.
“I believe in the Christian ethic that I am my brother’s keeper, though I would not phrase it in necessarily religious terms,” he said.
“I don’t feel responsibility for Conrad Black or a corporate CEO, he can take care of himself. But I do care about the people who are sleeping on the riverbank here. I have a moral obligation to make sure their lives are better.”
He doesn’t stuff his speeches with party lines. He simply lets it flow.
He makes it look effortless. But, then, it’s in his blood.
His father, also Ken Bolton, moved from England and was an Archdeacon in southern Ontario.
Both were members of the NDP.
Ken junior ran for office in the Ontario legislature in 1967, just 24 years old. He lost, but just two years later his father ran and won in a byelection in Middlesex South.
Medicare mania was sweeping the country, and the Ontario government’s reluctance to endorse it gave the provincial NDP some extra steam in a traditionally Conservative region.
The reverend’s campaign manager was none other than a young Stephen Lewis.
But if you think Bolton’s politics is all about socialist Big Brother government, you’d be fooled.
Just ask him about Bill C-10, a measure introduced by the Conservatives to give the Heritage minister power to block funding to artists who run against “public policy.”
“It’s basically based on this kind of moralistic ideology that says we don’t like a certain film or we don’t like the name of a certain rock band so, therefore, we should not give funding to the arts,” he said.
It’s about artistic freedom, not political interference.
“My own personal moral code is probably very conservative. My social code is very liberal,” he said.
“I’ve acted in plays I thought were disgusting,” he said during the arts debate. “However, it should not be politicians who make that kind of decision.”
This only acerbates his indignation at the idea of cutting arts funding at all.
“People don’t go to Rome to see the bones of old politicians, and they don’t go to Greece to see who were the generals in the Peloponnesian War. They go to those places because of the vibrant culture that those countries have given and shared with the world.”
For him, art is the cornerstone of Canadian identity. But the erosion of Canadian independence doesn’t stop there.
The war in Afghanistan has a lot to do with 9-11, he said, but it’s also about building pipelines in Afghanistan.
“I don’t think Canadian teenagers and young people should be dying for Halliburton. It’s as blunt as that.
“We need a Canadian foreign policy that is thoughtful and independent. And one that doesn’t suck us into the American vortex.”
Bolton is keen to point out that his credentials aren’t just all talk.
On the environment file, he’s found ways to prove he’s deeper than the green craze sweeping our political discourse.
“When I lived in Prince Edward Island in the mid-1970s, I lived in the only house that was windmill powered,” he said.
The previous owner was an American draft-dodger who was trying to get back to the land.
“My motivation wasn’t the purest. I did it so I could say ‘Screw you Maritime Electric,’ and I didn’t want to be on the grid. But the more I used it, the more I thought, this makes a lot of sense.”
Bolton has no problem making himself heard.
Despite a life with the NDP, he doesn’t always stick to the script.
However, the question on election day will be whether his straight talk has helped the NDP differentiate itself from the crowded rabble on the political left.