Andrea Khanjin’s story sounds like something out of a Hollywood movie: born in Moscow 30 years ago, her grandparents took her out of the Soviet Union when she was four, mere months after the country collapsed.
“My grandparents disagreed with what was happening (in the Soviet Union) – the suppression and lack of religious freedom,” Khanjin recalled in an interview with The CJN.
One story she heard as a child was that displaying a menorah during Hanukkah was risky. So her grandmother lit candles on individual plates and lined them up to mimic a menorah. If someone visited, she would simply move the plates out of formation.
The trio went to Cuba and had the United States in mind as their final destination.
But in Cuba, they met a Canadian who told Khanjin’s grandparents that “there’s no better place to settle than Barrie, Ont.,” Khanjin said. “It sounded like the land of hope and opportunity that many immigrants were seeking at the time.”
The clan flew to Gander, Nfld., and filed a refugee claim, as thousands of Soviet Jews did at the time. They then made their way to Barrie and ended up living for a time with the man they had met in Cuba.
Today, Khanjin is the new Progressive Conservative MPP for the riding of Barrie-Innisfil.
Her victory in the June 7 provincial election mirrored a trend seen across the province: she trounced the riding’s Liberal incumbent, Ann Hoggarth, by 22,112 to 5,536 votes. The NDP candidate, Pekka Reinio, came second, with 12,644 votes.
“People were tired of getting nickled and dimed,” Khanjin said, explaining her resounding win. “There was a lot of frustration and fatigue. A lot of people sent a strong message, saying, ‘Look, we don’t want to be taken advantage of as taxpayers.’ They wanted someone to come in with fiscal responsibility and restraint, (to get) the books back in order and bring value for taxpayers’ dollars.”
Despite her young age, she’s no rookie: she worked for Patrick Brown when he was a Barrie city councillor and later when he was leader of the PC party.
During her studies at the University of Ottawa and after graduation, she worked for a decade as an adviser to the Conservative government of former prime minister Stephen Harper.
That included a stint working on immigration reform, an issue “that was very close to my heart given my immigrant background,” and for then-finance minister Joe Oliver as director of issues management for the 2015 pre-election budget.
Barrie sounded like the land of hope and opportunity that many immigrants were seeking at the time.
– Andrea Khanjin
Locally, Khanjin’s priorities are the conservation of Lake Simcoe, improving infrastructure and job development.
As a student, she travelled to Israel on the Birthright program and an Aish HaTorah-sponsored trip.
Khanjin is a relentless booster of the city of Barrie.
“If you’re looking to move to an area that’s more affordable, with a thriving Jewish community, it’s Barrie-Innsifill,” she said.
I always laugh with the rabbi and say we just need to build a Bathurst Street in Barrie and more people will come.
– Andrea Khanjin
The 2011 National Household Survey showed about 700 Jews in the riding, which is north of Toronto.
There’s an active Reform synagogue in Barrie, a summer shul in Innisfil for cottagers and the Chabad Jewish Centre of Barrie.
“I always laugh with the rabbi and say we just need to build a Bathurst Street in Barrie and more people will come,” Khanjin said with a laugh.
Some voters still recall the 2014 reference made by Ontario’s newly elected premier, Doug Ford, to his Jewish doctor, dentist, lawyer and accountant. He was booed, but said he had the “utmost respect” for the Jewish community.
Khanjin sees the event this way: “I think he was very proud to be surrounded by such people and he wanted to show that pride. It came off as it did, but he’s very proud of the different communities that make up Ontario and I think he’d be a very proud advocate for the Jewish community, the Jewish cause and the State of Israel here.”