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Megan Leslie's Finnish background supports her political message

Not since the days of Judy Erola has there been a Canadian MP with Finnish extraction. As Vapaa Sana broke the news about the election of Megan Leslie (Halifax Centre and NDP) win October many Finnish Canadians asked us, Megan who... Megan Leslie was not exactly a household name on the Finnish Canadian scene, except among the Halifax Finlandia Club members and her home area in Kirkland Lake.
The situation changed quickly. Megan Leslie is not only the upcoming face of being of Finnish origin in English (and French) speaking Canada, but indeed wants to keep her extraction as a part of her public profile. In early January Vapaa Sana met Megan Leslie in Halifax.

The Finnish background of this Halifax MP may be something of a political asset as well. Being NDP and of Finnish origin add up: In Finland many of the goals the New Democratic Party is promoting here in Canada are already a living reality, and firmly part of the national consensus, and have been for decades. Finland is an example of what Canada could be, in some fields. Megan Leslie is also enthusiastic about the opportunities of study Finland is offering. She has herself spent a year at Tampere University.
In an editorial in 2008 Vapaa Sana noted that the New Democratic Party is the home of Nordic, and Finnish, values in Canada, meaning the contemporary values of those countries, not necessarily the values of all the successive generations of Finnish immigrants in Canada.
The Finnish scene in Canada is by no means an NDP monopoly, far from that. Where consensus may prevail in Finland, polarized opinions are easy to encounter on the Finnish Canadian scene. The small Finnish-Canadian vote is split fairly equally between the NDP, the Liberals and the Conservatives. But Megan Leslie is hopeful.
- Most Canadians have social democratic values, she says But they do not know it. And she elaborates: -They believe in equality, taking care of the community and in the distribution of wealth The liberals use a language of equality and a language of justice and that, on the surface, sounds like social democratic and the people say, ok that resonates with me. – Of course, one of the reasons for the situation is that we have had this twoparty system for a long time.
Megan Leslie notes that her family has been voting liberal, she became an NDP person as an adult. – Perhaps after looking into matters a bit deeper, she adds.
- Now, some of your Finnish readers may say that Megan talks rubbish. The real social democratic parties are in Sweden, Finland and Norway, and so on. – But we must put all this into a Canadian context.
Education is a matter that comes up in any comparison of societal values here and in Finland. In Finland postsecondary education is free, there are no tuition fees. Students must pay their housing and living costs though and can get financial assistance to that. Megan Leslie refers to a post secondary education bill that the NDP put forward last session. – Education is a provincial matter, of course, but the idea was to do what we do with the health services, in other words, the provinces would be getting money if they, say, make postsecondary education more accessible and more affordable. - I am sure NDP will take it up again this session, Megan Leslie says.
Amongst the students there is general support for the reform, but, Megan Leslie notes, university administrators do not always share the view. – They claim the suggested system would give money to those who do not need it, to those who could afford studying even now.
Megan Leslie points out the negative career impact of hefty student loans. – If you have, say, 80 000 dollars to pay back and would be paying 800 a month that is a lot. In the legal profession, for example, bright young students who are passionate about environment and poverty go to practice law on Bay Street, as that pays. Now, I am not vilifying Bay Street law, but you should not have to practice it just because you are terrified with the 80 to 100 thousand dollar loans hanging over your head.
At least in parts of primary health care the Canadian systems offer more than the Finnish municipal services. Megan Leslie is pleased to hear that. She says she would add pharmacare and dental coverage to the Canadian system, and goes on to explain situations where people have to save on health due to other needs. In Finland there is a national reimbursement system of medicine purchase costs.
- I have worked a lot with energy poverty, she notes. - People have to save on food or medicine to be able to finance their energy costs. – Some people, say, on mental health medication may decide to ration their pills in order to get food.


Printed in issue 3/09 of Vapaa Sana.


Megan Leslie says her childhood was "totally Finnish" in Kirkland Lake.

"I grew up with a technicolor image of Finland"

A piece by Juhani Niinistö about the importance of her Finnish roots to Megan Leslie, in her own words.

- In Finland the grass was always greener, says Megan Leslie recollecting the stories about Finland she heard as a child from her grandparents and their generation. The story resembles many I have heard here in Canada and has also the other side of the equation: - In Finland, to my relatives there, my grandfather was the “one who had made it”. And there were stories about what a nice house he had built in Canada. Well, says Megan Leslie, it was a nice house, but nothing so very fancy.
The childhood environment of Meagan Leslie was very Finnish indeed. She did not quite grasp even the sense of a Finnish accent of English as she thought that was the way English was spoken. Until a classmate visited her grand parents place: - Your grandpa has an accent. Where does he come from, asked the classmate.
- No, he has no accent, had Megan responded. She had failed to notice the accent as there had been no comparison.
- It was a huge revelation, going to Finland, to realize that it was not just those few people in Kirkland Lake who liked that sour dark bread, or making a straw joulupukki (Santa).. It was a whole nation, there. And all those men with the characteristics of my uncles. I went to Finland and understood that, my gosh, my uncles are Finnish men, that is why they were so wonderful - It was not until my year in Tampere that I realized how Finnish my childhood had been, Megan Leslie says.
In terms of her own behavior Mean Leslie is nothing but Canadian, with all those how-are-yous and other superficialities. And she was been in Finland (in Tampere) long enough so that her immediate vicinity was kind enough to advise about conduct in Finland. - I was greeting people in excess, too many hellos.
Megan Leslie explained that she did know that you do not say hello to strangers in Finland, but had not realized there was no need to greet all the people you know, unless there was a reason. – I know you know me, you need not say hello to me unless we have not met for a long time, had a Finnish friend told her.
I ask Megan Leslie how she would see herself on the national Finnish scene in Canada. Outside the Finnish scene your profile is primarily NDP, but do you want to be known by the Finns? She pauses a bit and notes that she was not familiar with any of the national Finnish Canadian organizations I had been mentioning during the interview. – But I would take a bit different approach she says. – I am Finnish. If you put my 50 closest friends to a room and asked them about my nationality, they would all say that I am Finnish. – I talk about it a lot, in my daily life.
- When I came to Halifax, to study law, I suddenly realized how much I was missing all “the Finnish things”, she says. And that is where the Halifax Finlandia Club steps in.
- It is a funny little community, she puts its, with varying degrees of knowledge about Finland and the Finnish culture. It is a lot of learning. While here I have tried hard to bring back the Finnish elements in my life.
- In response to your question, whether I want to be known by the Finnish Canadians nationally, yes, I do. But I think it is also important that the people I interact with in Ottawa know my background. You had that headline “Being a Finnish Canadian just got a new face”. – I liked it.

FinallyVapaa Sana takes up the suurjuhlat, the June 27-29 Finn Grand Fest. She knows the tradition. – Oh, it is in Sudbury this year. She writes the dates down. And the reporter underlines to her that the culmination of it all will be kokko and dance at the Wanup Hall. – So do not leave Sudbury too early.