Being in public office has its challenges, especially during a pandemic, when performing daily duties can be very difficult. Durham's newest Member of Parliament has risen to the challenge, and is doing things a little different, albeit with great success.
Lindsey Park grew up in a family environment that was about as far from politics as one could get. Her mother was a nurse at St. Michael’s Hospital, and her father a professional hockey player. In fact, her dad, Jim Park, was a goalie with the Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association, which was no doubt a deciding factor in Lindsey's athletic upbringing.
Lindsey and her younger brother were born in York Region, after her parents moved back to Canada from Indianapolis. Her dad had retired from playing hockey and started his own business, a coaching school specializing in goalies. No doubt the influence of the family business was the motivation behind Lindsey becoming a goalie.
“We seldom talked politics around the dinner table,” Lindsey explained. “Our conversations tended to revolve around the latest trades the Leafs had made, or who was playing on Hockey Night in Canada in the upcoming week?” In fact, the family is so into hockey, that Lindsey's one-year-old nephew was named after former NHL great, Ken Dryden.
High school years, at Holy Trinity in Richmond Hill, saw Lindsey develop her hockey career. “I played half a season as a forward and tried out as a goalie, ending up with a shutout in my first game. From there on, my hockey career was set in stone.” She liked being a goalie so much she did it for the rest of the season, and never looked back.
Lindsey played for a number of different teams between high school and University, including the Durham West Girl’s Hockey Association. “The biggest advantage of being involved in hockey is my appreciation for playing in team sports. This has certainly helped me throughout my career, both in law and politics.” Lindsey has embraced the concept that you can accomplish more together than individually. Politics certainly is the ultimate team sport.
After high school, Lindsey started at the University of Toronto playing hockey and attending classes in kinesiology. Soon after she transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit, on a hockey scholarship, which was great because it gave her an opportunity to play against Olympic level athletes.
Her academic career was heading in the direction of teaching, but was mostly undefined, as Lindsey had no clear path of what she wanted to do in life. This is not necessarily a bad thing, because our futures are often charted by experiences we encounter.
While at Wayne State, Lindsey became very involved in the campus environmental group. Her duties included starting a recycling program on campus, which we in Ontario may take for granted, but in many other parts of the world is non-existent. “I was appalled when I saw people tossing giant milk jugs into the garbage. There was no pick-up for recycling, so I initiated a program in the building I lived in.”
The concerns Lindsey developed for the protection of the environment began to take root and she realized the only way to change laws or policies, was to tackle issues from the inside. She decided to pursue a career in law, specializing in environmental law, and returned to Canada to attend the law school of the University of Ottawa. Many of her friends who also played hockey were going to try for the Olympic team, so the decision not to follow that dream, instead of creating a new one, was difficult.
During first year law, one of her professors explained there are two ways to change the law; becoming a lawyer and taking a case to the Supreme Court, or becoming involved in politics where you can change laws every day.
The summer after her first year of law school saw Canada in a federal election, which was a great opportunity for Lindsey to volunteer. Choosing the right party was quite a challenge. She listened to leaders like Stephen Harper and Peter Kent, and decided her direction was definitely Conservative. Lindsey, however, is also an environmentalist, so it made sense that she would work with a party, which had the possibilities of improving their environmental policies.
Lindsey volunteered and later worked for Peter Kent, during her University days. After graduation she joined a law firm, specializing in construction and estate litigation. She stayed in touch with her friends from the Conservative Party, and continued to go to conventions and meetings.
Lindsey always had a fondness for Durham Region and wanted to relocate here. The law firm where she worked were very supportive of the move, and she set up shop in the Region. A few years later, she was encouraged to put her name forward to represent the Conservative Party, but wrestled with the concept, as there is a personal and business cost associated with running for office.
The reward for Lindsey was having an opportunity to make a difference for her community. “The first few weeks were very challenging. There is no handbook for becoming an MPP, but I reached out to individuals, who were extremely helpful.”
The integrity and ethics of being in politics are an integral part of her makeup. She was mentored by retiring MP Peter Kent, former Minister for the Environment, and immediately agreed the principles she learned, were in line with her own credo.
I asked what it was like to work for Doug Ford and without hesitation Lindsey replied, he really cares about the people of Ontario. That has certainly shown through during the pandemic, where people have had a great opportunity to see his strengths.
The pandemic has certainly changed the challenges for all politicians. Lindsey spends a great deal of her time calling her constituents, and making sure they are doing as well as can be expected. “It’s not a political call, but if they need help with something, I will do what I can.”
The challenge of her role as MPP has been readily embraced by Lindsey Park. Issues are never straight forward, and digging in to find the truth, the challenge, and a solution is extremely rewarding. Since her short time in politics, Lindsey has introduced two bills: the first is the Golden Girls Act, the second was a motion calling on the Ontario Government to include nuclear energy, and the next generation of nuclear technologies in Ontario’s climate change and environment policies. The motions passed, which is great because both issues are important to the people of Durham.
Lindsey Park has been nominated as the PC representative for the next election, so she will be running again. I found it refreshing to interview someone who is genuinely concerned and dedicated to improving the way we live in Durham Region. To paraphrase Lindsey Park, “We have to do whatever it takes, to ensure future generations are taken care of.”
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award-winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. His show, ‘The Jonathan van Bilsen Show,’ on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube, features many of the people included in this column.