Roman Baber smiles a lot, but he’s deadly serious about his new job.
Baber is “incredibly grateful for the opportunity” to be the MPP for York Centre, after he was elected in the June 7 election that swept Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives into power at Queen’s Park.
His win in the riding, where he took 50 per cent of the vote, brought an end to 32 years of Liberal representation and reaffirmed his love of his adopted country, where “opportunity is unlimited, where all you have to do to succeed is work hard and be nice to people,” the freshman MPP said. “If you do those two things, you will probably enjoy a pretty good life.”
The 38-year-old lawyer, who was born in the Soviet Union and lived in Israel, joins fellow Jewish MPPs Andrea Khanjin, who represents Barrie-Innisfil, Gila Martow in Thornhill and Rima Berns-McGown, who won Beaches-East York for the New Democrats.
Baber and his fellow politicians hit the ground running after the election, as Premier Ford insisted on a summer sitting of the legislature, to begin tackling a host of issues, including government spending, climate-change policy, hydro rates, the size of Toronto city council, education and more.
“It’s been a busy summer,” he told The CJN during an interview in his constituency office.
“We were very clear that once elected, we would dispose of the cap-and-trade regime and the carbon tax,” he said. “We were elected on that promise and we have fulfilled that promise.”
Baber said he’s “not familiar” with any actual cuts to funding that the Ford government has made to date.
“The government is looking for efficiencies,” he said. “We are undergoing a line-by-line item review of our fiscal situation. It’s not a shock to anyone that Ontario’s books are a mess. We are a heavily indebted province. We pay $1 billion a month in interest – something that should better be spent on health care, education and social services.”
Baber was eight when his family left the Soviet Union in 1989, two years before the country’s collapse.
“I remember the U.S.S.R. pretty well,” he said. “What I clearly recall is my father’s anti-communist sentiment, the yearning for freedom. (It’s) something that has stuck with me and has shaped my political ideology. I’m very passionate about speech and democratic rights.”
He also recalls that country’s anti-Semitism. The words “Israel” and “America” were dangerous to utter, so his parents, like many Jews, hid their religion.
As a Jewish politician, one of my primary obligations is the welfare of the Jewish people.
– Roman Baber
“Having a siddur at home could have landed you five years in a labour camp. That has certainly affected me,” he said.
Israel, where he lived until age 15, provided the “first taste of freedom and opportunity.” But he also recalls fears of chemical attacks arising from the Gulf War and a wave of terrorism in the mid-1990s.
“That has stuck with me forever,” he said. “There’s no question that as a Jewish politician, one of my primary obligations is the welfare of the Jewish people, and that includes the security of Israel.”
Baber’s family came to Canada in 1995 and settled in the Bathurst Street and Sheppard Avenue area of Toronto, where he still lives. He attended William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate Institute and York University, before studying law at Western University in London, Ont.
He noted that it was Martow who introduced a motion in the legislature in 2016 that condemned the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel and that Ford has pledged to end the annual Al-Quds Day rally, in which Jews and Israel are targeted, though the premier didn’t say how.
I was proud of the premier for displaying courage and condemning Al-Quds Day.
– Roman Baber
“I was proud of the premier for displaying courage and condemning Al-Quds Day,” said Baber.
Among his campaign promises was to tie funding of post-secondary institutions to their ability to protect the rights of all their students.
“It’s essential that Jewish kids feel safe on campus, free from harassment and discrimination,” he said. “While I’m an advocate of free speech – it’s the cornerstone of democracy – it is essential we draw a balance to ensure all our kids are protected.”