Beisan Zubi's experience with housing insecurity informs her politics

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Beisan Zubi. Image: Jessica Rediker/Beisan Zubi/Used with permission

Months after being renovicted from her rental unit, a former Hill staffer is hoping to return to Ottawa in a new capacity; this time, as MP for Kitchener Centre.

The NDP's Beisan Zubi (pronounced Bee-Ssan) wants voters to know she understands the struggle around safe and secure affordable housing firsthand.

"Housing insecurity is probably something that most people don't expect people who are running for office to have experience[d], but many of us have," explained NDP candidate Beisan Zubi.

Zubi has been subject to a history of housing precarity, including being renovicted from her apartment of five years in January.

"The way that housing and the way that affordability has been impacting millennials is literally the story of my life," she said.

At a local level, Zubi points to the skyrocketing cost of housing in Kitchener Centre, noting the average cost of a house is up roughly $200,000 compared to 2020.

"Young people are leaving our community and we're seeing that in numbers," she said. "I think now is the time for us to have some serious conversations about the sustainability of the system we currently have."

A Palestinian-Canadian, Zubi has lived in the Waterloo Region for more than five years, having grown up in Ottawa.

For the self-professed progressive, it was a no-brainer for Zubi to run under her party's banner, saying the NDP has compassion at its core.

"I feel that the NDP is the only national viable progressive option to the neoliberalism that we see coming from the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party," she said.

Calling the NDP the "only path to system change," Zubi describes the roster as those "that are aligned in the collective vision of collective movement across the country."

Zubi believes it's important to elect those with lived experience of the policies going through Parliament Hill.

"You need a lot of privilege to be able to run at this level," she said, noting there's a significant amount of sacrifice involved in a successful federal campaign.

"I am not what most people would consider an elite by any circumstances. I still had so many advantages that even allowed me to consider this. So, I'm extremely aware of that privilege."

Zubi, who is self-employed, had to turn away both clients and income to run in the federal election. Her motivation for running is to make the political system in Canada more inclusive of people who are boxed out by design.

"If we have people on the Hill who are speaking from an abstract sense or not understanding the human or live implications of policy decisions that's where we get really harmful policy outcomes," Zubi said.

Since 2019, Zubi has been a consultant providing social responsibility for startups and nonprofits. She's also spent two years as a board member on the Sexual Assault Support Centre of Waterloo Region.

A first-time candidate, Zubi has experience working directly with the NDP. Between 2011 and 2012, Zubi worked as a political researcher for the party. She also worked as a communications assistant in 2014.

Having grown up in Ottawa and worked on Parliament Hill, Zubi already has an idea of what to expect. However, her political experience hasn’t been easy, and she’s faced discrimination and harassment.

In 2017, Zubi published an op-ed in Vice titled "Here's why I never reported sexual harassment while working on Parliament Hill." The article documented Zubi's experiences working in research and communications on the Hill, a place she called at the time "fundamentally unsafe for young women."

In her role on Parliament Hill, Zubi was subjected to sexual harassment "more times than I can count," she wrote in 2017.

Campaigning with COVID-19

The country's 44th federal election is taking place while a fourth wave of COVID-19 descends across Canada. With more than 25,000 active cases nationwide, campaigning means potentially exposing both candidates and voters to the virus.

"While I'm not exactly excited to be dealing with Coronavirus, as well as these massive systemic changes, you don't really have a choice," she said.

Zubi and her team are fully vaccinated, but she's concerned about others with children under the age of 12 who aren't eligible for immunization. The team is also making efforts to create safe and secure places where the district's most vulnerable people, including seniors, can preserve their political participation by volunteering and voting.

"It's not what the plan was," Zubi said, adding it's difficult to mobilize people in a state of emergency, particularly those who have been most affected by the pandemic.

As party leaders go on the defence attacking the policies of their opponents, Zubi believes the public's desire for meaningful change will prevail.

"People want to reject cynicism and fear," Zubi said. "Nobody wants that to be the reason why they're participating."

Stephen Wentzell is rabble.ca's national politics reporter, a cat-dad to Benson, and a Real Housewives fanatic. Based in Halifax, he writes solutions-based, people-centred stories.

Image: Jessica Rediker/Beisan Zubi/Used with permission

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