“Doug Ford sold the people of this province a bill of goods”: A Q&A with new NDP leader Marit Stiles

“Doug Ford sold the people of this province a bill of goods”: A Q&A with new NDP leader Marit Stiles

The greatest threat to the Conservatives is an Eminem-rapping former Newfoundlander who plays political hard ball. Ford Nation, be warned

Congratulations on the new gig. Were you surprised that no one ran against you?
I ran a full-on campaign from September to December, the same as if there had been opponents in the race. I was in it to win it and would have welcomed any other MPPs to compete.

Some of your critics say that the lack of interest in the leadership position means your party is out of gas. What say you?
I say it’s a sign that our party isn’t wasting time. We want to focus on the real race, which is against Doug Ford. The NDP lost nine seats in last year’s election. In retrospect, what should have been done that wasn’t? There was a historically low turnout: about 43 per cent. Which means that none of the parties connected with voters and that Ontarians felt taken for granted. After so many years of the Conservatives and the Liberals, voters are convinced this is as good as it gets. I want the NDP to be the party of hope.

Historically, the NDP has been the party of labour. Is it fair to say that the Conservatives are now that party?
I think they sold the people of this province a bill of goods. Their whole campaign was about holding steady, and that can be an appealing message coming out of a pandemic. But they lied—about preserving the Greenbelt and about supporting unions.

Them’s fighting words. What’s your current relationship with the premier?
We haven’t had much of an opportunity to get to know each other, partly because Queen’s Park has become so divided.

If you took over Ontario tomorrow, how would you make it more affordable?
I would bring back laws to protect renters. The cost of everything is up, and tenants are suffering under egregious rental hikes with almost no regulations. I’m concerned that so many people with full-time jobs still rely on food banks.

How are you different from your predecessor, Andrea Horwath?
I was born and raised in Newfoundland, so I’ve seen what happens when a province is overly dependent on one resource—in that case, cod. I think this perspective helps me connect with Ontarians in rural places. I also spent many years volunteering and supporting other candidates before I became a politician. I know how important grassroots membership is to our victory.

And, just so we’re clear, “victory” for you means…
Winning government in 2026.

Tell me something about yourself that’s not in your stump speech.
I have two daughters and two dogs: Stevie Licks and Hobbs. I also care a lot about the arts. I worked as the national director of policy and research for ACTRA, the union for performing artists, so I have a huge appreciation for that industry and the economic spin-offs it generates.

Do you have a hidden talent?
I’m a terrible singer, but I do a mean karaoke version of Eminem’s “Stan.” You get to sing the Dido part, which is really why I like the song so much.

Marit Stiles is a pretty fantastic name. Where did it come from?
My parents were convinced that I was going to be a boy, so they only came up with boys’ names. When I was born, they turned to their Norwegian friends and asked them to recommend a name. A lot of people think I’m Norwegian, but I’m not.

What do you miss most about Newfoundland?
I love fresh cod. No other fish compares. I visit every year and bring back a supply of things, but it’s tricky to bring back fresh fish.

One of your first orders of business as leader was to attend a drag brunch in Hamilton. How come?
My colleague Kristyn Wong-Tam told me about a drag queen named Crystal Quartz who was being targeted by hate groups, so I went to support her. It’s really important that we show up for the LGBTQ community. We’re seeing a lot of ugliness in our society, and I blame certain politicians for the divisive rhetoric that has stoked this kind of hate. The show was packed and so amazing, by the way.

Did she do any Eminem?
Ha! No. And that’s a good thing. My rendition would not have compared.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.