by Bretton Davie
Justin Orthner doesn’t act like a politician. He doesn’t wear a suit or even have an office. Instead, he wears a leather jacket, and our meeting happens at a Tim Hortons coffee shop.
As I made my way through a packed lineup of people anxious to get their coffee and donuts, I had to wonder if the provincial Liberal candidate knew what he was getting into. After all, the political newbie is about to take on Saskatchewan Party Leader Brad Wall on his home turf in a fast approaching provincial election.
If running in his first election doesn’t scare him, facing off against a man who has represented the Swift Current riding since 1999, and a riding that hasn’t gone Liberal in more than 60 years should. But Justin worked hard to convince me that he is up to the challenge. I asked the 27 year old if he will be intimidated debating Wall who was called by radio host John Gormley, “the best public speaker in Saskatchewan.” After a pause Justin answered, “If I stand my ground, and I am committed to what I am saying, I won’t have a problem with it.”
But after an hour of conversation with the pulp technician, I am still not certain where that ground is. When I asked him about any Liberal policy, he stuck by it, but when I asked what he thinks the people of Swift Current need, he seemed unsure. He said he is going to listen to find out what the issues are.
Despite his lack of direction, I was struck by his true interest in representing Swift Current. Justin says he is upset that in the last election Brad Wall’s competition was parachuted in from other areas-none of them from Swift Current. In fact, that is one of the reasons he ran. “For me it’s to show him, you’re not going to win this just because you are here,” he said.
Yes, Justin doesn’t look anything like a politician, but he’s trying hard to be a good Liberal. He even repeated the comments of his party’s leader, David Karwacki. “Quite frankly some of the other parties scare me,” he said.
Ethically, Justin tries to set himself apart from those other parties. “We can’t have a province that works if we have a hierarchy of I’m better than you,” he said criticizing the mindset of current MLAs, a task that is easy to do since his party holds no seats in the legislature. He genuinely added, “I don’t deserve any better than anyone else in the city.”
And Justin is like anyone else in the rapidly growing city. He likes to talk about how he got into the real-estate market at the right time - before the prices sky-rocketed. He recently bought a house with his girlfriend and her two children. Justin admitted that his family had questions and fears about how he would handle the pressure and criticism that running in an election brings.
But Justin seemed prepared for losing. After all, last elections Swift Current’s Liberal candidate took only five per cent of the vote. On the other hand, Saskatchewan’s first premier and Liberal, Walter Scott, represented Swift Current from 1908-1917, so perhaps there is hope a Liberal could take the seat again. Justin says his goals are to regroup and rebuild so even if he doesn’t run in the next election, the tools will be in place for the next Liberal candidate that does. There’s a lot of work ahead of him; Justin works 12-hour shifts and doesn’t even have his picture on the Liberal website yet. But Justin is an optimist, “If you feel strongly enough about something, you should stand up for it despite the odds.”