Federal NDP Niagara West candidate Nameer Rahman. BILL POTRECZ

It has come as no surprise to Nameer Rahman that the Covid-19 pandemic has been front and centre of his interactions with voters.

“The number one topic is the pandemic, but you hear a mix of issues,” the 43-year-old federal NDP candidate for Niagara West said. “You hear people complaining about people who don’t follow the rules and then you hear people complain about the rules.”

Rahman has become somewhat of a sounding board at times as he goes from door to door.

“This is definitely a much more animated campaign. What I’ve told people when I go up to their door, if you’ve got to sound-off because you’re stressed or tired or angry, sound-off happily,” he said. “I’ll listen because if I’m coming to you asking for your vote, I have to be able to listen in return. And once you’ve sounded-off, let’s have a conversation about the things we disagree with and the things we agree on.”

Rahman understands the general frustration of the public with the pandemic.

“I think for the past year-and-half people have been talked to and talked at, but not necessarily heard,” he said. “I think it’s my responsibility if I’m going to ask for somebody’s vote that I give them the time to speak their piece. I need to be able to listen to the perspectives of people who severely disagree with me and I disagree with them, but maybe we can figure out what’s that common ground moving forward.”

Pandemic aside, the Grimsby resident said the environment is also a common theme.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” he said. “After the pandemic, the environment has turned out to be a very big issue for us.”

Rahman feels Canada is heading into a climate crisis.

“The question isn’t are we going to have a climate crisis. The answer is yes. The question is are we going to go into that climate crisis wall at 100 kilometres per hour or 30 kilometres per hour at this stage. Every year we’re seeing chunks of the county go up in flames.”

Rahman feels Niagara residents don’t have to look far to see the harmful effects of climate change.

“The way I localize that issue is I think about our ice wine industry that needs a continuous number of days for the grapes in zero temperatures before they have harvest the grapes. If you have climate instability and you don’t have those number of days, that’s your entire industry in jeopardy,” he said.

Rahman said his party is committed to making major changes in the economy to aid in the climate crisis.

“We want to go ahead and meet our climate change obligations as established in the Paris Accord,” he said. “We’re going to have to divest, or step out of, a carbon-intensive economy and move to a clean economy.”

Rahman, who works with the policy team with the Technical Standards and Safety Authority, which is a government agency, is in his third campaign.

“Every single campaign has been different,” he said. “We had a lot of momentum in [2015] until the last ten days when we saw support slip.”

He said the 2019 election was very personal.

“It was right after Trump’s victory, and we saw a lot of anti-racist sentiment rise to the surface,” Rahman said. “I was very concerned in what was predominantly a Conservative riding whether we would see that or not. I needed to step up and be the voice of a diverse community and I was pleasantly surprised that every door, with the exception of one, was unfailingly polite. One door called me a terrorist but this election is different. I think people’s opinions are a lot more agitated because of what’s happened over the last year-and-a-half and rightly so. The economy has struggled, small business has taken a hit, people are worried about their health. We go into lockdown, out of lockdown, into lockdown, out of lockdown. That snapback is vicious.”

In the 2019 federal election, Conservative Dean Allison won the Niagara West riding with 24,447 votes followed by Liberal Ian Bingham (17,429), Rahman (6,540) and the Green’s Terry Teather (3,620).

Rahman has been encouraged as the NDP has seen their vote share rise in the last two elections.

“When you take a look at the numbers, you see a large contingent of left-of-centre voters,” he said. “What we’ve done in the last two elections is grow our vote share. That trend is going to continue upwards, especially as people take a look at Trudeau’s government over the last six years. He’s talked this great progressive game, he’s not delivered on much of it, but if they want an actual progressive vote, we are here. On top of that is what I tell Conservatives, that I’m here to listen, I’m here to engage and when you take a look at the both from the values and policy perspectives, in terms of the things we need in Niagara, we’re not that far apart.”

Rahman is looking at the election beyond just what happens Sept. 20.

“I would love to win this outright, but I know if it’s not me, I can set it up for someone else,” he said. “You put in the time, the effort, the engagement, the presence, and finally somebody will say, ‘It’s finally time for the NDP.’ I understand a longer strategy is in place.”

Rahman — who lives with his wife and two small sons — admits election time isn’t the easiest personally.

“My wife, she is supportive all the time, but campaigns are tough on families,” he said. “You have the campaign, plus the pandemic, plus work, plus family and it’s hard. Those dynamics become very challenging.”