With Hardy, the personal is political

It’s tough being ethical. And Todd Hardy sometimes wishes he wasn’t. “It’d be a lot easier,” the New Democrat leader…

It’s tough being ethical.

And Todd Hardy sometimes wishes he wasn’t.

“It’d be a lot easier,” the New Democrat leader said with a laugh.

But it seems Hardy doesn’t really have a choice.

“It’s almost like a curse,” he said.

“I have this huge social conscience and I can’t imagine being any other way.”

Even when he was banging nails and framing walls, before suits replaced his Carharts, Hardy championed social change.

And during his many years as a builder, he sat on various workers rights and apprenticeship boards.

Now, perched on a sawhorse, outside the Habitat for Humanity building site in Copper Ridge, Hardy is back in Carharts.

His hair is tussled, a look he says fellow party members discourage.

“They tell me, ‘Todd, please do something about your hair,’ but I can’t cut it ‘cause I don’t want to lose it any faster,” he said smoothing his unruly mane.

Hardy started Habitat’s Yukon chapter three years ago, to address the need for low-income, affordable housing in the territory.

“I guess, I’ve been a champion of people that haven’t had a voice for a long time,” said Hardy, tracing his impetus all the way back to Grade 3.

It was the first day in the new Jack Hulland School, and excited students were lined up for the gym, when a boy standing in front of Hardy horked a gob of spit into a young girl’s hair.

Hardy told the boy off and, after a scuffle, they ended up in the principal’s office.

Hardy didn’t know it at the time, but this incident was the beginning of a long legacy that would continually find him embroiled in fights to bring about change and right social injustices.

“I’ve always been involved in politics, in the sense that I’ve always taken an active role in trying to ensure that our society is structured in such a manner that people are treated with equality, respect and that politics is the people’s politics, it’s not politics that’s dominated by any one agenda, organization or group,” he said.

The spit-in-the-hair incident might also be responsible for Hardy’s continuing interest in self-defence.

For more than 30 years, he’s taught karate, which he pronounces “KaRahTay.”

“Between myself and my wife, we realized we’ve taught over 1,000 students, so far,” he said.

Hardy also hosts self-defence, self-esteem and non-violent communication classes.

“For the last 30 years, I’ve volunteered 10 to 20 hours a week,” he said.

But it wasn’t until 10 years ago, when his mother-in-law needed more health care than the territory could provide, that Hardy really entered the political arena.

“This incident made me more conscious of lobbying to bring about change,” he said.

But, once in politics, he discovered he was born at the wrong time.

“I’m an old-type politician, and, maybe, I’d fit better 30 or 40 year ago when you were expected to live by your principles, and if you didn’t you were out — you had to be accountable,” he said.

But Hardy doesn’t want to be venerated as an ethical archetype either.

“It’s dangerous when you personify ethics by attaching it to an individual personality, because it takes on that person’s flaws,” he said.

“I’m only a person continually trying to improve myself.”

To do this, Hardy takes time every morning to meditate.

“I want to develop greater compassion and understanding, and be more mindful in life,” he said.

“As a human being I want to try my best, and be honest and clear about who and what I am.”

But this gets tiring, and by the end of the last legislative sitting, Hardy was discouraged.

“I felt the focus of the (legislature) had shifted to election mode, but there were still some major decisions to be made,” he said.

“And one of these significant issues was the Children’s Act.”

During the last sitting, the NDP also lost its official opposition status after New Democrat MLAs Gary McRobb and Eric Fairclough crossed the floor, later becoming Liberals.

It became apparent that both MLAs held talks with Liberal leader Arthur Mitchell before leaving the New Democrats, which Hardy also found discouraging.

“It’s difficult to have to deal with stuff happening behind your back,” he said.

“But it’s a relief to be moving forward, and the party’s continued to grow.”

However, some notable NDP candidates have decided not to run in the next election, including long-time Yukon Quest musher Frank Turner.

This happens all the time, said Hardy.

“When people step back, and think about what it would mean to run, it’s not the wage that primarily discourages them, it’s the lifestyle — the lack of privacy.”

It’s also discouraging for new, potential candidates when politicians act badly, he said.

“Why would you apply for a job where your co-workers break their word and it’s not a harmonious workplace — most people are scared of that,” said Hardy.

“You’d see more people wanting to run if the leaders conducted themselves ethically,” he added.

“People have to know you are operating from a system of values and principles, and if they can believe that and see it in your actions, not just hear it, I think that will go a long way to re-establishing some respect into being a politician.

“And, hopefully, it will allow us to make far better decisions in our life that benefit people.”

After an hour with Hardy, sitting in the shade of the Habitat house as Yukon College’s women in trades class worked on the wiring, it became clear he’s an idealist.

But he’s an idealist who gets things done.

The first Habitat dwelling is almost finished, and Hardy is considering a duplex next, to accommodate more families.

All this building talk got Hardy onto guitars, which he also builds.

“I was left-handed, so as a teen, I would have to switch the guitar around, which eventually led to me learning to build my own,” he said.

“And my being left-handed makes sense,” he said with a laugh.

“But I should work more on my right hand,” he added.

Although the NDP is not renowned for its business platform, Hardy discussed the territory’s economy, and admitted he’s a “big believer” in mining.

“But you can’t separate the economy from the environment,” he said.

“And you can’t separate the environment from the social fabric, or the social from the economic.”

Politicians tend to play one thing off another, he said.

They’ll bounce the economy off the environment, or the social off the economic.

“But you can’t separate these things — it is just common sense,” he said.

Although Hardy didn’t want to discuss his platform before an election was called, he did mention the possibility of building a Yukon university.

The funds that were used to build the $31-million Athletes’ Village could be redirected next year to fund this project, he said.

Confidently looking forward, Hardy is no longer the deflated man who walked out of the legislative assembly last month.

“I’ve been in politics long enough now that I’ve learned how to lose, and how to win,” he said.

“I’ve probably learned more from losing than winning, about compassion, but both have taught me a lot.

“And I have a great passion to continue to serve people.”

Hardy’s not tired of being in the public eye.

“I never tire of it,” he said.

“I truly love people.”

You’d never know it, but the charismatic leader was actually a very shy child.

“I used to hide in my mother’s skirts,” he said with a chuckle.

Now, when he’s not chatting with Yukoners on the street, teaching self-defence or karate, coaching hockey, working on the Habitat house or building guitars, Hardy hopes to find time to paddle his new cedar-strip canoe.

But he doesn’t mind the busy schedule.

“That’s who I am,” he said.

“I’m not pretending to be doing anything here to win elections — this is my life.

“I truly love volunteering and giving, it’s what makes the Yukon such a great place.

“And, after 30 years, I still feel I haven’t done enough.”