Epidemiologist Denis Heng said working in the pandemic over the past two years spurred him on to make a run for politics.
“It’s something that I never dreamed of doing,” he said. “The past two years caused me a lot of self-reflection in what’s happening in society and kind of asking myself, what could I do?”
The Newmarket-Aurora NDP acclaimed the political newcomer as their candidate for the provincial election Feb. 16. The Aurora resident will now square off against incumbent Conservative MPP Christine Elliott, Liberal Dr. Sylvain Roy and other prospective candidates to be the riding's next MPP.
Heng has worked for more than 15 years with York Region Public Health, though said he would take a four-month unpaid leave of absence to put his full-time efforts into the campaign.
Although he said he lives one kilometre south of the border between the Newmarket-Aurora and Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill ridings, he does "work and play" on the northerly side.
“All my family’s life, we are firmly entrenched in the community,” he said. “We will continue to participate in the community.”
Former federal Newmarket-Aurora NDP candidate Yvonne Kelly told the local association that having someone with a health-care background was important to the party, going up against Elliott, who has served as minister of health.
“That was absolutely a necessity. So you can speak the truth about what’s been happening, what should be happening from now on,” Kelly said.
Heng said scientific and social considerations have to co-exist, but he is unsure if recent decisions to lift mandates are appropriately science-driven.
“I’m just as tired of COVID as everyone else. But I don’t think that’s something that means, ‘Oh, if I’m tired of it, that means the virus goes away,’” Heng said, adding he feels provincial decisions have contributed to the “rollercoaster ride” of openings and closings.
“With the (vaccination) passports ending, I’m not sure if that is actually going to be effective at making sure that this is the last reopening we have.”
Heng said he would like to bring people together and that we are facing common problems. He also spoke addressing housing affordability, and the need for intensification that remains respectful to existing neighbourhood residents.
“We should really be building the Newmarket-Aurora community, not just for its current residents, but its future residents,” he said.
The riding has always had a Liberal or Conservative MPP, although the NDP beat out the Liberals by 565 votes in 2018 for a distant second place.
Heng said he is aware of the historical polls, but he believes the NDP is on the right track. He said he hopes citizens vote positively, instead of for the lesser evil.
“I always wonder if the divide between what they’re promising and what they're able to accomplish, is that something that is fair to residents?” he said.
Heng invites residents to reach out to him as he devotes his full attention to campaign preparation.
“I would not be running in this election if I did not feel like this was in the best interests of the community, if I did not think I had a chance of success,” he said.