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Federal Politics

One Man’s March to Beat Poilievre in His Own Riding

Aspiring Liberal candidate Bruce Fanjoy has knocked on 5,000 doors. ‘I see hope in faces.’

Michael Harris 4 Mar 2024The Tyee

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributor, is a highly awarded journalist and documentary maker. His investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

If anyone in Canada needs to fasten ice cleats to his boots, it’s Bruce Fanjoy. No matter how cold the winter weather, Fanjoy spends every afternoon knocking on doors in pursuit of the Liberal nomination in the federal riding of Carleton. So far, he has shown up at 5,000 homes to meet voters face to face.

You may have heard of this suburban and rural riding just outside of Ottawa. It is currently held by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre, who has been elected there seven times.

The same Pierre Poilievre who will be the next prime minister of Canada at the head of a majority government if current polling holds.

The same politician who won 49.9 per cent of the vote in Carleton in the last federal election.

For those reasons, a lot of people think Poilievre’s re-election is automatic. Sixty-year-old Bruce Fanjoy is not one of those people.

“The last election is history,” he flatly states. “In the next election, Pierre has no more votes than anyone else. If I’m the Liberal candidate, Carleton is going to be a contest. I understand defeating Pierre Poilievre in Carleton is an uphill battle. That’s why I’m working so hard.”

In the past, Fanjoy restricted his political activity to finding the right person to run against the Conservative leader. Though he is deeply involved in his community in Manotick, he never offered himself as a candidate.

“I guess I took it for granted that someone else would do the work of democracy. My thinking changed after the 2021 election, and the Ottawa occupation. Democracy is not a spectator sport, and no one is coming to save us from Pierre Poilievre. Someone in Carleton has to defeat him.

“Gradually I began to realize I could do this, and need to do this, for the greater good. Carleton is full of people more qualified than Pierre Poilievre to represent us in Parliament. I’m just one of them.”

Fanjoy has concluded from his canvassing that Poilievre’s reputation in Carleton as its long-serving MP is “not strong.” Fanjoy’s real opponent is the strength of the Conservative Party of Canada brand.

“I rarely hear people expressing admiration for Pierre himself. He’s rarely here and hasn’t done anything for the riding. A very senior person with the Conservative party told me recently that Pierre’s been living in Carleton’s basement all these years, contributing nothing. It is a riding of convenience for him.”

Fanjoy says Poilievre as prime minister would be a “horrendous choice” for Canadians, akin to a victory for Donald Trump in this November’s presidential elections in the United States.

“He is not a thoughtful man. His thinking on complex issues is shallow. He doesn’t surround himself with challengers, just yes men. He is autocratic and lacking in substance. Many of the things Canadians admire will be in his crosshairs if he wins. A retreat on gun control, human rights, women’s reproductive rights.”

Whatever Poilievre’s shortcomings may be, as a Liberal candidate Fanjoy is hampered by his own party’s hot mess and Justin Trudeau’s tailspin into unpopularity.

So what is it like for a Liberal to go door knocking in a staunchly conservative riding with the CPC enjoying a double-digit lead in the national polls? And against that party’s leader?

Do doors get slammed in your face? Do people tell you to buzz off, raising scandals like ArriveCan or the green fund?

According to Fanjoy, he encounters an astonishing level of civility. There is little talk of policy or scandals — just a personal conversation.

“People are almost always polite. I often get encouragement and gratitude from residents. I particularly love it when whole families and their pets come to the door. Hostility is rare. People understand we live in a democracy and meeting candidates at your door is part of the process.

“They quickly figure out my heart’s in the right place. Why else would I be out in such stupid weather!”

An elderly light-skinned woman stands at her door holding a flyer that reads 'Vote Bruce Fanjoy.' Fanjoy, a light-skinned man with grey hair, stands outside the door.
Fanjoy says that when he visits homes to say he’s a Liberal out to replace Poilievre, ‘hostility is rare. People understand we live in a democracy and meeting candidates at your door is part of the process.’ Photo via X.

One of the things that keeps Fanjoy trudging for votes through ice and snow is a widely read post on social media:

“I’ve met both @PierrePoilievre and @brucefanjoy and I’m telling you that if you put 20 undecided people in a room and introduced them to both men, Fanjoy would come away with 19 supporters.”

Fanjoy acknowledges that the voters he meets often want to share their views of Justin Trudeau and he has to play defence.

“Leadership comes up, of course. I listen, and if people are open to a conversation, I say it’s been a very challenging time everywhere in the world, and Canada has fared a lot better than most nations. Ultimately, I hope people recognize that there are very real stakes in the next election and vote accordingly.

“Personally, I believe Prime Minister Trudeau is a good man, doing his best for Canadians in a historically challenging time.”

The secret to Fanjoy’s doorstep manner is that he listens rather than lectures. He is also well served by a sense of humour. A case in point: At one house the resident gruffly told Fanjoy he’d knocked on the wrong door and that the man would never vote Liberal.

Fanjoy thanked him for the economy of his response. But as Fanjoy was leaving, the man added, “Let me tell you why.”

Fanjoy listened as the man launched into a litany of complaints against the Liberals that encompassed the sweep of history. When the man completed his tirade, Fanjoy looked into his eyes and said, “So I’ll put you down as a ‘maybe.’” They both enjoyed a hearty laugh. Fanjoy may not have turned a Conservative, but he had charmed one.

After Pierre Poilievre’s “apple eating” video went viral, Fanjoy replied with a gentle jibe of a social media post showing himself eating apple crumble at a local restaurant.

But Fanjoy can also lower the boom, as he did in a recent social media post.

“Pierre Poilievre wants you to believe everything is broken and only he can fix it. In over 19 years, can anyone name one thing that #Poilievre has fixed? Fixing the CPC leadership contest doesn’t count.”

Fanjoy’s vigorous campaigning has not gone unnoticed. In December, Poilievre canvassers appeared in the local community of Stittsville, an early investment of effort that Fanjoy says “normally” wouldn’t happen. A fake and anonymous profile showed up on his local chat group. One night a doorbell camera captured someone removing Fanjoy literature from doorsteps.

A light-skinned man with short grey hair wearing a navy shirt and red scarf sits at a table in a restaurant with a plate of apple crumble in front of him.
After Poilievre chomped an apple while ridiculing a BC reporter’s questions, Fanjoy posted a photo inviting voters to share some apple crumble. Photo via X.

Unlike Poilievre, who is a lifetime politician, Fanjoy spent most of his working life in business, serving as a branch manager, product manager and director of marketing at three companies including Deloitte. His father was a senior civil servant, his mother a nurse. He says that at his core is a dedication to service and getting big things done. His idea of a great politician is former president Jimmy Carter, sometimes referred to as the Carpenter of Conscience for his 30 years of work on Habitat for Humanity.

Like Carter and his beloved Rosalynn, Fanjoy found his soulmate and guiding light. It happened out of the blue in the attic of an old Victorian home in Halifax, where he and Donna Nicholson were both renting apartments. One day, he opened his door and there she was, standing beside her brother. He found her “strong, intelligent and beautiful.” The feeling was mutual. A little over a year after their 1990 chance meeting, they married.

They both pursued their careers, Fanjoy in business armed with an MBA, and Nicholson in medicine. Fanjoy also spent a year in Quebec to learn French. The couple have two children, Adrienne and Ben.

Nicholson became an anesthesiologist and an assistant professor at the prestigious University of Ottawa Heart Institute. When things got hectic during her medical training, Fanjoy pivoted from his successful 15-year business career.

“With two young children, the relentless schedule of a doctor in training and the demands of my own career, our hands were full,” he explains. “We made a big change for the sake of our family, and I became a stay-at-home parent.”

The couple built a solar passive residence in Manotick, calling their home Millview, because it looks out on Watson’s Mill, a local historic site. The house features 33 solar panels on a south-facing roof, and triple-paned windows positioned so that the winter sun streams in. Fanjoy, who served as general contractor on the project, developed a motto while building Millview: “Nature leads, design follows.”

The big blue house attracted a lot of attention, some of it nasty. “Let me know how your new house works with only renewable energy in February while freezing your ass off. No carbon right?” tweeted one critic.

Fanjoy answered with a photo showing the temperature inside Millview was 22 C on a day when it was minus 15 outside. These days it costs just $30 a month to supply electricity to their home.

“The design honours the history of the site, and its sustainability is an example of what’s possible in the present and future. The community loves what we did,” Fanjoy says.

Every politician makes promises and Bruce Fanjoy’s are clear. He says that if he is elected, he will be very present in the riding, unlike Pierre Poilievre, who is usually not around.

He wants to bring Carleton’s rural and suburban populations closer together, help businesses transition to a cleaner, sustainable environment and assist farmers in cutting their energy costs by using some of the technology he used when building Millview.

But first he must win his party’s nomination, and then deal with Poilievre, product of the CPC’s $3-million makeover.

“This race is all about Pierre. This is not going to be a normal election. History has a date with Carleton, and the next Canadian election is every bit as important to Canada as the 2016 American election was to the United States.

“Many residents here, including traditional Conservatives, view the upcoming election as our Trump moment.

“Nobody is working harder than me, so I think my chances of winning are good. What I’m seeing happening in this journey so far, people are believing I can do this. I see the hope in their faces. That changes everything. The Conservatives are going out of their way to say that there’s no other outcome possible. I’ll be damned if I let that go unchallenged. Why can’t we win?”  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

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