As the provincial election inches closer and Ontarians prepare to head to the polls on June 2, York-Simcoe Liberal candidate Walter Alvarez-Bardales is out hitting the campaign trail.
Born in Guatemala during a Civil War, Alvarez-Bardales' childhood was tumultuous but his father, a teacher, instilled in him the importance of reading despite the violence around them.
“There were horrible things, but there was also a cocoon of protection around me with my mother and father as a child,” he said. “They encouraged me to keep dreaming and my first hero was my father because he was in a union and jailed by the dictatorship for peaceful marches for human rights. He inspired me to learn and to stand up for others, even when it’s difficult.”
After his brother was killed during the war, Alvarez-Bardales' family encouraged him to leave the country which propelled his journey to Canada.
“I faced difficulties coming to Canada as a refugee, but my father always said to find a better place and I found it here in Ontario,” he said. “The fact is that an immigrant like myself with a learning disability who suffered through poverty found a community that helped me move up and I became a civil servant, an academic with an MBA. This wouldn’t have happened on my own, we need others.”
Having volunteered to help a Guatemalan immigrant in Canada who was seeking refuge status and got denied, Alvarez-Bardales saw the struggles the system can put people through.
“He got diagnosed with cancer and he didn’t have healthcare access,” Alvarez-Bardales said. “I was helping him physically and fighting to get him healthcare. That story doesn’t have a happy ending, he died in my arms of untreated cancer. He never got the healthcare we begged the government for. That story inspired me to try and reconcile the hurt I felt in my soul when he died, and I did that by pursuing further studies but found that the hurt can only be satisfied by helping others.”
Seeing North America become increasingly torn, politically, Alvarez-Bardales wanted to help make a difference and got involved by volunteering with the Liberals during the federal election.
“The Trump era happened, and the rhetoric of hate came back and I needed to do something,” he said. “His demonization of Latinos, and promotion of racism made me get involved. I became a Justin Trudeau fellow in 2021—they train you in leadership and you volunteer. Once you get involved in politics once, it gets into your blood and decided to keep going with it because I saw a lot of things that could be done better in the province.”
From a Civil War in Guatemala to an MPP candidate in York-Simcoe, Alvarez-Bardales saw the passion of the Bradford West Gwillimbury community and wanted to represent it.
“With my family no longer being with me, when you don’t have a blood family your friends become your family,” he said. “I have my friends in Bradford that are like my family, and I’d visit them and feel this renewal of spirit. The atmosphere in Bradford is so different—I fell in love with the land, especially Lake Simcoe. When I noticed there was no (Liberal) candidate there, my heart told me to get involved there and see if my message of love would resonate with the residents.”
With his successful academic career (MBA in Community Economic Development from Cape Breton University where he was the salutatorian), the most important pillar of the Liberal platform for Alvarez-Bardales is education.
“My father, my brother, and my uncles were teachers and education is so important,” he explained. “Without support for education, I wouldn’t be here. I believe that schools, students, and teachers aren’t getting the proper support they need. They do so much and each year they’ve had to do more with less resources. Support for education is primary.”
Coming out of the pandemic, Alvarez-Bardales also wants to see more support for healthcare and healthcare workers.
“I’m determined to improve healthcare access,” he said. “Unfortunately, I’ve found there are people in this day and age that are facing strict healthcare based on the colour of their skin, Indigenous ancestry, and sexual orientation. It sounds shocking but I’ve reviewed countless peer-reviewed papers (as a Doctoral Student) focused on people lacking access because of discrimination. There are certain parts of Canada where this happens. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to improve healthcare. (Ontario Liberal Leader) Steven Del Duca’s plan appeals to me because it addresses these issues by aiming to support our brave healthcare workers.”
Given his positive experience with his father, who developed mild dementia, Alvarez-Bardales is passionate about seniors and ensuring they have the resources and support they need.
“With proper care, the last year of my father's life was glorious, and we had so many laughs,” he said. “That’s the magic of proper healthcare and why we need to support healthcare workers and seniors. They’re human beings and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them, and if we think about ourselves, we’ll be old one day and we’ll want a plan in place to age with dignity.”
Outside of the Liberal Party pillars, Alvarez-Bardales says he likes to add his own personal pillar, and for him, it’s compassion.
“We’ve got to have compassion,” he said. “We’ve got to have the left talking to the right and the right talking to the left. The public discourse has become polarized when it comes to politics and we’re getting lost in this polarization. Remember the beginning of the pandemic when Liberals and Conservatives were working together, we were a big Canadian family. We need to regain that, it’s the best attribute of being Canadian. I’m an immigrant, but I’m a proud Canadian now and compassion is what raised me to where I am and it’s what I want to promote.”