*People of PEC would like to begin by making a little disclaimer. We are not a journalistic publication. We do not endorse any one particular political candidate over any other. People of PEC is a forum to tell people’e stories that relate specifically to “people of Prince Edward County”. With that said, please continue to read on.
It’s a little over a week until the 2019 Federal election. Stephanie Bell is running for the Federal Seat for Bay of Quinte NDP.
She is 30 years old, a young woman who has worked in a variety of fields ranging from agriculture to the arts, and now she is stepping into the ring of politics. Most might not know this about her, but five years ago she was a struggling 20-something finding it difficult to find enough work and living in a tent here within Prince Edward County. She had a job at a local winery, but the pay wasn’t nearly enough to pay for rent, and food and also the necessary asthma medication she required. She had sacrificed so many times during that summer, put off buying her much needed medications in favour of food or shelter. That same summer she succumbed to a near fatal asthma attack as a result. She was hospitalized and in a coma for 6 days. During her recovery she had to re-learn how to breathe, how to walk and how to function. She spent the entire winter after her health scare just trying to survive. She couldn’t work, physically she was unable to do anything. But getting on assistance was a trying ordeal, and then once she was on public assistance, she discovered that the system was working against her so that it was nearly impossible to get off assistance.
Today she has three jobs. She works at Bloomfield Bike Company, 555 Brewery, and Hartley’s Tavern. At the height of the busy season she says she works upwards of 70 hours a week, and though she figures she would like to say she is getting ahead, the reality is she is finds she plays catch up from the previous slow seasons. And it’s not like she lives the high life. She lives modestly, doesn’t own a car and rides her bike everywhere. And she is not ashamed to admit that from time to time she has had to utilize the food bank.
And on top of everything else, she is campaigning full-time.
She caught the attention of People of PEC because we spotted her hard at work at Hartley’s Tavern in early September. We had asked if she was still running because up until that point we hadn’t heard anything from her campaign. She explained that she was hard at work between her three County-based jobs, but that she was most definitely still the local candidate. And then quickly told us a story about one particular local reporter who had scheduled a sit-down for her candidate coverage. But the time he had specified was not going to work with her schedule. She still had bills to pay. She asked if she could reschedule or switch with another candidate who had offered to trade spots with her, but the reporter was rather firm in his unwillingness to change. His response was “well every other candidate made time to sit down with me.” It begged the question, is politics only designed to cater to the privileged and independently wealthy?
It’s another example of the systemic issues that exist within our society, that in order to see any change you have to be the change, but in order to be the change you need to come from a place of existing wealth or privilege. Stephanie is one of the best representations of her demographic; a person who is living pay-check to pay-check, a person who is working multiple jobs to make ends meet and it never quite seems like enough, a hard -working educated individual who has great ambitions to make the world a better place but lacks the resources to do so. She has entered into politics for all the right reasons, and has sound and reasonable logic behind all of the issues she fights passionately for, but she is encountering some of the same issues she faced when she was on Ontario Works. The system is working against her. She has to work to pay the bills, but she needs the time to campaign in order to convey her platform within the public forum, but her work schedule doesn’t allow for her to take time off. It’s a never-ending cycle. But she does it with such a fierce determination. She does it because she knows– like her– someone’s life depends on it.
But despite the systemic issues that would attempt to thwart her, she pursues her campaign with the same work ethic she employs at each of her 3 jobs. She rides her bike from Picton to Belleville in order to attend the climate strike held in Belleville a few weeks ago. She rides public transportation to attend an event at Loyalist College. She uses her off hours to attend events at senior’s homes in order to speak to them and answer questions. She spends her days-off canvassing door-to-door, and most of the people behind those doors are people she has known her whole life. She grew up here in Prince Edward County, went to school here, her father taught at PECI, she works here and lives here.
And she is running for office for the people like her. She is running for the ones who have had to sacrifice between food or medications. She is running for the ones who have been defeated by the system time and again. She is running for the ones who live pay-check to pay-check and want government to work for them. She is running for the ones who have done everything “right” and yet they still can’t get ahead. And if she exerts an ounce of the same energy she has now, between working and campaigning, into her role as our local MP should she be elected, she will be an unstoppable force in our Federal government. This young woman is inspiring, intelligent, articulate and optimistic; a characteristic sadly missing from politics these days. And her story is inspiring, she is an example of what an underdog can accomplish when they have nothing to lose.
People of PEC hopes she fights the system, and wins. We wish her the best of luck during this election season, and we hope she never loses her spark.
*All photos are taken from Stephanie Bell’s personal Facebook page.