VERNON - As a young man, Barry Dorval wanted to be a minister. A solo bike trip when he was 21 changed that.
The adventure was part of a two-year break from bible school. He started in California, rode east to Florida, and then traversed the coast up to Nova Scotia, where he was hit by a drunk driver — the unexpected end of his trip.
“I made it back to Canada only to be hit by a drunk Bluenoser,” Dorval, 55, says from his home in Vernon’s East Hill. The term Bluenoser is a casual moniker for a Nova Scotian.
Along with a few stitches (miraculously, nothing was broken) Dorval came home with a broadened world view. He’d had a lot of different experiences and met a lot of people while biking across North America, and just before that travelling in Europe. By the time he returned to bible college, things just didn’t feel right anymore.
“I learned so many wonderful things there,” he says of the college. “But that trip helped me to see myself and people in a different way. I had a world view that was pretty black and white, and pretty narrowly defined by my religious beliefs. I met people from all walks of life… and it helped blow open my world.”
His interest in people is what brought Dorval to the latest juncture on his life journey: Politics. He’s taking a swing in the provincial election as the NDP candidate in Vernon-Monashee, a riding where the Liberals have enjoyed a solid winning streak for the past two decades. In the last two elections, the NDP lost the riding by margins of between five and 12 per cent. Dorval believes he can bridge that gap by engaging voters.
“We know how to do second really well,” Dorval says. “Now we have to figure out how to move that extra chunk.”
A high school English teacher at W.L. Seaton Secondary, Dorval hopes to engage younger voters in the election.
“People say young people are apathetic. They’re not. They’re passionate, they’re engaged, they’re interested,” he says.
He and his wife, also a teacher, have two children ages 19 and 21.
“I look at them and think ‘you’ve got a tough road ahead.’ Way harder than I ever had, and that’s not right,” he says.
He believes there needs to be more support for young people in the way of housing, tuition and debt.
“Kids are coming out of school with $60,000 to $70,000 in debt. They can’t manage that. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for the rest of us,” he says.
One of eight children, Dorval says he grew up in Fort St. John on the poverty line. Money was tight, and there were never many extras. He started delivering newspapers in Grade 6 and 7, and got a job at a hardware store in Grade 8.
“It was my own personal spending money, but from then on I bought my own clothes. If I wanted Adidas shoes, I got them for myself,” he says.
He put himself through a total of 11 years of post secondary education with just a small amount of debt at the end, something he says is not attainable for most students nowadays.
During the interview at Dorval’s character home — the location he chose — his son eats breakfast in the background. They chat easily back and forth.
“In 35 years, if I make it, I’ll be 90. I’ll be fine, I’ll have a pension, I’ll have had a good life. But in 35 years when things go ugly, my kids are going to have to pay the consequences of that, and if they have kids, my grandkids. And that makes me mad. It’s not right.”
A big part of his values centre on the environment. He believes in reducing energy use, moving away from fossil fuels and transitioning to clean energy.
“I need to be part of a political party committed to making real progress towards an environmentally sustainable future,” he says.
As a teacher, he’s also a champion for public education. From 2005 to 2009, he was president of the Vernon Teachers’ Association.
“By 2001, when the Liberals were elected, it was a very traumatic time for teachers. They destroyed our collective agreement, axed it. It pissed me off and I got involved. I did what I do — I started fighting back,” he says.
Since launching his campaign, he’s been going door to door, visiting with voters, and also making time to meet with organizations such as the John Howard Society, Social Planning Council and Women’s Transition House to better understand the needs and challenges of the community firsthand.
“I guess it’s my teacher background. Good teachers do that; they start by understanding their students and then they begin building their curriculum for the year,” he says.
He believes housing is the biggest issue in Vernon, and would support second-stage and supportive housing projects in the community if elected.
“Housing is key to homelessness, it’s key to people struggling on the edge, choosing between food and housing, or taking medications. It’s critical,” he says.
A vegetarian — or pescetarian as his son points out, because he still eats fish — Dorval says one of the biggest changes in his lifestyle since entering the race for MLA is not spending as much time in the kitchen.
“I usually do most of the cooking, (and) our grocery shopping,” he says.
He also loves to garden, and is active with Trinity United Church.
Dorval is up against two-term Liberal MLA Eric Foster and Green candidate Keli Westgate, as well as Don Jefcoat of the B.C. Libertarian Party.
Watch for more local election coverage from iNFOnews.ca.
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